The Bleak Future of the SBC?

Note: I published this article back in July of 2013, not long after the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting in Houston. I am editing this post slightly, mostly in the last section, “Solutions” by adding a few of my more recent thoughts. 

At the most peaceful and drama-free SBC in recent memory, there was one bit of news that had things stirred up – a fresh set of evidence that the SBC’s statistical decline was not just a blip. It is a real problem. We are a shrinking denomination. One seminary professor has described it as a “free-fall.” While that may be hyperbole, it is not wholly inaccurate.

And, of course, as soon as the statistics were published, the blame-game began. It ought to surprise no one that bad news like this is used to point the bony finger of blame within the SBC. We see it all the time in Washington. The Republicans blame the Democrats and Democrats blame the Republicans. It is natural (though in the Bible, natural is not a good thing) to blame “them” for the problems that occur.

  • Some rushed to point the finger of blame at the Conservative Resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s. In this scenario, the 60s and 70s were an SBC golden era and through the program Bold Mission Thrust, the SBC was set to launch into heretofore unknown heights. The CR stopped all of that and brought this denomination low. This is one of the most common memes about the statistical decline of the SBC. “The CR stopped Bold Mission Thrust.” The problem is, as we will see, that the statistical decline began not in the years after the CR began, but nearly 30 years BEFORE the CR.
  • In a move that surprised no one, some have tied the statistical decline to the rise of Calvinism. The theology of Calvinism (as defined by critics of the viewpoint) is decidedly anti-evangelism. Therefore, the rise of that theology is the root cause of the decline of our statistics.
  • One of the more common explanations (in some ways linked to Calvinism, at least by some) is the idea that the abandonment of our traditions has led to our decline. Back in the good old days, we had spring and fall revivals, the Sunday School growth spiral, we sang from the hymnals with piano and organ accompaniment, and things were booming. I actually had a man who was a Southern Baptist pastor for half a century tell me that if the SBC would only do today what we did then (traditional structure and methods) we would see today the growth we saw then. The problems of the convention root in the fact that we abandoned our ecclesiological culture for contemporary, “new-fangled” ways.
  • A few have put forward a unique hypothesis – that because of the insistence of many today on the biblical gospel, there are fewer false conversions and therefore, while our statistics are down, it could actually be a good thing, not a bad thing. Kudos there for originality and creativity – turning a statistical nightmare into a blessing is no small task. I, for one, remain unconvinced – chalking this up more to wishful thinking than reality.
  • The political involvement of the church has been blamed by those on both sides. Some say we’ve been too involved in right-wing politics and others say we have not been involved enough. The first group says that we traded our gospel mandate for civil religion and are suffering for it. The second group argues that we surrendered our society to moral decay and are reaping the fruit of compromise.

But I maintain that while these hypotheses have varying levels of merit they do not explain the data. LifeWay released a graph that shows something pretty interesting.

Our statistical decline did not begin in the 1980s, after the CR began. Nor did it start in the 1990s in the aftermath of the battle. It did not start in the 2000s as Calvinism surged into renewed prominence in the SBC, or as hip, contemporary churches spread across the SBC.

The statistical decline of the SBC has been happening over the last 60 years.

You say, wait a minute, we were still growing until the last five years or so. The statistical decline is new. That is true in one sense. But look at this LifeWay graphic.

The key here is the rate of growth, not whether we are getting bigger or smaller. In the 50s, the SBC was growing at an annual rate of nearly 5%. By the sixties, that rate had dropped precipitously to between 1% and 2%. Over the next 40 years, the rate of growth hovered between 0% and 1%, with an occasional blip either way. Finally, in the last 8 to 10 years, we ticked over into the negative numbers. There are ups and downs throughout, but it you look at the red line, it is a fairly consistent downward trend that has lasted longer than I have been alive – and I am no spring chicken! Folks, this trend is almost as old as CB Scott and he went to high school with J Frank Norris.

An Analogy from Barack Obama

I love to follow political statistics, especially presidential approval polls. Since the elections, I have been following the “Real Clear Politics Poll” which is an average of several major polls that measure whether Americans are pleased with the president’s job performance. Around the time of the inauguration, the president enjoyed a bump, averaging over 10 points in the positive (10% more people approved of his presidency than disapproved). I’ve checked it regularly since then. It took a slight dip that was probably little more than a post-inauguration bump correction. His approval hovered in the 8 point range for some time, then slowly began to drift down, as one problem after another hit the administration. For the past few months, the rating was consistently around 2. Then, about the time the NSA scandal hit (along with a couple of other problems) there was a precipitous decline. Today, the rating is a -6 points (again, 6% more of the American people disapprove than approve of his work). So, since January, the rating has gone down over 16 points. One could say, “The NSA problem sent him into negative numbers.” That might be true, but his positives were slipping long before that issue arose. When did the problem start? Even though he stayed in positive territory until recently, the problems began when the numbers began to shrink.

The SBC Experience

That is what has happened to us. Yes, the numbers only popped into the negatives somewhere in the middle of the last decade, but our rate of growth was slowing long before that. The problem began in the middle of the 1950s and has continued, fairly consistently, since then. The numbers, at least to me, are pretty clear.

So, our problem did not begin in 1979 in Houston. Nor did the problems begin in 1993 when Al Mohler became the ninth president of Southern. The problems began before I was born, back in the 50s. The solution is not to point fingers but to face reality.

Actually, reality is kinda scary. Look at these next two graphics. One takes the red line from the previous graph and extends it out to the year 2050. If the trend continues, the SBC is done as “the largest non-Catholic denomination in America.” Our mission force will be decimated and our structure will shrink to levels we could not have imagined a few years ago.

This simple little graph shows what our total membership will look like if that trend continues. If things stay as they are, the SBC in 2050 will be only slightly bigger than it was in 1950. 

Of course, projections assume facts not in evidence. Things could get better and they could get worse. Circumstances change. But the SBC would do well to sit up and take notice of these disturbing numbers. There are any number of excuses we could give why they are not significant or why things aren’t as bad as some have made them seem.

But we are on a 60 year pattern of decline!

So, What Happened?

Analyzing the statistics is easier than interpreting them. But I have some thoughts I’d like to put forward.

1) The SBC was a perfect storm culturally in the post-war era, especially in the South. 

We were what America was. It is interesting that traditional Southern Baptists criticize the hipster churches for their attempts at being culturally relevant today.There has likely never been a church as culturally relevant as the SBC was in the post-war era, especially in the South and in more conservative areas.

That is why there were SBC presidents and SBC senators and SBC judges. We fit the culture perfectly. We were industrious, patriotic, family-values folks. We believed in right and wrong, God and country, and the supremacy of Christianity.

I pastored in a small town in Virginia in the late 1980s. It was a town of 600, with a split of about 60-40 white to black population. Churches were segregated by practice, if not by policy. My church had a membership of about 400. We drew some people from all around the county, but the fact is that almost all the white folks in Drakes Branch were members of our church. Many I never saw in my 4 years there, but they were members. The Baptist church was at the heart and soul of that little town. It was like that all over the South.

2) The United States, in the 60s, began a rapid cultural, moral and spiritual shift. 

Has there ever been a time when a nation’s moral center shifted as rapidly as it did in America from 1960 until today? We went from “Leave It to Beaver” to “Married with Children.” It was normal in my childhood for a family to be comprised of a man, his wife, and their children – till death do them part. Divorce was present, but uncommon. I’m sure many marriages were unhappy, but it was a different world. In the early 60s, most people would have said that America was a Christian nation. Whether it actually was is not the point; everyone thought it was! Sex outside of marriage was shameful, especially if it produced a baby, living together before marriage was shocking, almost unheard of, and homosexuality was buried deep in the closet. Need I even mention that this has changed?

