Skip to comments.FIRST-PERSON: From decline to decision
Posted on 09/04/2011 5:24:05 PM PDT by SeekAndFind
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--It is time for the Southern Baptist Convention to move from denial to decision.
It has happened again. The SBC reported membership has declined, again. And, baptisms are at their lowest level in 60 years.
I remember the first time the membership declined, just a few years ago. I pointed out (based on data from LifeWay's now-retired statistician Cliff Tharp) that it was not an aberration, but a pattern. The 50-year membership trend was moving into negative territory.
"Put simply," I wrote in light of 2007 data, "membership may go up next year, but the trend points to the negative. It probably won't go up. But, even if it does, I believe we will have more declining than growing years over the next decade. Unless the trend changes, membership has peaked."
How did we respond? I remember how strongly these observations were denied. A segment of the SBC seemed to think closing our eyes or disputing the data would change our reality.
In 2008 when we were again faced with the data of a continuing trend, I noted, "Today we are facing a set of numbers to which we are not accustomed.... This year, I believe that our tipping point continues to tip. Unless things change, we are about to enter a time when we grow accustomed to decline and think back to the good ol' days of growth."
Following that report, there was a little less denial. Actually, more spoke up. Chuck Kelley, president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, warned that Southern Baptists are in danger of entering a deep decline with all the accompanying problems.
Subsequently, the data for 2009 revealed no reversal.
Now, we can see four years in a row of statistics confirming a long-term trend of membership decline in the SBC. It is what it is.
It is time for the SBC to move from denial to decision. I am only echoing what others have said before: It is time for change in the SBC. But change, just for the sake of change, is not enough. We must ask, "What kind of change do we need?"
For me, as a missiologist and denominational servant, change needs to come in several places.
A need for Missio Dei
First, we need a renewed passion for churches to live on mission. We need to see the church not simply as an institution but as an agent of God's Kingdom-mission. Increasingly, people must recognize the church is a missionary body with a divine call to be a sign and instrument of God's Kingdom. In short, God is a sending God and we are a sent people.
A need for diversity
Second, we need a greater emphasis on ethnic diversity. We've been so Southern and so white for so long that the annual meetings look like a loaf of Wonder Bread. Our ideas of "reaching out" are less impressive than striving to create an intentionally multicultural family that reflects the population of heaven. Simply put, denominations will not embrace ethnic leaders without a plan and strategy to do so. The SBC Executive Committee is pressing in on this issue, and it is about time.
A need for a new generation
Third, we must have a plan to raise up a new generation, not just of leaders, but young people throughout the SBC. The oldest generation may indeed be the "Greatest," but it must not be our last. The SBC will not last forever based solely on the presence of its elder statesmen and women. Mentoring, where the younger learns from the elder, and reverse mentoring, where the elder learns from the younger, creates the kind of dynamics that perpetuate an effective denomination without the bloodletting of civil war.
A need for a renewal in church planting
Finally, we need more new churches in our convention. I'm thankful for the efforts of Kevin Ezell and the team at the North American Mission Board as they are taking bold steps to refocus on church planting. Even in the Bible Belt there are large segments of people who have not been and are not being reached with the Gospel. In our large cities one could surmise that so much "urban blight" is the result of a spiritual vacuum. In the lesser-evangelized parts of our own country are people who have been insulated from the Gospel in the most Gospel-saturated society in history. Only a vast movement of church planting across North America will see these people reached with the message of Jesus Christ.
Telling the truth has been controversial in SBC life. But facts are still our friends. The fact is, our denomination is struggling and needs to change. Yet, it is not the denomination that is "great," rather, it is that a denomination is a family of great churches. I love those churches and pray God will use them to advance His name and His fame. The denomination is the tool the churches use to accomplish the God-given goal.
When will change come? I don't know. Some will keep going as before -- considering slow decline as acceptable as long as they can keep doing church in a way they have grown to prefer. Some are content to successfully manage decline. Yet, for others, knowing that 2010 saw the fewest number of new believers going through the baptismal waters since Eisenhower was president will break their hearts. They will weep for the lost.
We don't change until the pain of staying the same grows greater than the pain of change. May the truth break our hearts, drive us to our knees and compel us into the mission.
