LOUISVILLE The growing trend of former church buildings being turned into mosques and Islamic centers has reached Kentucky’s largest city where even some once-thriving Southern Baptist facilities are now occupied by Muslims.
“On a trip to England a few years ago, I recall seeing dozens of churches that had become mosques and wondering how it could happen there; now it’s happening here,” said Paul Chitwood, executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.
Todd Robertson, pastor of Antioch Baptist Church in Louisville, said the religious makeup of the Bible Belt is rapidly changing with declining membership in many Christian congregations and growing participation in Islam and other religions.
“We have at least three former Baptist churches in Louisville that are no longer Baptist churches—two are mosques and one is a Sikh temple, and that’s a reality that’s troubling for many of us,” he said.
Robertson is urging Kentucky Baptists to “think strategically” to find ways to revitalize shrinking congregations and to protect the assets of those that end up closing. He is among those leaders calling for churches that have weakened to the point of closing to donate their buildings and property for church plants rather than putting them up for sale.
In Kentucky and throughout the Southern Baptist Convention, the number of Christian converts has been in steady decline in recent years, while other religions have been experiencing rapid growth. Louisville, for example, now has more than 20 mosques.
“This should be a call to action for Kentucky Baptists to get serious about telling others about Jesus,” Chitwood said.
Since becoming head of the KBC three years ago, Chitwood has preached the need for church revitalization. He has put together a troop of regional consultants to work with local churches on growth strategies, while also embarking on an ambitious push to plant hundreds of new churches across the state.
The needs are obvious: The number of new believers being baptized fell from 14,984 in 2012 to 13,970 in 2013, a decline of roughly 1,000.
“We are on the brink of a massive transfer of kingdom assets,” Robertson said. “I’m talking about property—buildings and things like that—of churches that, in their heyday of the ’50s and ’60s, were exploding with growth.”
Robertson said many of those churches are now on the brink of closing. Some, he said, will end up throwing their building on the market “and having it bought by who knows who for who knows what.”
Former church buildings typically need only minor renovations to be used as mosques and Islamic centers and are generally less expensive than constructing new ones from the ground up.
“We have to face the reality of it,” Robertson said. “We’ve got to look ahead and think how we are going to strategically address this issue so that we continue to leverage the assets that God has blessed us with for the sake of the kingdom so that the gospel will continue to be proclaimed.”
Robertson warned that unless Kentucky Baptists think strategically about how to change the tide of shrinking congregations, they’re going to see increasing numbers of church buildings turned into places of worship for other religions.
“Now, I know they’re just buildings, and that’s not the church, but yet I see them in the grander scheme as kingdom assets,” he said. “I think we should have a very different mindset about what happens to those assets.”