America in 2013 is almost nothing like America in 1953 or 1963. Everything has changed.

3) The SBC, once in the cultural center, is now on the periphery.

While the world changed rapidly, the SBC did not. While there are still places in the South (or frankly, in a conservative city like the one I live in) where the traditional ways still hold appeal, we are no longer inside the cultural norms. We are viewed as old-fashioned; outdated relics of a tired past. We are wearing leisure suits and driving Edsels in a hip, trendy world.

I am not intending this as a judgment. I think it is a fact. Basically, at the root of the numerical decline of the SBC is this fact:

The SBC, once ensconced at the heart of American (Southern) culture, is no longer so.

I know that backs are bristling as I say this, because we have been told that we are past our expiration date as a denomination and that makes people defensive. I do not mean this as an insult, but as an observation. What has changed since the 1950s? The culture. Everything about it. We were at the center of things in the 1950s, but are on the outside looking in today.

4) The SBC, instead of prophetically calling American culture to repentance, acculturated to it.

The most glaring example of this is the racial/civil rights movement that exploded in the 50s, 60s and 70s. The fact is that most of our churches defended the culture in which they were planted instead of calling racists to repentance. Someone could be both a member of the KKK and a Baptist deacon! We so bought into our culture that we could not speak God’s Word to it.

When the culture changed, we were left holding the bag. What I am saying is this:

The roots of the decline of the SBC today are planted in the soil of cultural accommodation. We molded ourselves to the culture of American Civil Religion instead of calling it to repentance. 

There are several other issues, but this is a post, not a book. But I think the root of our problem was our super-identification with the American Bible-Belt culture of the post-war era. When that changed, we did not change and we are now culturally-irrelevant.

Solutions

I may expand on this in a follow-up post, but let me make a few observations here.

1) We must determine what is gospel and what is cultural. 

I recall a discussion I had in Honduras with a lady from another church, back in 1988. She said, “Every Southern Baptist church ought to have every Southern Baptist program.” That sounds so odd to our modern ears, but it was not unusual in those days. When we first considered going to AWANA in the middle 80s, you’d have thought we were converting to Buddhism. There was a tremendous pressure to programmatic conformity.

We had a bad habit of thinking that our cultural habits were biblical mandates.

We cannot afford to do that anymore. We must make sure that we only take firm stands on what is biblical, not what is cultural. Again, this is a can of worms, and each of us will come to slightly different views on this. Thank God for autonomy, right? But we must think through these things and only enforce what is biblically mandated.

2) We must define the grounds of our cooperation.

I once wrote a discussion forum post here asking the question, “What Makes a Church Southern Baptist?” The fact is, no one had a clue. Adherence to the Baptist Faith & Message 2000? Use of LifeWay materials? Cooperative Program giving? Use of SBC programs? No one gave a good definition.

We must define that. Southern Baptists are a convention of independent churches that voluntarily unite and cooperate for missions and ministry. But now that there is no longer a Bible Belt culture drawing us together, we must make sure we define our doctrine (resolving any issues with the Baptist Faith & Message) and our standards for cooperation.

There has been a lot of discussion recently about the Executive Committee’s recent recommendations about Article 3, on the seating of messengers. We may disagree about the wisdom of the individual proposals, but I think they are doing a necessary work. These things must be defined.

Who are we? Who are Southern Baptists? As long as we cannot really define that, we will struggle.

2) We must remember 2 Timothy 4:3-4. 

Paul told Timothy to preach the word faithfully and warned him of a time coming in which “people will not endure sound teaching.” Instead they will gather to themselves teaches who will tell them what they want to hear and who will suit their own passions. They will “turn away from listening to the truth and wader off into myths.”

Folks, our culture hates what we stand for.

  • If we preach that Jesus is our way to God, but that each person needs to find their own way, no problem. If we stand with the Word and claim that there is no other name under heaven by which people ca be saved, we will infuriate the “all religions are the same” culture in which we live.
  • If we say that marriage is between one man and one woman, for life, we will be scorned as hateful and homophobic.
  • If we hold to biblical teachings on gender roles, the world will view us as anachronistic and oppressive.
  • The basic truths of the gospel are offensive. All people are sinners, under God’s judgment, and incapable of helping themselves spiritually or earning God’s favor. Jesus died, paying the price for our sins and rose again as Lord. There is no salvation found through anyone else but him. Each person must repent of sin and put their faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord – acknowledging Jesus’ rightful place as Lord over their lives.

If we refuse to compromise on these beliefs, we will continue to stand on the outside of cultural acceptability. If we compromise on these truths, we may gain man’s favor but we lose the gospel, salvation and the power of God.

3) We have to learn to live as a prophetic, counter-cultural minority instead of as the cultural majority. 

The older folks in my church are having a hard time with this right now. They grew up in a world in which Christianity (in one form or another) dominated culture. Today, it does not. They are having trouble switching their minds from being the cultural majority to accept that we are now a minority.

When you are a majority, you can flex your muscles. That changes when you are a minority. We, the new Christian minority is a post-Christian America, must learn to live counter-culturally. We must become the new hippies (but without drugs and with showers) who reject the dominant culture and march to the beat of a different drum – one that comes down from above.

I am going to expand on this concept, in a future post. This one risks going to Bart Barber lengths.

But let me boil it down to a nutshell.

We must learn to live as a counter-cultural movement, standing by gospel truth and biblical essentials, regardless of how popular we are in our culture. We are now a counter-cultural minority and we must learn to live faithfully under the new reality.

The root of our decline, in my view, is that we allowed ourselves to be absorbed by the culture of American Civil Religion. The same danger exists today – that we would be absorbed by the new culture of moral compromise and theological tolerance.

4) We must continue to intentionally build cultural and racial bridges.

The most notable failing of SBC history was our identification with racist culture. If we wish to move past that, we must continue the work that has been started. The election of Fred Luter to the presidency cannot be a lone event. It was be the first step in a process of intentional, willful inclusion of minorities (especially African-Americans) in SBC leadership.

5) We must respect and value one another inside the Baptist community.

Yeah, it’s the Calvinism thing – and a few others as well. We must intentionally accept one another as part of the SBC family. Calvinists must not treat non-Calvinists as theologically-inept and non-Calvinists must not define Calvinists as anti-evangelism agents of destruction.

We can disagree, but we must do so with respect, valuing the contribution that each side makes.

There are a hundred other things, but these are the big ones to me.

What say you?

Comments

  1. says

    Good work here!

    If God be for us, who can be against us?

    But what happens if God is against us?

    Repent!
    1 How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
    Nor stand in the path of sinners,
    Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
    2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
    And in His law he meditates day and night.
    3 He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
    Which yields its fruit in its season
    And its leaf does not wither;
    And in whatever he does, he prospers.
    4 The wicked are not so,
    But they are like chaff which the wind drives away.
    5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
    Nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
    6 For the LORD knows the way of the righteous,
    But the way of the wicked will perish.
    Psalms 1:1-6 (NASB)

  2. Stuart says

    3. We have to learn to live as a prophetic, counter-cultural minority instead of as the cultural majority.

    But Dave…most of our churches are still on the town square and a bunch of pastors are still Rotarians!

    Seriously though, I shared the same sentiment as your no. 3 with a cohort in 2005. Most of my classmates told me I was wrong and that the church was still in the center trying to reach the margins, and not on the margins trying to reach the center. Nine years later I wonder how that same class discussion would go.

