The SBC’s 60 Year Decline! Beyond the Blame Game

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. 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. Others have observed that back in the day, when we had spring and fall revivals, the Sunday School growth spiral, sang from the hymnals with piano and organ accompaniment, things were booming. If we would only go back to doing things now the way we did them then, what happened then would happen now.
  • 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 – but that will not convince too many people.
  • 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 say 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 a nearly 5% annual rate. 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.

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 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 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.

 

Comments

  1. Dave Miller says

    We are so quick to blame this or that, but the most drastic decline in the rate of growth took place in the 50s and 60s – before the CR and before the Calvinists.

    I think an honest look at the numbers would put an end to the “the CR destroyed the BMT glory” argument.

    • says

      Dave wrote: “3) We have to learn to live as a counter-cultural minority instead of as the cultural majority.”

      This point is well taken. Yet, many, even today, focus on reclaiming our culture. Is influencing and dominating American culture our mission or is preaching the Gospel and living godly as a testimony to a lost and dying world?

      IMHO, one of our major failings is that we did not handle it well when Christian ideals and morality did dominate American culture. Now, we must learn to live godly in face of adversity. Paul wrote: “. . . I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me (Philippians 4:11-13),” Now is the time to depend on the strength of Christ in the coming days to sustain us.

  2. Dave Miller says

    And, I’m a little nervous here. I introduced about 250 incendiary topics, all as sidelines to my main point – which is that the decline in the SBC preceded all the recent events on which it is blamed and is in reality a product of the radical cultural shift in the last 50 years.

    • says

      Dave,

      All of this begs the question of whether or not our expansive growth in the postwar decade of 1945-1955 was God’s work or simply a shift in culture – or perhaps a combination of the two? Everything that was stable and conservative exploded in American in those 10-15 years. Then, we had the great unraveling because the children of the “Greatest Generation” largely rejected their values and saw them as hypocritical.

      We had our chance to transform America thoroughly in the mid 1950’s. We had the “Million More in ’54” movement with Baptists praying and recruiting all over. Brown vs. Board of Education came down in 1954 and the Montgomery Bus Boycott was in 1955-56. What if Southern Baptists had seen our error, repented, and used their incredible cultural power in the South to tear down the wall of segregation instead of standing in the schoolhouse door? Would the cultural upheaval of the 1960’s had ever happened if it would have been Southern Baptists leading the Civil Rights Movement alongside Black Baptist pastors? Now, homosexual activists have used our failures in the Civil Rights Movement against us and have used the tactics of oppressed minorities to advocate their position – with decisive effect.

      What if we had stood for justice and righteousness instead of using our power to promote our own way of life at the expense of others? The Civil War with 600,000 dead and the division of a nation occurred 15 years after the Baptist, Presbyterian, and Methodist denominations split along North-South sectional lines over the issue of slavery in 1844-45. John C. Calhoun, South Carolina Senator wondered aloud if the division among Christians would prophesy the division of the nation. He was right. Did our abject failure in the 1950’s on Civil Rights lead to the ultimate spiritual collapse of America, Roe vs. Wade in 1973, and a host of other maladies that we are now incapable of correcting? Did our great power used for ourselves become our undoing?

      In the mid 1960’s, over 60% of white people in Alabama were members of Southern Baptist churches. We could have changed things if we would have repented. But, we didn’t and now we are reaping the whirlwind.

      I have written a 300 page book with over 200 footnotes that details this entire story that I hope to publish in the next few months, so I am fairly dialed in on this perspective. I also explore where we go from here over the last third of the book – there is still a great deal of hope for us, but it does not come from going backward. It is found from moving forward into what God is doing right now. I am not saying that Baptists are to blame for everything wrong with America. I am simply saying that when we had the power to address injustice and evil in our midst we could not do it because it would have cost us our privileged position in society. We were given much power. To whom much is given, much is required. We buried our talents in the field and now they have been taken from us.

      Worth thinking about.

        • says

          Fine by me. I think that the roots of our demise lay hidden in the past and the only way to move forward is to extricate ourselves from cultural entanglements that ended up sapping our strength. Others here have said it. We grew when we were aligned with the larger culture, but when it shifted we were exposed for having depended upon it too much. Our problem was that we supported the status quo instead of challenging it.