Ed Stetzer is vice president of the research and ministry development division and missiologist in residence at LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. He also has written the following analysis of the SBC statistics.
Analysis of SBC statistics
By Ed Stetzer
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--The numbers are out, again. They show decline, again. But what do they really mean?
The Annual Church Profile (ACP) numbers are actually not compiled by LifeWay Research, but are gathered by our executive communications and relations division in partnership with state conventions. We received the numbers Wednesday and decided some analysis might be helpful as we digest the changes the data reveals.
The biggest issue is a negative membership trend. As I see it, the greatest concern is not that we have 0.15 percent less members, but that it continues to reinforce a membership trend. Annual membership shifts happen regularly and have multiple causes.
Trends are what should concern us -- and the one that concerns us most is the trend of membership change from year to year. A year is not a trend, but we are looking at a 50-year negative trend in regard to membership growth/decline measured year to year.
Cliff Tharp, who has written a helpful book on SBC denominational statistics, led the ACP process for 35 years. He wrote a few years ago, "We have been slowing in our growth and have now passed into decline. We are right at the top of the arc and beginning to go down. But changes we make now can change that trend significantly. These stats are not new but it has never caught anyone's attention until now."
The "arc" to which Cliff refers is our total membership, as shown here:
How are the Northern Baptists, the Western Baptists, and the Eastern Baptists faring?
Don't get sucked in to this tar baby. Mainline protestant churches, which have been declining for a lot longer than the Baptists, have all pounced on this idea, only to come up absolutely empty.
Churches are a cultural phenomenon, accept it. Blacks will go to black churches no matter what you try to do to entice them into yours. Better to form local ecumenical alliances and joint social missions etc.
As long as they don’t propose doing what the methodists, lutherans, and presbyterians have done.
Missions, diversity, more church planting. I though Paul planted, Apollos watered but God gave the growth? Perhaps what is needed is more praying, more repenting and more time in God's word.
Interesting that he emphasizes a need for “diversity.”
Our baptist church has plenty of diversity. They make people of all races welcome and people of all races attend.
Who da? I lived in the North and never met a “Baptist” until I moved to Missouri.
In other words, the Southern Baptist Convention is declining as it has embraced political correctness and liberalism. No one has much of an appetite for warmed over Unitarianism.
So, in response to this crisis, the religious establishment has decided that the solution is more liberalism and political correctness, which will only compounds its declining appeal, as we have seen with the Anglicans.
Don’t leave out the Seventh Day Baptists :mad:
The other 4 American Baptist conferences are looking at similar trends.
Amen to that.
Yeah, maybe they need to copy the ELCA and ordain gay pastors. How do you suppose that would work out?
We even have billboards stating that the most segregated place in town in the Churches on Sunday Morning.
My church is mixed and so are the other large Baptist churches in town, but the Black's still mostly prefer their own brand of worship.
And more and more people are flocking to the Catholic Church because it is the one church that refuses to budge on these matters.
And, oh, did I mention that the media hates the Catholic Church because of it?
I live in a small parish in Oregon and we had 25 converts and people coming into full Communion with the Catholic Church
The Archdiocesan group this year was so large that it had to be broken up by parishes at the Cathedral for the Rite of Election — when the names of the converts are given to the Bishop.
Relatives in SC attend a mixed race evangelical church (not Baptist) and sing in the choir which is also mixed race.
They say that while at the church, there is mingling among the races, but if there is a choir social gathering at a white person’s home rather than at the church, the blacks will not attend.
Is this the case at your church?
Maybe it’s just a vestige of the old south.
I forgot to say that there were three sessions of the Rite of Election. (And remember, this is Oregon!)
Maybe the solution is to recognize that America has heard the Gospel, and largely rejected it. That we are responsible for telling the truth about the Good News, but NOT responsible for how many convert.
Maybe an expanding denomination in America isn’t likely to happen in post-Christian America, and we need to look to where the harvest is located...
Our responsibility is to focus on Jesus, not diversity. Pandering - as was done with the vote on immigration this year - is NOT the way to spread the Gospel.
Another idea: more church private schools to supplement home schooling.
Yes, I have noticed a pattern here: ideas which are purely secular in origin like the worship of “anti-racism” and “multiculturalism” and “diversity” ... mysteriously become Christianity over time.