  3. says

    Dave

    Great post..fantastic insight!

    If we really believe what we have said for the past 40 years or so “The Gospel never changes, methods always must”, we will REMAIN counter culture save a great national revival. If we remain counter culture should we expect to grow numerically? Perhaps not. If we remain counter culture should we redefine “success”? Yes! What then is that success ? As you have pointed out, fidelity to the Word of God and a true gospel. That is the measure of success in the days to come.

    It is my belief that it is the gospel that is offensive. Not our methods. I am in no way opposed to new methods, contemporary music etc. But if by changing those methods we are led to believe that growth will result, we are fooling ourselves. Why? The culture is not leaving us because of our music, rather because of the change in life that must come in response to the gospel.

  4. says

    There is no question major changes must be done to save the SBC. The Cooperative Program is one of the most brilliant missions sending programs ever and it must be preserved for the sake of the spread of the Gospel. I have been a Southern Baptist (SBC) my whole life, all 39 years. Born and raised in a Southern Baptist church (baptized at age 7). I attended a Southern Baptist university for 4 years (BS degree), attended a Southern Baptist seminary 4 years (MDiv degree), pastored Southern Baptist churches for 5 years. I am knee deep in SBC.

    Here is my blog post titled, “My ideas for the Southern Baptist Convention to survive.”
    http://jaroland74.wordpress.com/2013/08/15/646/

  5. says

    This is really good at pointing out the really harsh problems we are facing. I think it is multifaceted and cannot be summed up easily.

    I do however think that the idea that there is less “cultural Christianity” being a factor. Rather than just being born into the SBC and staying with it, even if you didn’t accept it, many are leaving the church altogether since they frankly weren’t on board to begin with. They just stuck with it because that is what you do. Luckily in our state much of it is non SBC so the preconceived notions of what “church” should be is not there, so we can focus on preaching the gospel, without having to worry about holding onto dying traditions.

    I do think it also makes it easier to see who truly has accepted Christ and who is feigning salvation. It keeps people from slipping through the proverbial cracks since many are no longer sticking around purely because of tradition.

  6. Steve Potts says

    Dave, thank you for this great (updated) post. In fact, each of the factors you mentioned can play a roll in this decline (as well as others not noted). It is interesting to see our decline in connection with Christianity in general. The “mainline” denominations, which as a strategy, identified with the culture, have in general seen the most significant declines. More traditional forms of Christianity are declining as well, some faster than others. There *are* some bright spots as well; however, the overall picture suggests cultural shifts, not methodological ones as the main causes. It is sometimes said that the fault is that the church has failed to win the culture. Though there is some truth to that, I think it’s unfair and unhelpful to blame the cultural decline on ineffective churches (just as it would be wrong to credit cultural improvements simply to our efforts). Many churches are trying their best to be faithful, winsome, and compassionate. It’s not the church’s fault that the culture has embraced postmodernism. Some of the efforts to respond to cultural decline have been less than helpful, but the “traditional American culture” was still part of the world and not really on the church’s side–ever. The ebb and flow of the church in society is a complex matter. We can’t solve this with a new strategy, better programs, and slick communication. What we can do is to address our own failures (especially sinful disobedience, such as the racism you mentioned) with repentance and humility. We must live out and speak the Gospel faithfully, whether we are gaining or losing demographically. In fact, the darker the world around us, the brighter the light of the Gospel may shine through us.

  7. dr. james willingham says

    Dear David: There are a few areas that have not been considered. Just to note one, a biggie, the elephant in the room that everyone is ignoring, namely, a conspiracy with the aim to ending Southern Baptist and all other evangelical influences. Suggest you all read Carroll Quigley’s Tragedy and Hope which speaks of the conspiracy and even gives their theology as well as the theology they oppose. Cf. page 1028 (download from item six on the page that I got in a search of the internet, titled Tragedy and Hope : Carroll Quigley : Free Download & Streaming) for the theology favored, called orthodoxy, and the theology opposed, called Puritan. Please be careful, when you read, and have a full knowledge of both and how they work. Believe me, the descriptiveness or, rather, the truth of the descriptions is wanting. In any case, let me just say that the view promoted does not comport with the facts, and the errors were long ago introduced into Baptist Thinking (circa 1820 or even a little earlier).

    By the way do it in PDF format. Now some other facts. We had a vast infusion of new folks in our area, turning the Raleigh Durham Chapel Hill area in to the Research Triangle Park, along with the traffic jams that go with urban sprawl. We also had a change in denominational influence. The Baptists are still number one in numbers, but their influence has waned. The people lack jobs and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future unless we turn our attention to the stars (literally) and began mass migrations to distant planets. The three fold strands of work for our Baptists were Farming, especially, Tobacco (some Cotton and other items, of course), textile mills, and furniture factories have vanished away in the past 25 years or more. Automation, robotics, computerization, along with jobs moving overseas has ended all hope of jobs. That is a reason (automation, etc.) why we will implode, and our institutions along with our churches which were their mainlines of support. Then Protestantism and Evangelicalism along with us Baptists (who are I believe rightful heirs to the underground church without being BI or Landmarkers) will shrink dreadfully and wind up as nothing for all practical purposes. What we need is a new theological renaissance.

    That means we need a reframing of our theology, an understanding of how biblical theology actually works. Take any doctrine, and you will find that it is composed of two poles, basically two-sided, asymmetrical and cannot be reconciled (indeed, it is not meant to be reconciled). The purpose of this dissonance of ideas is that they are dissonant until we understand that they are to be held in tension, creating a field from which to respond appropriately to any given situation that might arise. Consider the inspiration of Scripture, Verbal Inspiration, and you will find the Divine and human elements involved there. You will also find that to define scripture as only Divine in inspiration sans the human element is a heresy and the same can be said for the human element, leaving only the idea of containment. Again, we have Trinity/Unity, Preservation/Perseverance, Divine Sovereignty/Human Responsibility. In such cases one must give full faith and credit to both sides of the coin. That means, for example, a particular redemption motif is definitely a part of the proclamation as our Lord indicated in Mt.15:21-28. The idea that Jesus should say, “I am not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” to a woman who was not a Jew, views only the chosen as the subjects. Her response was that of worship in view of what she could not understand. Reprobation and inability were also preached to her, and she agreed that she was a dog, an unclean animal that consumes its own vomit and thus represents reprobation, along with depravity and inability (a dog cannot change itself), and caught at her only hope, that the crumbs from the children’s table will not take any thing from the children. After all, what parent wants to take the crumbs from the floor for the children? But she also pays the Lord the greatest compliment and honor, implying that a mere crumb of His mercy is more than sufficient to meet her needs (note how the Lord responded to that!). The same approach is found in Lk.4:16-31 in our Lord’s dealing with His neighbors in Nazareth. Now, lest some one think I am out to make Calvinists, let me say I am not. Making a Calvinist can make one into a cold, hard, unconcerned person. Helping some one realize the tremendous power of Scripture to enable one to be balanced, flexible, creative, constant, and magnetic or, in short, a mature believer, God’s best subliminal advertisement for the Faith of the Gospel is my aim. Biblical orthodoxy is not intended to make one a mere cipher, but a creative believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, one willing to follow Him all the way, ready to recognize and make use of the empowering and enabling therapeutic paradoxes along with the shock therapies of the Bible. The Book, intellectually, reflects the omniscience that inspired it and thus demands of man the utmost of careful thought and implementation in life.

  8. William Thornton says

    Good post.

