December - January 2023
Lighting the Darkness
BETTER TOGETHER | Influence
Pew Research models indicate Christianity trending toward a minority in the next few decades.  Back in the 1720s, similar predictions may not have come to fruition because of the Great Awakening. We hope and pray for another awakening!
Recently, I received the U.S. Religion Census results.  The map below shows a county-level compilation of Free Will Baptist (reporting) congregations compared to the population of their counties.
Free Will Baptists are a small percentage of 622 counties, often less than 1% of the population. How can they influence their community as such a small part of it?
Coincidentally, I received this report while traveling to Varna, Bulgaria, and the statistics were on my mind as I toured the city with Pastor Trif Trifonov, his wife Vanya, and our friends from the International Fellowship. In Bulgaria, evangelical Christians are often viewed with suspicion and as a cult. It is estimated 1.1% of the Bulgarian population is Evangelical Christian,  so Bulgarian Christians provide a good example of how to influence people toward Christ as the minority.
Be in the community. We must live, work, play, and eat in the community…love our cities and towns. The Trifonovs embodied this as we toured Varna. They were excited to share their city, its history, and current events.
Serve. A woman—a nonbeliever—stopped Trif and asked about an English class she had attended, and whether the church would offer an advanced class in the future. This indicated her interest in an ongoing relationship with the church. Another nonbeliever thanked Trif for the way the Varna Church ministered to Ukrainian refugees. He recognized Pastor Trif and remembered the ministry of the church.
Give. The Trifonovs are givers, sharing their time with others. When we passed the Pension Club (senior center), we learned Trif often speaks to them about Christian holidays and other subjects. The Trifonovs also give tangible gifts—to our hotel employees, to first-time visitors at church, and even to those new to the faith. These gifts are reminders of the gospel, and I suspect others in the community hear about them.
Persevere. Not every effort has been well received. Trif offered to teach a religious class in community schools. A teacher accused Trif and the church of being a cult. She started a letter writing campaign against the church, and that door has not opened. However, it should be noted that another teacher defended the church, saying, “But they are the only ones who help us!”
The results of these efforts are obvious. On Sunday, as we walked to church, we could hear the praise team practicing. People trickled in, old and young, from different backgrounds, and at different levels of spiritual development. Eventually, the auditorium was full, and I’m sure at least one person heard the gospel for the first time.
Being part of the Christian minority in Bulgaria is sometimes seen as unpatriotic and can lead to ridicule, strained relationships with family members, or even jeopardize a career. Yet, attendees seemed glad to be there and reluctant to leave. They ate and chatted long after the service ended.
We in the U.S. can learn much from Bulgaria. If Christianity does become the minority, we can still influence our community by loving them, living before them, and pointing them to Christ.