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What Damaged The Independent Baptist Movement?

 (Chapter 25)
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
tragic fall and no longer did we see the growth in the
ranks of our churches. What followed, however, was
an explosion among churches far different than we were.

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
explain the cause of the decline? Our enemies threw
in their thoughts in favor of ridiculous and accusatory
ideas. Many among us used excuses or even tried

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
your stones to throw, but this may well have been the
biggest reason for the decline. Those amazing churches were built on the solid foundation of reaching the lost for Christ and did so in an amazing fashion. How then could this strength become the reason for decline?

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
growing churches. Many were saved and baptized
and many were added to the church. In some cases,
however, we may have become careless in our
presentation of the Gospel. Perhaps we became more
interested in the volume of souls won than in the
clarity of our message. We had been taught by Dr.
Hyles, in Let’s Go Soul Winning, how to methodically
lead a soul to Christ, not to just say a prayer. 

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
spiritual growth, which came from a strong graded
Sunday school program. It is possible that we became
so focused on the masses that we lost sight of the
individual. While most of our growth was initiated with
the Sunday school, erroneously we began to de-
emphasize the Sunday school. Often this was a result
of logistical problems brought on by our big crowds
and of designing our buildings for schools rather than
for the church. The Sunday school became less and less preeminent.

There were around 800 Sunday school classes under the ministry of Dr. Jack Hyles in Hammond, IN, with
an average attendance of 20 plus. Dr. Elmer Towns
awarded Dr. Hyles the World’s Largest Sunday
School Award” not the world’s largest church. 

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
employed the same thing in Garland, TX, with the
Miller Road Baptist Church. Brother Hyles started
Sunday school classes in neighborhood garages; one
class was held in a playhouse up in a tree. He was a trendsetter, not a trend follower, with unchangeable foundational precepts.

The decline in growth of some during the 80’s and 90’s resulted in a precipitous decline in Sunday school
classes. With that slump came a shrinking number of
church members who were not engaged with learning Bible
truths that would have been accomplished by those
Sunday school classes.

Ephesians 4:11-12 points out a vital truth and
an ignored truth today, of each member learning what
their ministry is to be. 11“And he gave some, apostles;
and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and
some, pastors and teachers; 12For the perfecting of
the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying
of the body of Christ:” This team effort was the central thing of the 60’s and 70’s.  The more members involved in the local church the greater the possibility of growth. 

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 harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his
harvest.” There is not a command here to pray to the
Holy Spirit for converts. The command is clear to pray to the Holy Spirit for Laborers. If a local church is not laboring at soul winning then there is no need for the Holy Spirit to send laborers to help non-laborers.


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 growing churches were led by pastors who
preached, without compromise, the sinfulness of sin.
However, as is always the danger, many began to
attack the sinners rather than the sin. We became
enamored with causes to defeat sin. Some fought
abortion in the political arena rather than through the hearts of converted sinners.  Those great men loved the sinner as much as they hated the sin.


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
relationship with people. He loved people as deeply
as he hated sin. His love for sinners was deep
enough to warn them and then deep enough to win
them. Many a church member sensed his determination to keep them pure via his messages, while also sensing his determination to love them no matter what.

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
separate” became a judgmental cry rather than a
Biblical principle. Oh, we were separated. In fact, we
were so separated that we separated with each other
over issues that had not defined us at the beginning.
The standards in our various growing churches were
not the same, nor did we insist they be. We stood
against worldliness, but we did not judge others by an
inch of hair or skirt.

Suddenly, it was almost as if we were
competing to see who could be the strictest and have
the most rigid standards. Churches with lesser
standards than our own were deemed worldly and we
could no longer fellowship with them. 

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
another church.

The great men of the 60’s, 70, and 80’s never
required the same of each other in order to fellowship.
The ability of the John Rice’s to encourage personal
soul winning and personal standards without
separating the brethren was unique. Dr. Hyles had
strict standards for his ministry, but he never required the same level of others he preached for and with.  The truth is he applauded those who had stricter standards.  Dr. Hyles’ churches grew with stricter standards than his contemporaries because his people were taught and he feared no outsider corrupting his people.

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
John Rice’s presence, about storehouse tithing. Dr.
Hyles immediately said, “I think I will defer to Dr. RIce
that question for he is much older than I and has been in the ministry longer than I.”  We would rather fight at the drop of a hat and even drop the hat to provoke the fight.  Unnecessary warfare will hurt.

Our over excitement with size. The 60’s and
70’s were exciting days in Independent Baptist
churches. We were having big days with thousands in
attendance and hundreds saved. However, it became
difficult for some men to accept the normal and grow
from those occasional big days and promotions.

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
causes many a good man of God to not be satisfied
with the potential that God gave him and him alone. Thus many are drawn to liberal men who promote liberal methods for growth.  Big is not always better.

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.
Our church grew from a low of 159 to 2,041 in
attendance, over a three decade period. This was during a period when others were declining.  Proving it can still be done. 

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
winning and an aggressive Sunday school program.
Simple messages do not mean they are from a simpleton.  Their Sunday school lessons were not shallow.  Their Wednesday night Bible studies were incredible.  The reason for all of this was the fact they STUDIED!

Our starting of schools. There is no doubt
that all great movements are accompanied with the
founding of new schools. That is not a bad thing.
However, we became so enamored with Christian
schools that we lost our passion for the church. We
became educators rather than evangelizers. Our
schools took our students off of the mission field.   Suddenly the schools became our evangelism. In many cases it also took away their spiritual strength as many were attempting to shelter them from the world.

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
responsibilities into the educational realm of the work,
the local church suffers. When the students are drawn
away from going soul winning, they are missing out
on life lessons. Going soul winning will result in them
seeing the devil’s payoff with alcohol, drugs, promiscuity, and a host of other sins.  

Our children
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
growth of our churches came the new found standing in our community.   Our attendances were impressive, but we wanted more.  We wanted respect.  We mistook respect for influence.  Fancy buildings and huge auditoriums may gain respect, but it is the vibrancy of growth that brings about influence. 


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
common sense.

Our monthly and quarterly financial reports at
LBT were always accompanied with a column of
percentages next to each group of expenditures. The deacons may not comprehend a multimillion dollar anneal budget, but they can relate to percentages.  Our utilities ran 8-9% while our ceiling was 15%.  Our debt retirement ran 10-12% with a ceiling of 25%.  Our administration ran 35% with a ceiling of 45%.  This is just a few examples of how we could keep the deacons informed and to stay safe financially.  Do not spend beyond your income.


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!

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