    On solution #2 (the first such #2 in your list), defining our cooperation, I fear that you have listened to the siren sound that it is helpful to define people out. Do we really think that narrowing the parameters will do anything but shrink the total? If that is seen to be a beneficial goal, then why the lament over the SBC declining? Seems that it would be a measure of success in that case.

    I think the SBC should be seen like the government. When faced with a problem, please, please, don’t start legislating solutions and make it worse.

  9. Dude Love says

    “We must respect and value one another inside the Baptist community.”

    Yeah, I agree. But the blogosphere is a LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONG way away from such an ideal. I mean, just look at the Calvinist cops who arrested the Liberty people associated with Benny Hinn this week. Those folks seemed to relish the chance to pounce on fellow Christians…but perhaps Liberty folks aren’t Christian at all, are they?

  10. says

    Wow! Thanks Dave for such a insightful and in my opinion dead on spot analysis. If I could add some comments or additional areas of concern that go too the issues to the decline of the SBC.

    Let’s start with millenniums (18-30). We have done nothing serious to reach them. Case on point, we promote the Lifeway Curriculum and that does not reach them. My wife and I teach high school juniors. This past Sunday I showed a seven minute video from……… are you ready? South Park! It was clean and was one of the best overviews I have seen on Mormonism. (I am sure that many of your readers are now gasping and calling me a heretic). We are teaching these kids about other religions so that they can engage their friends who are of other religions. What we are doing is apologetics and guess what, that is what they are hungry for.

    Millenniums also are hungering for authentic worship (not music) but worship. They are hungry for sermons that are relevant and supported by scripture (can we say expository preaching?). Topical preaching is fine but at some point they are going to say enough already, give me something I can sink my teeth into.

    We are too quick to adopt programs and gimmicks in youth and in our sharing the gospel. Today I was at a McDonalds and there was a homeless woman sitting outside. I was unaware she was homeless until some lady brought her in to feed her. The lady bought her food and as they sat there’s she plunged right into her EE outline. Don’t get me wrong, she fed this woman and she made an effort, but it was programmed. Instead of asking this woman her name, how she became homeless, did she have any family or simply getting to know her, she dove right into her “Salavation speech”. And you know what, that homeless lady did not focus on a word she said. The lady that fed her left but before doing so, she promised to pray for her

    Here is the problem within this, it was canned, forced, program. It lacked. And there in is serious problem, the SBC has lost genuiness. My son is a millenio and has a degree in youth and family ministry yet he’s given up on looking for a church to serve in because he is not what they are looking for. They want a guy who can build up the numbers, get the youth in with as many numbers as possible. They want programs that will excite the youth and have earth shattering youth camps. He through his training and eduction at Boyce College would rather focus on teaching them discipleship, apologetics so that they can understand and be relational. To him it is not the numbers but the quality. His thinking does not fit within the SBC mindset.

    Another area that is killing the SBC and this will set off a firestorm for sure; mega churches and waste. There is a “mega-church” that spent 2 million dollars on their Christmas program last year. We write articles in the Baptist Press proudly writing about the 37 million that will be spent on stained glass windows at southwestern. In the mega-churches, more than nought, they have become the “prestige place to attend” I mean we can boast we have Chuck Norris at our church. (I like Chuck don’t get me wrong here). As for ten waste, there was in excess of 100 million spent on a new church ans who was this built for? Waste and sinful waste at that.

    I will give yet one more example if I may. As we lament over the evils of Calvinism and reformed theology, we praise those that are making a name for themselves who are in the SBC. We push a certain California pastor out there and are thrilled that he is ours and he is considered America’s pastor. All the while, he has three men who are unsaved help lead his church in a so-called biblical weight loss program. Really? This is the gospel as Paul presented it?

  11. Sarah says

    I’m just an old grandma in the pew, but I can share what has driven most of my family out of the SBC.

    I’m hanging on by the skin of my teeth to Sunday School. For years I was torn up because my young adult children walked away from the church. Notice I said the church, not the faith. Today I have to admit when it comes to church services or most anything preacher led, I’m right there being a “none” with them.

    They left for several reasons. Yes, the worship wars hit us hard, but not the way you may think. My boomer generation loves contemporary, they hate it. But even that wouldn’t have sent them packing.

    The nail in the coffin is the preaching. They, and I, don’t want to hear more sermons about how to improve our marriage, or sports themed sermons, or endless arguments over trivial issues.

    We’d be there in a New York minute for preaching that preached Jesus.

    Instead we usually get some variant on the theme of church growth. Do this and we will grow. Don’t do that and we will grow. We have to constantly change or we won’t grow.

    Don’t misunderstand: we are all about seeing folks saved and discipled. But seems to us the church is more about finding tithing units than seeing folks saved. More about getting them in the door and on the church role than seeing their names in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

    We were loyal SBC since the 60’s, but we’ve reached the point where we won’t waste our time on tomfoolery aimed at money making, and we sure won’t waste it on that which drives us further from Jesus.

    But the bright spot is this: we find a whole lot of people no longer church active but extremely active leading others to Christ, teaching them, serving them, and being the Body of Christ. Jesus and His Church are doing just fine even as the churches decline.

    • Dale Pugh says

      Sarah, I’d be interested in some facts here. You say:

      “But the bright spot is this: we find a whole lot of people no longer church active but extremely active leading others to Christ, teaching them, serving them, and being the Body of Christ. Jesus and His Church are doing just fine even as the churches decline.”

      I’m not disagreeing with you, but I am going to ask you to do something for me: Prove it.

      • Debbie Kaufman says

        Dale: I hear Sarah loud and clear. I would rather have my family, including my grandchildren not attend church than attend a church that Sarah has described, of which I believe there are many still in the SBC. Home schooled if you will. Those kind of churches, in my opinion, do more harm to Christ and evangelism than good.

        • Debbie Kaufman says

          I should explain the word home schooled as I used it. I would rather people study scripture at home as a family than subject themselves to the scenario Sarah has described.

          • Dale Pugh says

            And yet my question remains unanswered. Where are people functioning within the guidelines of biblical discipleship actually doing the work she claims they are? Where’s the evidence? I here this kind of “oh, the church is just so useless” stuff all the time. And somehow in the same breath there’s another answer for the problem that’s just getting the job done so well. Yet, I have yet to have someone point me to a place where this is actually happening that isn’t connected to the biblical model of like-minded believers, gathered together, and being “the church.”
            I’m certainly not promoting some aberration of the church that she describes. But to say that families should be sequestering themselves away with no fellowship and no connection to other believers is just wrong. I know there are places where geography makes it difficult, but that’s the exception, not the rule. And the New Testament certainly does not support such Christian isolationism. Nor does it tell us that’s the best way to accomplish the mission we’ve been given.

          • Debbie Kaufman says

            Dale: It’s common sense. Not everything we do has a straight out Biblical mandate. If you advocate them staying, I would argue with that. You want a Bible passage for everything and that just isn’t going to happen.

            To continue to ask for Biblical passages is abuse in my opinion.

          • Dale Pugh says

            Abuse of what, exactly? Who or what am I abusing? That’s a fairly strong accusation to toss out. What I’m asking for is evidence that what’s being stated is actual truth.

            And common sense isn’t so common, Debbie.

          • Dale Pugh says

            I also stated that I’m not promoting the aberration she’s describing as descriptive of what the Bible teaches as being the church.

          • says

            I shudder when I hear the words “common sense” given as an answer. Translated that means “don’t confuse me with the facts” or worse “why do we need a Bible reference”.

