A few weeks ago I was driving on Market Street in Greensboro and passed by the location where, as a child, I went to my first drive-in movie with my parents. Back then it was a field just a short distance from the old Baptist Book Store. Times have changed.
The old movie theater is gone, the Baptist Book Store, now LifeWay, has moved and this part of town has become an international marketplace. In a half-mile stretch you can find food, markets, phone cards and much more from all over the world. My hometown and our state are changing.
Research conducted by the Intercultural Institute for Contextual Ministry has identified the top 100 areas of lostness in North Carolina.
The study revealed that 97 percent of the areas of lostness are located around eight population centers across our state. These centers are: Charlotte, the Triangle, the Triad, Fayetteville, Wilmington, Hickory, Asheville and Greenville.
The concentration of lostness in eight population centers was not the only reality discovered. In additional research of the United States Census Data, we learned that the eight population centers are home to nearly 75 percent of the total population of N.C. The growth rate in these areas from 2000 to 2010 was 22.33 percent. This data confirmed that our state is becoming more urban and suburban and less rural.
The numbers alone do not tell the whole story. Within the total numbers, it was discovered that the eight population centers are also becoming more ethnically diverse.
The percentage of the ethnic population of N.C. living in the eight population centers has reached 77.82 percent. The rate of growth of the ethnic population in the eight population centers is more rapid than the population as a whole.
The concentration of lostness, the population growth rates and the increasing ethnic diversity in the eight population centers are all realities that cannot be ignored.
The current number of churches affiliated with the Baptist State Convention of N.C. is almost equal within the eight population centers as outside the centers. This means that in the population centers there is one N.C. Baptist church for every 2,929 people. This is compared to one N.C. Baptist church for every 1,289 people outside the eight population centers.
So why focus on eight population centers? The reality is that lost people live throughout our entire state. It is estimated that nearly 5.8 million people in N.C. are without a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
We cannot ignore one single person who is among the 5.8 million. However, we cannot ignore that a majority of the 5.8 million live in eight areas of our state.
I learned an important lesson as a young boy growing up on a farm in Colfax. When the hay needed to be harvested, people came from all over town to get it up and put it in the barn. We all worked together until the work was done and celebrated when it was complete. This is the time for all N.C. Baptists to come together and reap the harvest.
No single church or association can accomplish the task alone, but working cooperatively we can reach the lost and disciple new believers more effectively. If we commit to fulfill the Great Commission we can impact lostness through disciple-making across the state and fulfill our Convention’s vision of becoming, “… the strongest force in the history of this Convention for reaching people with the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mike Sowers is the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s senior consultant for the Office of Great Commission Partnerships. This column is the latest in a series by the BSC to explain its new strategy approved by the Executive Committee [April 2013] and the Board of Directors [May 2013]. See Impacting Lostness.)