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FIRST-PERSON: From decline to decision
Baptist Press ^ | 06/13/2011 | Ed Stetzer

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:

But, the 50-year trend of membership change is, in our view, the greater concern. It shows that the SBC was growing rapidly in the 1950s, growing well in the '60s and '70s, growing slightly in the '80s and '90s, and then the decline started in the new millennium. The graph tells the story:

If this 50-year trend continues (and they generally do), the small declines we see now will become big declines in the years and decades to come.

Second, the baptism trend is disturbing and now a trend of decline. For several years, LifeWay Research tried not to indicate baptisms were "trending down." The reason for this is that shifts over a few years were not unusual over the 60-year picture. Thus, we were thinking (and hoping) that baptisms would "return to the mean," which is a statistical way of saying they will go back to normal -- and at this point that means "up." Last year's slight uptick gave many hope, but we sounded a cautious (though hopeful) note then.

Surely all Southern Baptists prayed this was not a trend and there would be a return to the mean. In light of last year's data, we are forced to reconsider that view.

In our professional judgment, it is now appropriate to say SBC baptisms are on a downward trend. The large decline this year has shifted the trend line down over the last several decades (notice how it slopes to the right -- it has not in past years). Thus, we must regrettably say baptisms are now trending toward decline.

We could easily create some "sensational" news with a new graph tracking baptisms since 2000. The picture would be dramatic (and truthful), but we are still hoping that this brief trend (a decade is not that long -- consider 1980 to 1988 and the subsequent reversal) will change direction. But for now, SBC membership is in decline, membership change is in a 50-year decline, and baptisms are in a decade-long decline and trending down over time.

The news is not good, but God is still in charge and Southern Baptists are a wonderful people with a passion for God, His Word, and sharing Christ. I have given thoughts elsewhere on what we should do; here I simply point to where we are. Facts are our friends and these facts should concern us. Yet, as Cliff Tharp said, "Changes we make now can change that trend significantly."

TOPICS: Current Events; Evangelical Christian; Ministry/Outreach; Religion & Culture
KEYWORDS: decision; decline; membership; southernbaptists
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1 posted on 09/04/2011 5:24:10 PM PDT by SeekAndFind
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To: SeekAndFind

How are the Northern Baptists, the Western Baptists, and the Eastern Baptists faring?

2 posted on 09/04/2011 5:35:36 PM PDT by MIchaelTArchangel (Duval Patrick is a coward. Explain yourself on The O'Reilly Factor, you creep!)
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To: SeekAndFind
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.

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.

3 posted on 09/04/2011 5:36:13 PM PDT by hinckley buzzard
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To: SeekAndFind

As long as they don’t propose doing what the methodists, lutherans, and presbyterians have done.

4 posted on 09/04/2011 5:37:03 PM PDT by driftdiver (I could eat it raw, but why do that when I have a fire.)
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To: SeekAndFind

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.

5 posted on 09/04/2011 5:38:16 PM PDT by HarleyD
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To: SeekAndFind

Interesting that he emphasizes a need for “diversity.”

6 posted on 09/04/2011 5:39:24 PM PDT by wideawake
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To: hinckley buzzard

Our baptist church has plenty of diversity. They make people of all races welcome and people of all races attend.

7 posted on 09/04/2011 5:40:43 PM PDT by driftdiver (I could eat it raw, but why do that when I have a fire.)
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To: MIchaelTArchangel

Who da? I lived in the North and never met a “Baptist” until I moved to Missouri.

8 posted on 09/04/2011 5:44:35 PM PDT by TaMoDee (GO PACK GO to Super Bowl XLVI)
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To: SeekAndFind

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.

9 posted on 09/04/2011 5:45:44 PM PDT by WilliamHouston
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To: MIchaelTArchangel

Don’t leave out the Seventh Day Baptists :mad:

10 posted on 09/04/2011 5:46:19 PM PDT by Jonty30
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To: MIchaelTArchangel

The other 4 American Baptist conferences are looking at similar trends.

11 posted on 09/04/2011 5:49:21 PM PDT by wideawake
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To: WilliamHouston

Amen to that.

12 posted on 09/04/2011 5:51:53 PM PDT by gramho12
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To: WilliamHouston

Yeah, maybe they need to copy the ELCA and ordain gay pastors. How do you suppose that would work out?

13 posted on 09/04/2011 5:52:05 PM PDT by Vigilanteman (Obama: Fake black man. Fake Messiah. Fake American. How many fakes can you fit in one Zer0?)
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Comment #14 Removed by Moderator

To: hinckley buzzard
I live in the heart of the Bible Belt, Memphis, Tn.

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.

15 posted on 09/04/2011 5:52:53 PM PDT by Coldwater Creek (He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty Psalm 91:)
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To: WilliamHouston

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.

16 posted on 09/04/2011 6:00:12 PM PDT by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
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To: driftdiver

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.

17 posted on 09/04/2011 6:00:23 PM PDT by randita (Obama - chains you can bereave in.)
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To: WilliamHouston

I forgot to say that there were three sessions of the Rite of Election. (And remember, this is Oregon!)

18 posted on 09/04/2011 6:01:35 PM PDT by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
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To: SeekAndFind

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.

19 posted on 09/04/2011 6:03:21 PM PDT by Mr Rogers ("they found themselves made strangers in their own country")
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To: Vigilanteman

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.

20 posted on 09/04/2011 6:03:33 PM PDT by WilliamHouston
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