          • Debbie Kaufman says

            Dave: In this context, to Sarah, yes. People who have left the church due to being abused or hurt and have not gone back do not need to this. This is always the first question that gets thrown at them, which in fact dismisses all the words Sarah said. Take it for what it is.

          • Debbie Kaufman says

            It’s like asking an abused woman to provide verses to leave her husband who is abusing her or cheating on her. It’s another slap in the face.

          • Debbie Kaufman says

            DL: I shudder when I hear the words prove it and give me passages from the Bible when someone has gone through what Sarah and many, many others have. She is not the only one.

          • says

            Debbie, the Bible is our authority for all things. There is no life situation which nullifies the Bible as God’s Word nor its teachings as authoritative.

          • Dale Pugh says

            #1–Show me where Sarah has been abused.
            #2–The church is Jesus’ idea, so asking for a biblical principle or backing is hardly an abusive question.
            #3–She makes claims for something that she doesn’t support with factual evidence.
            #4–I didn’t say, “Don’t leave a church that’s abusing you.” That wasn’t even remotely suggested since she didn’t indicate that she’d been abused.

            What she described is simple dissatisfaction, not abuse. I said, “Prove your assertion that people are being evangelistic and are discipling others outside the context of the church as defined in the Bible.”

            Am I saying that every SBC church out there is getting the job done? No. Do I think every SBC church is a place I’d want to be? No. I can point you to several examples of both from within a 25 mile radius of my house.

            I made no accusation. I even told her that I wasn’t disagreeing with her. But when someone makes a claim they’d better be ready to support that claim. In this case, they need to back it up with clear, factual evidence AND the Bible.

            Debbie, I take your statement very seriously. I do not take any kind of abuse lightly. As one who’s dealt with abuse (though not of the “church” kind) himself, I’m a tad bit offended by having my comments labeled as “abusive,” but I’ll live over it. I’d also caution that “common sense” about biblical matters never trumps scripture itself. Instead, that common sense needs to line up with scripture.

            I repeat, Christian isolationism isn’t biblical. If you think that it is, then support your assertion from scripture. If all you have is common sense, then you’re treading on thin ice.

          • says

            Debbie

            I discern that I have offended you. That was not my intent. If I have then I do sincerely apologize. I am simply of the opinion that everyone has an authority or accountability structure. For the child of God that base must be God’s word. I just cannot wrap my head around the idea that quoting scripture is abuse.

          • says

            Debbie

            Perhaps I should move on but please indulge me one more idea. To compare Sarah’s “abuse” to women who have been abused lessens the heinous tragedy of spousal abuse or abuse of women in general. The abuse of women is so dastardly that it must remain in category all its own and never lessened by points of reference.

            Thank you for listening…God bless

          • Debbie Kaufman says

            Dave: Sometimes there is not going to be a clear cut passage for Sarah’s situation. Common sense and the knowing of God’s love and acceptance of us guides us so in that way you are right. We have common sense and the Holy Spirit to guide us as well. When something is wrong, or abusive or illegal, we leave.

            DL: I would disagree with you that I am lessening the severity of a woman being abuse. Abuse in the church has been shown to be as severe, as traumatic, as changing of a person as a husband hitting a woman. If anything, I am upping abuse and wrongness in the church to the same severity as a husband abusing his wife.

          • Debbie Kaufman says

            “I discern that I have offended you. That was not my intent. If I have then I do sincerely apologize. I am simply of the opinion that everyone has an authority or accountability structure. For the child of God that base must be God’s word. I just cannot wrap my head around the idea that quoting scripture is abuse.”

            You have only partially offended me DL. I think this is a good discussion to have actually and am grateful for your participation. You are among many who have you view.

            For clarification I did not say quoting scripture is abuse, or even asking for scripture in all cases. In cases of leaving the church due to the reasons Sarah listed, yes. It is a put up or shut up proposition that has for too long been used to swipe away Sarah’s situation and her solution. That is why people are away from the church as well. Many in fact and we have to take that seriously. To continually ask for scripture and then say “My question has not been answered ” is more of a fighting position against those who have been abused and hurt by the church. If you want people back to church, give them a church that heals the affects of abuse, not do as Dale has done. That is piling abuse upon a person who has already been pretty beat up by abuse.

            As Christians we are to heal, not pound. Dale was pounding.

          • Dale Pugh says

            Debbie:
            No, I was not pounding. I asked for proof of a completely baseless assertion.

          • Tarheel says

            Dave Miller said;
            “the Bible is our authority for all things. There is no life situation which nullifies the Bible as God’s Word nor its teachings as authoritative.”

            Amen, that statement is so good and important, I just wanted to make it appear again!

          • Tarheel says

            Dale throws in one too!

            “I’d also caution that “common sense” about biblical matters never trumps scripture itself. Instead, that common sense needs to line up with scripture.”

            AMEN!

          • says

            Debbie
            I returned and re-read Sarah’s original post. Two observations:

            (1) Ironically I agree with most of what she has said to be troublesome. I don’t like contemporary music. I love pure expository, in fact almost exegetical preaching, I care little for topical marriage, money management, etc sermons. Yet there does seem to be a study diet of that. But I cannot feel “abused” when that happens.

            (2) I have had extremely close contact with spousal abuse, Debbie for the life of me I cannot equate the two.

            Perhaps we have a different definition of abuse.

          • says

            I’m always amazed by people who have been “hurt by the church.” Over the last forty-five years I’ve met many such and I always wonder what they would have thought about the treatment Jesus received from the religious peoples of His day.

            Certainly churches make mistakes, because they are divergent peoples tied together by the Holy Spirit, and welded into a single entity while maintaining certain proclivities. However, almost all the hurt I’ve seen has been from the body either Biblically disciplining someone, or someone not receiving the recognition they perceive they deserve, ie not being selected to a favorite committee, etc. Anytime one has his/her feelings hurt, it is a sure sign he/she has stepped out from behind the cross, for when we are standing in the way of Christ, He is the real object of scorn. One responsibility of the Body of Christ is to teach Believers to so live for Him that any attacks are recognized as attacks on Him. I know that I’m not important enough for people to waste their time on me, and Satan certainly is not afraid of me, but he does fear the One to whom I’m connected.

            Spiritual people seem to change/leave churches for one of three reasons: (1) Geographical relocation, (2) Sense of call to a particular ministry, (3) Theological error being propagated. I really see no other Biblical reason for leaving a church, certainly not because my feelings have been hurt, and I have an inflated sense of my own worth.

          • Debbie Kaufman says

            Mike: That is where you are wrong. You are worth it. To Christ you are worth it. People say that they are not and it sounds good and spiritual, but that is not Biblical. According to the Bible we are worth everything to God. So much so that he sent his only Son to this earth to die for us. When we are God’s child, we are worth more than silver and gold. And yes, God cares enough to waste his time listening to us when we are hurt. Comforting us and soothing our pain. Many passages from Genesis to Revelation show this.

            When someone is hurt in the church, we should care. We should always feel someone is worth it.

  12. says

    Dave,

    I agree with you here. I agree so much that I spent 5 years writing a book about it. Our position on slavery and racism and segregation has hit us hard. People do not like to talk about it because it is in the past, but the REASONS that we were subverted by the larger culture the way that we were have never been dealt with. We are not actively racist anymore, but we do live to promote and defend our “way of life” and we have done so through our money, politics, and every bit of power we can grab hold of. And, just as Jesus said, when we seek to save our life, we will lose it. It has happened over and over again from the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement to the Culture Wars and Southern Baptists have taken the wrong position or approach every single time – even when we were right about things, we often went about defending our positions in the wrong ways. We have been a “me-first” group for a long time, even though our outliers have promoted mission and sacrifice.

