It has been said that one should guard their
strengths because often that is where we become the
most vulnerable to error or failure. That very possibly
could be the case for the growth of Independent
fundamental Baptist Churches in the 60’s and 70’s.
For a time, it seemed as if there was no end to the
potential growth of our churches, but then something
With the same meteoric rise, there came a
The Assemblies of God, Non-Denominational,
Charismatic and other groups took over where we
had left off. What we had started, others were
finishing. Sadly, not only were our churches not the
largest in America, but very few of them were even
the largest or fastest growing in their communities.
Theories popped up galore, but did they really
blaming the leaders of the movement for misguiding
us. However, in retrospect, perhaps it was not our
weaknesses that caused our decline but rather our
strengths. Let us take a judicious look at a few of the
strengths that may have derailed our growth.
Our passion for souls. Go ahead and pick up
Quite possibly it was for two
reasons. First, our methods became watered down.
Second, the emphasis on soul winning often was
accompanied by a weakness in building new
Christians. Let’s examine both of these briefly.
Soul winning fervor was strong in those
Some lost the methodical part and became quite mechanical
and, perhaps, even careless. Rather than bringing our
sheaves with us, we brought back inflated reports of
numbers saved, but had little fruit to show for it. It is
not the names recorded on earth, but the names
recorded in Heaven that matter. Also, the lack of
emphasis on baptism by some is a reflection of an
attitude shift during this period. I fear that our pastors
are not personal soul winners like they could be.
Dr. Hyles, while pastoring his church in
Hammond, averaged 4,000 soul winners on the
streets each week with a strong bus ministry.
However, the interesting thing about his bus ministry
was the fact that his “A” routes never ran more than
an average of 20 to 25. It was once again the fact of the
church members seeking to find their ministry in
which to serve.
This ended up totaling numbers that resulted in the “World’s Largest Sunday
School.” Dr. Hyles was a personal soul winner and he
led his church by example. Exhortation is only a small
point of impact compared to actually doing it and
providing the example. The motivation of example,
accompanied with exhortation, is an unbeatable
These great churches were also built with the
There were around 800 Sunday school classes under the ministry of Dr. Jack Hyles in Hammond, IN, with
The reason was Brother Hyles understood the foundational fabric that made growth possible. Eight hundred teachers required 800 assistants with all of them learning the Sunday school lesson and participating in the soul winning program of the
church. This widespread and broad foundation was
the strength of the growth factor for Brother Hyles.
This was not new to him in Hammond, for he
The decline in growth of some during the 80’s and 90’s resulted in a precipitous decline in Sunday school
Ephesians 4:11-12 points out a vital truth and
When the decline started churches all over America began to over react and it was this overreaction that hurt. Some began abandoning aggressive soul winning
and started combining Sunday school classes. We went from
being soul winning churches to using methods that we
hoped would attract people. The altars were no longer
abuzz with converts and soul winning was no longer
the main emphasis. The Sunday school became more
of a social tool than a tool of discipleship. When soul
winning is viewed as a tool for church growth and
then that growth does not occur, some then abandon soul winning for other man-made methods. Soul winning is a command not a tool for growth!
Even if the soul winning does
not bring growth, it should never be
disused. Soul winning is right to do regardless.
Matthew 9:38, “Pray ye therefore the Lord of
The Bible does not say, “Go into all the world
and put them into one room.” I fear we do not see the
value of one soul and have substituted that thought
for a big church ideal. During the 60’s and 70’s church
growth was a by-product, not the product.
Our hatred for sin while loving the sinner. There is no doubt that
Those churches who began to decline became unkind to those who
were guilty of the sins. In many cases we deflected them from Christ rather than drawing
them to Him. Our hatred became hateful and hurtful. Some lost their heart for convictions because they lost their love for the sinner
Dr. Hyles was an enigma in the sense of his
He was very
transparent in his love. He was also transparent in his
hatred for sin. Jack Hyles was truly the one who could
hate sin and love the sinner at the same level of commitment. This has been lost in the
last three decades. We must return to winning the
sinner to Christ while hating the sin of the sinner.
Great churches all over America had pulpits and pews
filled with those who loved the sinner while despising
the sin. Now, we cuddle the sin and the sinner.
Our emphasis on separation. “Be ye
Suddenly, it was almost as if we were
We separated over preferences rather than convictions. Conviction
is defined within one’s own local church, and a
preference is one from the outside looking into
The great men of the 60’s, 70, and 80’s never
If his position on the King James Bible was attacked he was secure in his beliefs which kept him from over reacting. If his position on soul winning was attacked he was comfortable and secure in his position. If his position on personal standards was attacked he did not need to make it an issue because he was comfortable with his convictions.
He was very careful who he would allow to fill his pulpit. He was more concerned about the direction another preacher was headed rather than where he was on the path. He had three levels of interaction with other men of God. Some he would preach with, some he would preach for, and some he would allow to preach for him. It took an awful lot in order for Dr. Hyles to make a public statement of disagreement. It had to be a serious doctrinal error or a serious bad fellowship relationship. Some would call this one secondary separation. He felt influence influences those who influence. A fine line, but still a line.
Dr. Hyles never did hold to the storehouse
tithing issue as believed by Dr. John R. Rice, the
Editor of The Sword Of The Lord. Yet, he served on
Dr. Rice’s board and preached with him 20 plus years
without it becoming an issue.