There is already a push going on for female priests and gay marriage now. This comes in spite of the fact that the Church of England is dead in Britain.
The church keeps bringing in every aspect of our rotten secular culture ... church services that have more in common with rock concerts than the Gospel ... and they sit around wondering why no one wants their denominations keep dying.
If I wanted to worship liberalism, I would watch the MSNBC prime time line up in my own living room.
Here in Alabama, the religious establishment in the Southern Baptist Convention is fighting for amnesty for illegal aliens. The same is true of the Methodists.
They are indistinguishable from the National Council of La Raza, the NAACP, the SPLC, the Chamber of Commerce, the Democratic Party.
No wonder they are declining.
As long as they dont propose doing what the methodists, lutherans, and presbyterians have done.”
But the they are, and the author of this article is one of those pushing the changes. The SBC is now likely to self-destruct because of the group that gained control about two or three years ago. They claim to be inerrantists, but they are really cultural liberals. As the rank and file discover this, more churches will become independent, and, unless Stetzer and others are purged, the remaining churches will start looking like Mainline Protestant churches.
As a former pastor in an SBC church with many of my best friends being former SBC pastors, it’s sad to see our brethren continuing to miss the point.
If we as God’s people are walking in close relationship with Him, reflecting His character and nature in all that we do, both individually and collectively - others will be drawn to join us as they see and are attracted to Jesus.
But if we just change our programs, shift our focus, continue our emphasis on missions while failing to live the life of a missionary (kind of like liberals always declaring their purpose being to help the poor, but never helping the poor themselves as individuals), we will continue to die as a group.
All the proposed solutions are barking up the wrong tree and missing the real problem......
There are some blacks who won’t attend outside of the sermon, but few. Those that attend generally love Jesus more than a skin color. That includes other events.
Not as sanctimoniously as their Southern relatives.
I’m a Baptist and I let the Bible determine my morality.
Two months ago was our last day worshipping in our SBC church because it was becoming more and more liberal. One Sunday morning in June, the teenagers were on the platform doing hip-hop dancing to promote the upcoming VBS. It was the choreography outlined on the CD in the Convention material for 2011 VBS. While the kids were gyrating, the head deacon’s wife was in the choir loft doing a kind of hand jive.
At Christmas, the special music was “The Little Drummer Boy”. When I mentioned it to our pastor, he said, “Well, it does refer to the baby Jesus in a way”; he thought it was absolutely fine.
They’re now using some goofy version of the Bible — Holman, I think. Pastor said they use it ‘cause it’s easier for people to understand. I guess before Holman was published, the Holy Spirit wasn’t powerful enough to convict people via the pesky KJV.
They’ve tossed the traditional hymns and brought in a “hymnal” with the contemporary choruses. I mentioned this to the pastor and he said, “Well, I have to tell you that we’re going to go more in that direction quickly.”
SBC’s platform on amnesty is unacceptable. “It asks government officials to support ‘a just and compassionate path to legal status, with appropriate restitutionary measures, for those undocumented immigrants already living in our country.’ The vision for a path toward legal status mirrors what President Barack Obama has offered as hes urged support for immigration reform.”
Now we’re attending an independent Baptist church and are happy there.
Yes I agree with the other posters that “embracing diversity” is not the answer.
Better to adhere to your tenets of faith (and culture!) and be smaller than accomodate the world - in which case you’ll end up smaller anyway and will have lost your faith.
I would argue that the decline in influence/numbers of the SBC is more related to the decline of white, middle class Christian culture in society at large. After all, aren’t we taught in school that ghetto culture is just as good, if not superior, to the WMCC that built America into a great nation?
It saddens me, given that I grew up in the SBC. But from what I hear I don’t know that if I randomly wandered into an SBC church I would recognize the services of my youth anyway.
It is the Hispanics they want to court.
If one of the Blacks in your chorus were to hold a social gathering, would the whites attend it at his or her house? Perhaps there is an abcess that needs puncturing.
“They were the strongest supporters of Roe v Wade, in the beginning, and many are still today. “
Not in any SBC congregation I’ve ever been in...
Amen.......! How bout just returning to God’s word and leaving all the silly theories written by men alone.
Your story reads exactly the same as ours does. Thank you so much for sharing.
Amen.......! How bout just returning to God’s word and leaving all the silly theories written by men alone.