    It has all come to a head and we are taking notice because … our numbers and money and power are failing us. Even in our growing awareness, it is rooted in self preservation. We are like Israel of old.

    The book that I wrote digs deep into our past and asks why we supported, defended, and preached things that we now say are evil. I talk about how Christianity is subverted and show how it happened. I explored the influence of Greek philosophy on Southern churches and then ask some hypotheticals: What would have happened if we would have repented in the 1950s? It is no accident that our decline started then. I do not think that it was just because of the culture shift. Some of that culture shift was good – it was God freeing a whole race of people from bondage that we were supporting. But, the fallout of us being on the side of the oppressors was a severe. A whole generation coming of age did not find guidance from the church. They had to look elsewhere. That set in motion all that has happened the last 50 years and every bit of fighting that we have done in going after the symptoms instead of the root has only made things worse.

    So, in the book, I deal with the root and show how we can be the church that Jesus birthed with our primary citizenship in God’s Kingdom instead of in this world.

    Not trying to do a book commercial here, but your post hits on what I have been actively struggling with since 2008 and after years of study/research, I think that I have hit on things that would be a help to us in our discipleship/mission.

    http://www.amazon.com/When-Heaven-Earth-Collide-Evangelicals/dp/1603063501/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1396703638&sr=8-1&keywords=when+heaven+and+earth+collide

  13. says

    Also, one other thing: Our 1995 statement of repentance over our racial sins is a pretty strong document. I do not know how many people have actually read it. It says that our theology was altered by what we practiced. I agree. I also explore how 130+ years of active racism and accommodation to a sinful culture altered our theology and practice to the point of terrible weakening. We were quite liberal, actually, in the sense that we were all for the freedom of those in power to get whatever they wanted and we compromised to fit the prevailing ideas of the day. We just didn’t see it that way. The irony of history.

    • John Fariss says

      Besides the whole issue over segregation and race, there was another cultural identification that hurt the SBC as I see it. That is the cultural identification with the wealth of society, which I suppose is to be expected since beginning in the mid-19th Century, the SBC’s “flagship” churches were those in the cities, even of the South. Furthermore, in our call system, the better educated, more articulate, and more popular pastors gravitate toward those churches, leaving “mill village” and country churches with less voice to be heard, as they are often led by bi-vocational pastors, usually without a seminary education. (This is not a criticism of any of them, especially of bivocational ministers. It is simply that we as a convention and our members as a whole pay less attention to them because of that.) As a consequence of all this, when the unions did good things toward better wages and working conditions, whether for the tenant farmers of the Deep South, the coal miners of West Virginia and Kentucky, or the textile workers of the deep and upper South, our public voices proclaimed the benefits of “free enterprise” which was little more than a code word to surpress regulations in mines, land usage, and mills. We still see that today in things from oil drilling and piping, strip mining, and clear cutting of forests. The SBC almost inevitably identifies with more of all that, fewer restrictions against it, and the marginalization of “environmentalists” as nuts, kooks, and socialists/commies, even those who 75 or 100 years ago, would have been no more than conservationists. In essence, we were in cultural captivity to big money, and over time, it has eroded support in our base.

      John

      • says

        John, wealth and race went together. Racism came from wealthy people wanting their way, then getting the laws changed to support their way of life, then convincing the masses that they were right, then getting religion to santify their whole enterprise. That is the progression and it still goes on. So, yes, all of those things that you said are a part of it.

        I demonstrate all of that in the book with source material. It really shows what a lot of our drivers were and how we ended up in the situations that we ended up in.

        • John Fariss says

          I don’t disagree, Alan. I just think we must recognize that the wealth part of the equation. It is important to our future, if we are to separate the church, especially the SBC, from its cultural captivity.

          John

  14. William Thornton says

    The unregenerate church member jag, a regular feature in these discussions, should be taken with some degree of both skepticism and with some discernment.

    The member:Sunday attendance ratio is lower because of less frequent attendance and that due to societal changes. The idea that we relegate most church members to hell in the aggregate, even if we flog ourselves as ministers for being part of the blame, is somewhat of an antidote to denominational decline.

    Those who believe this to be the problem should solve it locally…and then tell us how it goes.

    • says

      William said:

      “solve it locally”

      I am not sure where you were going with this, but it sparked an idea in my mind. It seems to me (1) we are over thinking this (2) we are painting with strokes that are too broad.

      We are talking in terms of a decline in a denomination. If a denomination is in decline that is because the constituency, the local church, is in decline. Should we not therefore relegate our thinking to our local church. If my church turns around and others join in that turnaround the denomination will turn around.

      I do not honestly know now to turn a denomination around, but I have some idea how to turn my church around. Do one and the other follows.

      Could it actually be that basic? Am I wrong?

      • William Thornton says

        I was challenging any pastors who are in the unregenerate church crowd, those who incessantly lament the same, to get busy in their church and (a) get their church rolls down to the few, the faithful, (b) lead a inter-church evangelism effort in their, or (b) stop complaining about it.

        • says

          William

          I could not agree more. I think that would led to the same emphasis that I was trying to make, namely stop fretting over the denomination and pastor your local church in a way that would turn it around. If enough of us did that the convention would by definition follow.

  15. volfan007 says

    The basic problem is a heart problem. And, the only way to fix it is for there to be a working of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the people in our pulpits, and then spread to the people in the pews. Judgment begins in the House of God. Then, it’ll spread out of the walls of the Churches onto the surrounding neighborhoods, and towns, and villages.

    When God’s people truly LOVE the Lord with all their heart, soul, and mind; and live out their faith; then we’ll see attendance pick back up. When we see the Church get serious about their worship of the Lord, then we’ll see people drawn to the Savior.

    David

    • volfan007 says

      I just know that the old Timers from our area tell about how people would spend much, much time in prayer…..in fact, some of the women of the Churches would spend a lot of time in prayer. And, people were actively trying to win others to Jesus and salvation….it was very important to them. They truly had a desire and a burden to see lost people get saved. They were concerned about their family members, and friends, and neighbors.

      Nowadays, we have too many Christians, who are either going thru the motions of worship, and who have no burden to win people to Jesus, and they have lost their first love; or else, we’ve got shallow Believers, who are more concerned with their needs being met, and with what everyone should be doing for them. Also, we’ve got too many Believers, who are waaaay too concerned with “fitting in” with the culture. It’s as if they’re scared to death that the lost world around us, and especially the group that they want to be accepted by, are gonna think that we’re backward, or out of touch, or irrelevant, or not intellectual. And, we end up with a lot of people pleasers, instead of bold, loving witnesses for Jesus, who are willing to stand out in the crowd.

      The answer is not found in all of the speculations of we committed this sin in the past, or we quit doing teaching some doctrines, or we stopped doing this program, or all the people moved into the cities……the problem is that Believers left their first love…..lost their burden for lost souls….let their worship turn mechanical and focused on all the wrong things; made it all about everything but truly meeting with God in awe and wonder and praise. WE NEED TO RETURN TO OUR FIRST LOVE.

