A sampling of 2015 State of the Church addresses by moderate Baptist pastors found common themes of emphasizing community and James' call to "be doers of the word."
Pastors emphasized not only fostering internal community ... but also external community, reaching out in new and expanded initiatives to the local community through partnerships and increased visibility.
State of the Church addresses are messages designed to provide congregations a review of where they have been, an assessment of where they are now, and a vision of what they hope to accomplish in the year ahead.
Pastors emphasized not only fostering internal community – strengthening bonds and member engagement within the congregation – but also external community, reaching out in new and expanded initiatives to the local community through partnerships and increased visibility.
Shaun King, pastor of John's Creek Baptist Church in Alpharetta, Georgia, summarized the challenge, saying, "The problem with many of our churches is that we feed and feed and feed people spiritually, expecting and requiring nothing of them … Faith is meant to be mobilized."
He added, "James reminds us that we are meant to be DOERs of the word and not merely hearers," and then urged participation in iMAGiNEXT – an ongoing effort to help members find opportunities to serve in both the church and the community.
Michael Cheuk, pastor of University Baptist Church in Charlottesville, Virginia, praised the work of their current ministries, both inside and outside the congregation, before noting an intention to find other campus ministries with whom to collaborate and to discuss additional ways to engage current community partners.
While not citing James directly, Cheuk closed his message with an exhortation similar to King's, stating, "We gather so that we may scatter to be a blessing to others."
Preston Clegg, pastor of Second Baptist Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, highlighted the internal challenges of being a downtown church – children don't attend the same schools, members don't live near one another and only see one another on Sunday mornings, downtown events (such as marathons) make travel to church a challenge.
To address this, Clegg noted the launch of all-church potluck meals after worship once a month, an all-church retreat and a preaching series based on 1 Corinthians and focused on Christian community.
He also emphasized that while their location presented a challenge to internal community, it also offered ministry opportunities.
To this end, they host Advent and Lent lunches aimed to attract working folk downtown and have established a reading program at a local elementary school.
Fostering community through functional, accessible websites was also highlighted.
Noel Schoonmaker, pastor of First Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and Clegg both highlighted their church's redesigned websites, recognizing that these continue to be a key avenue through which many first "meet" a congregation.
Schoonmaker noted that First Baptist in Murfreesboro's website is mobile compatible.
This reflects the trend of people increasingly using mobile devices to access and explore the Internet. EthicsDaily.com found that all four church's websites were set up for easier viewing on these devices.
Three of the four congregations maintain an active staff blog on their sites as a means of informing and engaging their members on a regular basis.
Postings include announcements and devotional reflections to foster community throughout the week.
John's Creek also offers online streaming of their Sunday morning services, and all four congregations post their Sunday sermon texts, videos or both online.
King noted a growing number of members using the secure, online giving option on their website, with many members enrolling in a recurring auto-draft option to ensure consistent giving.
University Baptist in Charlottesville also offers an online giving option, a growing trend in congregations.