What Baptists can learn from Twinkies

Hostess Cup cakes are going out of business. Twinkies, Zingers, and all the rest are endangered species.  Hoarders are buying boxes and putting them on Ebay. True fans are hoping someone will buy them soon. The blame for the downfall of processed sugar snacks is given to the changing times and people’s healthier eating habits. Folks aren’t eating Twinkies like they used too! Even repacking and offering low calorie options didn’t help.

Maybe Baptists need to pay attention to the fall of the American Twinkie. The world is changing. What we used to do isn’t working anymore and we all know it.

Denominations are big and massive. It costs money to run those huge buildings and pay the big staffs.  The way people view denominations is much like their view of Twinkies. Most folks I know talk about how they grew up eating those sugary treats and the memories of having them in their lunch boxes but I honestly don’t know many people who eat them daily anymore. There was a time I ate a Hostess cake every lunch in grade school. Now that I pay attention to calories there is no way I am going to clog my arteries for a Ding Dong!

Denominations are finding folks are not ‘buying’ into them anymore. Budget problems and declining membership just keeps getting worse. Denominational structures are unraveling every day.  The recent news of the UMC closure of Cokesbury retail stores is just another reminder that the mighty faith ships are sinking.

It is not just the ‘mainline’ but all denominations that are feeling the pain. I am a Baptist who serves in the Baptist Generation Association of VA which is a state convention that once only partnered with the SBC but now works with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (my personal national home). I recently returned from our annual BGAV meeting and it was evident that there are serious cracks in her foundation.

When I came to Virginia the BGAV had 1010 messengers in 2007. This month I went to our annual meeting and our attendance was 784. We met this year in Roanoke. The last time our annual meeting met in Roanoke I had to sit in the balcony. This year the balcony was roped off.  I snuck up there anyway and watched some of the proceedings below. When we voted on the issue regarding homosexuality there were only about 590 votes. When we voted for president the next day it was less.  When Baptists know that sex is going to come up in our conversation and we are unable to gather a crowd then something is wrong!

Budget woes are all the rage these days. We keep shuffling money around and rearranging this or that but it is not solving anything. We are not getting better. People are not giving to the old systems.  Denominations are facing their own financial cliff.

I am not saying that the BGAV is not doing good things. We are doing some great things. I love living in a state where I can attend the state convention. I love so much about the BGAV. But it is clear to me that the writing is on the wall.

As I walked round I saw so many fewer faces than years past. The parking lot did not have many church buses. The meeting has become a preacher meeting. Fewer churches are bringing lay folks. The lay folks do not want to come.  And many pastors are staying home too. The pastor’s conference on Wednesday was several dozen scattered in a sanctuary.

And Virginia Baptists are not alone. Folks are not attending national denominational meetings or local associational meetings. The empty pews translate to empty conventions and sparse budgets.

So what should we do? Why not be proactive rather than reactive? I believe God is still God and the kingdom is at work but institutions are going to have to let some things go.

Here are some thoughts for the BGAV-

*Meet less.  If the American Baptist Churches (USA) can meet every other year why can’t the BGAV? These meetings are very costly.  Use the money for ministry and have a two year budget. If groups want to meet on off years let them do resource events on a local level.  But meet less. Drop any additional meetings that are not productive.

*Rethink resources.  We need to stop renting big convention centers and scale down. We don’t have to rotate around the state.  Pick a central spot (Richmond) and meet in a large church (even a non Baptist one).  Put it on the web for folks to watch who cannot come. Stop printing all the paper and stuff we pass out.  Just scale down.  And this is not just for meetings. Scale down year round.  How about selling the building in Richmond? What about spreading the staff out throughout the state and letting them meet in the churches that sit empty most of the week? Why not contract folks out to work and have less full time employees? Utilize retired or part time ministers or students for various projects.

We have to stop what we are doing and do something different. This message is not just for the BGAV.  Denominations need to have a fire sale. We need to get rid of properties, personnel, and so many programs. Refocus and retool for a lean and mean future. Local associations need to just do things together without paid staff. Affinity groups are forming and folks are working across denominational lines. The truth is we have lost the way we used to do it and we can put it off but in the end these things are going to happen. Let’s do it while we are able to make the decisions and the decisions are not forced upon us.

I would propose that denominations form dream teams to begin to transition to such a future. I would suggest they begin now to do the hard thing that is very much the right thing. The image I suggest is to not take the same organizational model we have and retool or revamp it. That is not going to work anymore. I suggest that we see our organizations as a blank white board and start over from the beginning.  Don’t look at what we do and how we can fix it.  Don’t try and save what we have.  Instead start from scratch. What is going on and what do we need to do to meet the world we now live. What would the BGAV, CBF, or whatever organization we serve look like if we were starting them today?  Then go and do what needs to be done.

Derik Hamby

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Dr. Derik Hamby serves as pastor of Randolph Memorial Baptist in Madison Heights, Va. He enjoys history, religion, movies, music, and pop culture.

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  • Nick Schoeneberger

    http://www.arbca.com/ seems to have a nice model.

  • StHollaway

    Good thoughts, Derik. from Steve Hollaway, formerly KY/CBF colleague serving in Covington, now on Block Island RI in an ABC church.

  • http://profiles.google.com/rightwally H H

    I was majorly screwed over by evil baptists and will never ever darken their church door: deceitful snakes, divorcers, birth controllers, adulterers, hope the roof crashes in over your head.