      David

  16. Ben Stratton says

    Dave,

    Here’s one aspect you missed. From 1845 through 1940 the SBC stressed Baptist distinctives and the importance of a biblical ecclesiology. Look at the books that were published in this time period. J.M. Frost’s “Baptist, Why and Why,” J.B. Gambrell’s “Baptists and Their Business,” B.H. Carroll’s “Christ and His Church,” J.B. Jeter’s “Baptist Principles Reset,” George McDaniel’s “The People Called Baptist,” John Broadus’ “The Duty of Baptists To Teach Their Distinctives” and a hundred more. Those were the books the Sunday School board (and its early antecedents) were publishing and preachers and laymen were reading before 1940. After World War II it stopped and only in the last few years has there been any real interest in ecclesiology. This lack of clear teaching on the church has produced results. Multitudes of former Southern Baptists are now non-denominational, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, Methodists, etc. Before 1940 very few folks left the Baptists for another denomination. As a matter of facts during that period people were coming to the Baptists in droves from other denominations. Today few come to the Baptists, while thousands leave to become non-denominational or Presbyterian!

    I agree with most of what you wrote. But I wonder how the numbers would change if you added in all the former SBC folks to the totals. I believe the results would be surprising!

  17. sarah says

    I’m not sure what sort of proof some of you want.

    But here goes a bit of what I see happening: Today at our local MacDonalds, between 8 and 9 a.m., people who have walked out of 3 different churches met for fellowship, prayer, Bible study. They won’t be “in church” tomorrow, but they are vibrantly practicing their faith. We were in one of the groups.

    Some are younger folks, some older. All are active in the local soup kitchen or doing foster care or free medical clinic, or some such social service. Others meet weekdays at Starbucks, and some meet at various times at a local coffee shop.

    There will be a men’s Bible study for some of them at a local restaurant midweek. Ladies also have a midweek meeting–several, in fact.

    Most of those people will attending some outlier event of their local church–either SS or Bible study or prayer groups or children’s and mom’s groups, etc. What is being skipped is the “worship service.” This is a major disconnect when across so many churches folks are experiencing the same thing.

    And yet, while garage sale moseying today, we saw a growing church plant putting up a new sign. Folks who fled the local SBC have started an independent Baptist church. We may check it out.

    I wasn’t raised SBC. I chose it specifically in my late teens because they preached salvation. All this “deeper stuff” and “equipping” took place in SS and Training Union. The laity had planted or started my home church, not some church planter. From there they called their preachers.

    Fast forward several decades and actually had the local SBC preacher where I lived at the time tell us in service that “his job was to obey God and ours was to obey him.”

    Um, no. I have one Lord, and His name is Jesus. Not Bro. _______.

    I feel for today’s crop of younger preachers. I fear we have made you believe the job of meeting all the flock’s needs plus training us plus keeping the lost from being miffed at us fall on your shoulders. So will the blame if you fail.

    Truth is, we need to free you to go back to preaching salvation. That needs to be your number one job–not finding us new members but seeing the lost saved. We in the pew need to hold you to that, and walk away when you cross over into our territory. We need to be out visiting. We need to be taking care of each others needs.

    And all of us need to focus on seeing the lost saved, not the church enlarged. (Of course more saved people will mean larger churches, but the focus will be very different.)

    And again, this is the opinion of one old lady. But this old lady is simply “done” doing church and very busy following Jesus.

    • Tarheel says

      Question, Sarah.

      I don’t know where you live, but I’m sure there is at least one church in the vicinity where you can worship God and follow Jesus using your gifts within the fellowship and accountability of a body of fellow believers under the leadership of godly god called pastor(s).

      I pray that you will seek to connect and serve with such a body.

      • Tarheel says

        Sorry about that…I was gonna ask a question but changed my mind….and forgot to delete that line. :-)

        This CRS I’m struggling with lately, stinks. ( “can’t remember stuff” )

    • Dale Pugh says

      I asked you to prove it. I then clarified further in my comment to Debbie above: “I have yet to have someone point me to a place where this is actually happening that isn’t connected to the biblical model of like-minded believers, gathered together, and being ‘the church.'”
      After reading your “proof,” I rest my case.

    • says

      Sarah

      I have been far too active on this thread. I have already said more than I know. However one more comment.

      I gather that you and I grew up in the same type of church at about the same time. Years ago, when I started dealing with this in my own ministry and life I had to conclude that it is no longer about me, but about those who are not yet in the church. While I would like to go back to the old days it does seem that much of what I see today does appeal to others around me. I certainly agree that we can carry this too far but it is a valid observation speaking in general terms.

      I heard a preacher one time say “the New Testament church exist today primarily for those not yet in it. I believe that.

      Is it OK if I pray that God will lead you to a church family in which you can worship, love the pastor, and be happy in service there?

      • Debbie Kaufman says

        DL: I like your style in this comment. Love the last paragraph. I will be praying as well.

        • says

          Debbie

          Thank you. I simply believe that every child of God should be able to be a part of a church in which they can fellowship. This is not easy in that people have different attitudes toward worship style etc.

          I am without apology very much Southern Baptist. However, in our church planting emphasis it does seem that we are planting churches that are very much alike. This is unfortunate. We are trading a multitude of churches that are pretty much the same for a multitude of churches that are different from those yet still very much the same.

          Some are seeing the need for planting viable, vibrant traditional churches in areas where there is a market share. Note that I have suggested that to Sarah and the other “Sarahs” that may be out there. Granted I am assuming she is looking for the more traditional.

          Have a blessed Lord’s Day

    • says

      Sarah,

      It is a dangerous thing to become too spiritual for your church. When people from three different churches meet for Bible Study at McDonald’s, they’re not practicing their faith.

      Practicing one’s faith is doing his everyday activity with such a sense of victory and peace that those around ask what is the source of that peace considering the life events that befall each of us. It is then sharing with those the hope and help Jesus Christ offers, and showing them how to meld into the body of Christ, the local church family.

      Practicing one’s faith is aggressively looking for opportunities to share that faith. While I applaud groups gathering for Bible Study, it can become an ineffective substitute for practicing one’s faith.

      Please understand, I sympathize with your heart felt position. I simply think that somewhere along life’s walk, someone has missed the opportunity to convert your sincere concerns into effective ministry. Having a doubt, or question, in no way is demeaning, John the Baptist had a question, and when he did he took it to Jesus. Jesus said about him that no greater man had been born of woman. Just remember, following Jesus includes being a vital part of a local body of Believers, organized to teach, discipline, encourage, and love.

  18. Jim Hedrick says

    Sister Sarah thank you for persevering with the preachers (and others)on this blog line. Sometimes we can get defensive fleshly speaking. I do not read hearts just blogs. May God have mercy on his church and revive all his children who need His good in so many spiritual statistical shortfalls.

    • Dale Pugh says

      Jim, speaking for myself, if you aren’t reading hearts then don’t apologize for the “defensive fleshly speaking” that you have no knowledge of.

    • Debbie Kaufman says

      Dale: In other words you didn’t read a thing Sarah just said. Your replies denote a tone of anger. There is nothing to be angry about. My heart goes out to Sarah. I am fortunate to belong to a church where you do not hear sermons nor do we have expectations of performance. We obey Christ not pastors in our church. Unfortunately there are too few like the church I am privileged to attend.

      Fortunately more people like Sarah are speaking out. But…if churches don’t start following the Biblical model, which the apostle Paul tells us over and over is not about performance, but exactly what Sarah is talking about she is doing…..churches and the SBC will continue to dwindle.

      • Dale Pugh says

        Debbie: And once again someone reads into someone else’s comments a “tone” that doesn’t exist. I’m not angry. I asked for proof of an assertion and you and Jim want to make me out to be the typical “SBC bad guy” when I’m not. What Sarah describes in her reply is people acting like a church and even starting a new church.

        Once again I quote myself–“I have yet to have someone point me to a place where this is actually happening that isn’t connected to the biblical model of like-minded believers, gathered together, and being ‘the church.’” What Sarah describes is exactly representing what I just said. She describes like-minded believers, gathered together, and being “the church.” Thus, I rest my case.