One time a Hyles-Anderson College student from Madison, WI, told Dr.
Rice and that he and Dr. Hyles disagreed on storehouse tithing. Brother Hyles related this story to me. He told me that Dr. Rice
wrote him a hot, three page letter saying that he was
“shaken to his foundation” to learn that Brother Hyles
disagreed with him. The next time they were preaching together
he went to Dr. Rice’s motel door and knocked on his door. He then asked Dr. Rice to come with him. He
took Dr. Rice to a men’s clothing store and bought
him a new over coat, suit, tie, shirts, shoes, etc. He
said he took Dr. Rice back to his room. He hugged his neck and told him that he loved him. The
issue of storehouse tithing was never brought up
One time a young man asked Dr. Hyles, in
Our over excitement with size. The 60’s and
Suddenly churches were sustaining their size
by overusing gimmicks and promotions. Sunday
morning attendances were a far cry from Sunday
night when the real church showed up. We became
out of balance in order to prop up our growth. Again,
we over reacted by condemning ourselves for using
perfectly good methods and we abandoned them
altogether. Not all churches are equal in their potential. Not all pastors are equal in their potential.
Ninety-five percent of the churches in America
are in rural areas. The average membership of all
churches in America is 125 with the average
attendance being 75. From my travels, I have
surmised that Independent Baptist churches are doing
better than we think. However, not all churches were
meant by God to run 10,000 in Sunday school; and to berate beat ourselves up for not doing so is foolish.
There is such a thing as spiritual greed that
Comparing ourselves with others is a terrible mistake. I refused to allow Longview Baptist Temple, Longview, TX, to be compared to First Baptist Church under Dr. Hyles ministry.
Dr. Hyles had a twelve to fourteen million population area to
draw from while the East Texas region has 300,000 to 400,000 to draw from. Dr. Hyles had a 100,000 membership
while averaging 20,000 in all his Sunday schools over
a five decade period. Every potential is different and
there is no difference between a big church and a little
church in God’s sight as long as they are winning
souls, while teaching and preaching truth. I again
remind you that ninety-five percent of the churches in America are rural and have varying degrees of potential.
Our misunderstanding of simplicity. This
may ruffle a feather or two. However, the great church
builders of the 60’s and 70’s were great because of
the simplicity of their message and methods, but not
because they were simplistic men. These men were
Bible students and had amazing depth. Sadly, many took their simplicity too far. We should be men of substance and work to avoid being issue oriented.
Biblical and balanced “topical preaching” was
replaced by issue oriented topical preaching, which
often came from a small number of pet issues. In many cases some went from feeding the people to often berating them. This will amaze you, but these great men of the past rarely were
stuck on one issue or even a few issues. Dr. Hyles
preached less on standards in his own pulpit than
what he was accused of from around the country.
Brother Hyles preached less on aggressive personal
soul winning than he was thought to have done from
his pulpit. These men were deep, but understood the
multiplicity and ethnicity of their congregations.
All of this was a result of aggressive soul
Our starting of schools. There is no doubt
The day school gave birth to the Christian college. No longer did our young people need to go away to college, but they could stay home and supposedly learn how to build a church at home. Some colleges were started by local churches that in reality were not very successful. This seemed to water down the evangelism.
With the day school came other issues. The sports programs became more popular than
the church soul winning programs. The athlete
mentality, or jock mentality, that we so despised in the
public arena of education has now captivated and
captured the Christian school in many churches. We have our state
champions while our churches are dying spiritually.
We have found an alternative for the glory of the
public school sports; our own spiritualized glory of
sports. At the same time our baptisteries are dry, our
altars are empty, and our soul winning is dying back
to a faithful few.
When a pastor is drawn from his God-called
should not be “isolated” but rather “insulated.” I do not
have all the answers, but I do know that our local
churches have declined since we entered into the
Christian school business. Please do not
misunderstand me. I am for the Christian school, but
someone is going to have to analyze this and provide
some answers. Something is wrong!
Our impressions of our standing. With the
We overbuilt and overspent in order to build buildings to improve images. However in many cases it hurt and placed financial strain on the people. Pastors who never had to worry much about offerings suddenly viewed the bus ministry as a financial liability rather than a necessary soul winning tool to reach the unsaved.
In 1979, at a financial seminar, I recall a
spokesman saying that 856 Independent Baptist
churches had filed for bankruptcy. We moved from a
balanced budget run ministry to a build and expand
mindset believing the people would come. In other
words, we built for growth of attendance and
offerings. Sorry, but that old dog won’t hunt. No one
should ever build beyond their church budget. Win
more people and raise the weekly offerings in order to
build with fiscal responsibility. No church should ever
spend more than 25% of their income on a mortgage debt.
With these new buildings come increased
utilities, increase insurance, increase of staff, increase
of maintenance, etc. There are so many hidden costs
to a new building that many a pastor has never even
taken the time to consider. I fear for the fall out that
will come in the future to those who violate financial
Our monthly and quarterly financial reports at
What is the solution? Well,
certainly it is not to do what we did by throwing out the
strength to rid ourselves of the problem. No, it is to
have an understanding of how to use our strengths to
build a work for God without them negatively affecting
us. For every action that hurts a church there are 100
overreactions that do the same thing or worse. Our
goal is to address both the good and the bad of those
great days. We hope that we can return to the
strengths without falling prey to the overreactions that
led to the demise. Can it be done again? Absolutely!