Amen.......! How bout just returning to God’s word and leaving all the silly theories written by men alone.
Most of the ones I have seen have become pretty irrelevant.
They are more interested in their useless traditions than in what is really important.
On Thirty Years Of Roe V. Wade
The Holman translation was made by and is owned by Southern Baptists. Good info here:
I prefer the ESV or NASB myself.
I am also, and we are an ornary lot. We belong to the SBC, but we call the shots in our church. We hire our pastors, select our Deacons and decide what songbooks, Sunday school study guides and what type of music we use. The SBC does not “tell” us what to do.
We have many Hispanics, a few Blacks and some other races who regularly attend our services. I hate the word “diversity” because of what it has come to mean. The current use of the word is a poison pill.
The problem with SBC resolutions is that they have no meaning or sway in the congregations.
For example, the illegal immigration vote passed on a vote of 766-723 (1,489) out of 44,000 delegates present. So a 43 vote margin out of 1489 cast out of 44,000...the resolutions only reflect what the ‘leadership’ is trying to pass, not what anyone in the pews believes.
They DO, however, reflect on the spiritual blindness of what passes for leadership in the SBC. I’ve been in mostly SBC congregations for 30 years, but I feel no loyalty to the denomination itself. If all other things were equal, I’d prefer to be in an independent congregation.
The church is under attack, no surprises.
A lot of the “teachers and leaders” at some of the SBC churches I have visited seem to be into Tony Campolo big time....especially those who are somewhat recent grads of protestant seminaries...and are generally in the 25 to 40 age group. I have watched as memberships have started to decline in these same churches and that leadership has suddenly become feckless in dealing with interpersonal issues that have arisen. I see many homosexuals attempting to put themselves into positions of authority in some of these churches(though if penitent and celibate I have no issues but there is a tendency to attempt to blunt the harder truths of faith when these folk teach).
“We must become more ‘missional’ and ‘socially inclusive’ is the hue and cry but some how passion regarding the “power in the BLOOD of the LAMB” has been lost; the older members have become uneasy and the kids see thru the PC sharade and want nothing to do with it!
Where did you read that? The Baptists in the U.S. were "strong" supporters of the freedom of religion and against the "establishment" of a state religion. FACT. That came to a head in the House of Burgesses in Virginia, over the issue of the Anglican Church interfering with when they worshipped and taxing to support the state church. James Madison addressed this and after the laws were changed the Baptists were some of his strongest supporters.
This does not mean that all is well. The world is trying really hard to infiltrate the church. A couple of years ago we had to fight the "purpose driven" fad from staking a claim in our church. And, just earlier today, my son was very upset when he got his new Sunday school book and found quite a bit of politically correct nonsense in it! But we will continue to run the race with endurance, looking to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith (Heb. 12:1)
Odd, before the last decade the local Catholic church was almost dead here. Illegal immigration basically is what has flocked to our local congregation. The Catholic church not only has budged on it's illegal's position, to just plain campaigning for open borders basically. Alabama's new immigration law was sued the other day by such Catholic policy.
spirit = 0
holy spirit = 0
holy = 0
I cannot imagine why people don't go the see/hear the show on Sunday.
Its happening everywhere regardless of denomination.
A few years ago many SBC churches got into Rick Warren and his ideas (we all had our “40 Days of Purpose” programs). Many of them (such as the one I attend) perceived the devil’s hand in the sock puppet and dropped all associations with Warren. The ones that didn’t are turning squishy.
As long as the leadership lets Jesus lead rather than the Warrens of the world the SBC will prosper. Overall numbers may drop, just due to demographics, but individual churches that obey the Lord will prosper. The goal, afterall, is not to increase the number of butts in the seats - it should be to lead people to salvation and equip them to serve in the Kingdom. SBC churches remain independent so the leadership in each individual church sets the direction for that church.
As for “diversity” initiatives: we reach out to families of all races. If, however, my pastor would come out and make it a goal to increase minority attendance I would find another church. The fact is, and always will be, that people will worship where they are most comfortable, and people by and large are more comfortable with people like themselves.
Yep, it has been under attack since Christ. And will be until he comes again. He warned us that the path was not easy. But I have read the last of "the Book" and know who will ultimately win, it is not our enemies.
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