        I pray that God blesses you and the people you gather with to make a difference for the Kingdom. I pray the same for Sarah. I’m not really sure why you feel the need to jump all over me for some perceived offense, but that’s your problem, not mine.

        • says

          Sarah

          I do not know where you live. However, I would think that there is an SBC Church Planter Catalyst in your area. You can locate him by contacting your local Southern Baptist Association. Talk with him about planting a traditional church in your area. I am assuming that this is what you are looking for. In most areas there is a market share for such a church. Others have experimented with this and found it to be somewhat viable. Just an idea in the “what it’s worth department”.

  19. sarah says

    Just a few comments for clarity:

    I’m an aging boomer. I like contemporary. The young adults in my family are adamantly against it. Go figure.

    As to church being “about” the lost, not the saved, I think we’ve missed a major point. The more we stopped evangelistic preaching and focused on what makes the lost comfortable attending our churches, the FEWER people we are successfully reaching. Hence, telling me basically that things have changed IN ORDER to reach the lost has me saying we BLEW that one big time.

    And no way Jose will we be contacting anyone for a “church planter.” We are fighting tooth and nail to maintain one SBC church in this county (large county). Besides, that sort of defeats the whole idea of the LAITY planting the church and then calling a pastor.

    The comments show exactly, for the most part, what I believe is happening in the SBC. The Convention, state, associational, and pastoral level has come up with a plethora of ideas that will supposedly make for a vibrant, growing convention. The people in the pew look around. Old friends have left for other churches, and we are NOT REACHING the lost, especially the younger lost despite our supposed aim to do just that. We pipe up that “hey, when we quit doing abc and started doing xyz we declined by x%” we get told that it “isn’t about us”, or we just don’t like change, or it is time to step aside and let the younger ones run things, or hey, go plant a traditional church if that “might” be viable.

    I’m gonna say it bluntly (few people will stone old ladies.) The emperor has no clothes on. All these new fads and techniques and methods are not working.

    I’ll be even blunter. My town has several growing and vibrant churches, just not SBC. Some are fundamentalist, some are not, some are contemporary, some are traditional. It isn’t the location or time of worship or form of worship or music driving people away.

    I believe–my honest opinion, but just exactly that–is this: people will come and listen when you have something to say and say it well. They are not going to waste a morning once a week getting more of the same tripe corporate served them all week. Give them Jesus. Love them, challenge them, oppose them, support them, but always give them Jesus.

  20. says

    Sarah

    Thank you for the interaction. It has been helpful for me to understand our christian community to better prepare to be able to meet the challenges ahead. This is vital to me because of the culture in which we find ourselves in our country which seems every day to become more and more anti-Christian. It is very important that as Christians we communicate and understand each other because the collective “we” here is not the enemy. The enemy is Satan and the forces of darkness. It is our task to penetrate the forces of darkness to the glory of God. I am sure that you would agree.

    I am not an “aging boomer” by a long shot. I am a war baby born 2 or 3 years before the boomer starting date (c. 1945). Hence I am just an old guy (oh to be only a boomer). Though you have disagreed I still must believe that the New Testament church exist today primarily for those who are not yet in it. God has given us a mandate to lead people to the precious blood of Christ. I have very few years left in which to do that hence I am willing to make changes that seem to be essential to bringing people into the Kingdom.

    Notice carefully what I have said here, “changes that seem to be essential” not just changes for the sake of following a fad. If what you have described in your area is accurate (I have no reason to believe it is not) then it seems to me that changes are being made for the sake of changes. If that is true I feel it is unfair for you to categorize all SBC churches as such.

    I attended this morning a church a little less that 10 years old. It is somewhat different that the churches I pastored 20 years ago, at least in style. When I arrived 10 minutes before the service there was absolutely no parking space available. I finally found a seat which was much too close to the person sitting next to me. My young planter/pastor preached the ultimate expository sermon on “The Cross of Jesus”. People got saved and will baptized in the days ahead. It was a fantastic service (except the music, it was contemporary, I much prefer Southern Gospel).

    Saran my point is this. I refuse to believe that this church is all that unique. I have to believe that there are many other SBC churches out there that are doing the same. If you have not found one, I pray that you will. If you have found one outside the SBC then praise God and enjoy the fellowship.

    One last word. I totally agree that churches should be started by laity. I only suggested that you consult a church catalyst because I erroneously assumed that if you had church planting skills you would have started one targeting those folks who feel as you do. That was my mistake. For the past 20 years I have been a Church Planting Catalyst, every church was started with laity.

    • Debbie Kaufman says

      Let me give you another scenario. I think it’s very common and there are no passages in scripture to give to “prove it.”

      When I experience a loss such as in death for example, I do not like to be around people. I go to work, come home and go out when necessary. My friends do not hear from me, I do not attend church as I do not want to be around people. This may go on close to a year. I then resume my life of church going etc. when I am done grieving. Same with problems I have that are just part of life. I do not want to be around anyone but my family. I do not share, I simply go through it by myself. I have not lost my faith. I turn to God, Christ during those times, but I am basically by myself. It is the way I choose to do it. My church does not judge me. They pray for me without knowing the situation. They understand. Where is this scriptural? Does it mean it is wrong? No. Same with Sarah.

      • says

        Debbie

        You have developed a process through which you cope with the disappointments in life. That is good. It is a sign of good mental health. It sounds as if you are a part of a church that is supportive to you and ministers to you in those times. That is very much a blessing.

        Debbie, the “pastor” came out in me in hearing from Sarah. Perhaps a blog discussion is not the place for that. I don’t know, I am new at commenting on a blog so I am still trying to “learn the ropes”. Be that as it may, my heart went out to Sarah because, due to my age I have gone thru the same scenario that she has/is going. I am now in a good place, in a good church that accepts me and loves me and in which I can serve. I assumed, perhaps in error, that Sarah might be looking for this. I just wanted to give testimony that God has a way of working these things out. And, as you say I have no verse, just a testimony in the what its worth department.

        I differ from you in that during these times I like to be around and hear from people, especially if we share a common experience. If Sarah wants to hear about a common experience she has. If she wants to go it alone as you do, you have affirmed that. This is how it should be.

        P.S. When I use the name “Sarah” I am really talking about all the “Sarahs” out there who have experienced what the Sarah on this thread (and me) have experienced.

        • Debbie Kaufman says

          And again DL, your heart as a pastor is showing. I like what you have written.

          • says

            Debbie

            What is that old saying “you can take the pastor out of the pastorate but you can’t take the something out of the something”, or something like that. I know it makes no sense but you get the idea. :-)

            P.S. An attempt at humor on Monday morning is never a good idea.
            Have a good day.

  21. says

    I believe we are stuck with anachronistic bureaucracy which tends to perpetuate itself. State Conventions with their layers of secretaries and administrative assistants are inefficient and wasteful. They are unable to effectively minister to vastly divergent populations within those conventions, and while they were necessary and desirable fifty years ago, they have become an impediment to the effective spread of the Gospel.

    Associations now have the wherewithal to communicate and develop the most intricate of training, and the associations remain the only real barrier to doctrinal apostasy. Re-directing monies now allocated to state conventions to local associations would provide needed resources geared to that association.

    Here in Mississippi, there is a preponderance of small churches, while the state convention, as in other states I’ve been in, seems more and more intent on developing materials and programs designed for the church of 300+ attendees.

    I’m not saying that such a re-structuring of the denomination would suddenly bring about revival, but it would re-direct resources in such a way as to facilitate more local outreach and evangelism.