      • says

        Perhaps this begs the question: How does one differentiate the effects of culture from the working of God? An understanding of the sovereignty of God is essential. God works through man’s culture and human events, even adverse events, to accomplish His will. The most obvious example is the story of the horrible events that transpired in the life of Joseph, yet God confounded the evil to bring about good and accomplish His purpose (Genesis 50:19-20).

        One of the apparent problems in our current analyzes is that we are operating from our own politically correct viewpoints. It is interesting that no discussion of any topic is possible without bringing up racial issues, slavery, and social injustices. Yet, we do not find these as the major themes of Scripture or the Gospel. These are our own eisegesis. Such are only temporal matters.

        In the broad scope of things, it may be that God did bring good from these human failings of the past American history. Many African-Americans possess a faith in Christ that they may not have received if they had been born in Africa. Furthermore, the religious conservatism and widespread acceptance of Christianity in the South had its birth in the revivals that swept through the Confederate armies. Undoubtedly, many souls came to Christ through unpleasant temporal human events.

        Finally, I offer several words of caution:
        1. Do not confuse and identify the cause of Christ with an organization. The cause of Christ will triumph regardless whether the SBC rises or falls.
        2. It is not our mission to separate the tares from the wheat (Matthew 13:24ff). We cannot judge how many converts are true believers and how many are not.
        3. The accomplishing of God’s will and purpose is not dependent upon our plans, programs, methods, etc. God is sovereign as has already been noted.
        4. It is futile to judge ministry quantitatively. Our task is to be faithful in declaring the Gospel and doing the Lord’s work (I Corinthians 4:1ff). The results are in God’s hands (I Corinthians 3:6-7).

        • says

          “One of the apparent problems in our current analyzes is that we are operating from our own politically correct viewpoints. It is interesting that no discussion of any topic is possible without bringing up racial issues, slavery, and social injustices. Yet, we do not find these as the major themes of Scripture or the Gospel. These are our own eisegesis. Such are only temporal matters.”

          I would disagree pretty strongly with this. Justice is a major biblical issue. When one considers that pre-1970, America was a society that largely claimed Christianity and the South was thoroughly churched, we are talking here about Christians 1900 years after the time of Christ and 400 years after the Protestant Reformation and 150 years after William Wilberforce and 100 years after the Civil War who still could not see that Black people in their midst should be treated with love, justice, honor, dignity, and equality. I do not accept that people in the South were that ignorant of other views. I think that those views did not benefit them and would upset their society, so they were not profitable to them. But, Jesus calls us to lay down our lives and come and die. When we won’t do that, we are not walking as His disciple.

          Scripture is really clear as to how Christians are to treat others. Treat them better than ourselves. Love them as we love ourselves. Lay your lives down for others. Love and pray for your enemies. Give to those in need. Care for the poor and the workers and those being mistreated. Care for the poor is a major issue in Scripture for God’s people. Equal treatment under the law in the form of justice and not showing favoritism is a major thing. Galatians 3:26-29 and Colossians 3:11 says that there is no difference in ethnic groups before Christ. Ephesians 2:11-22 says that Christ has torn down the wall of hostility between insiders and outsiders and that He is our peace and makes the two one new man. 1 John 3 & 4 says that if we hate our brother and see our brother in need and we don’t have pity on him, then the love of Christ is not in us. All of that is applicable to the church in the South pre-1970. Black Christians asking for justice and equality were our brothers and sisters in Christ. We missed it and we lost our voice in society because of it.

          Yes, I do believe the Bible is clear here. We missed it because it was to our financial and cultural benefit to miss it at the time. But, we cannot serve two masters.

  3. Randall Cofield says

    I think the cultural shift that is rapidly revealing the SBC to be a minority voice is a good thing. The pure Gospel has always been a minority view, and the marriage of culture and the church during the 20th century diluted the church…not the other way around.

    Hopefully this cultural shift will soon result in persecution of the true Church of our Lord, and we will again become a going and proclaiming Church within our own borders.

    And the numbers decline? Don’t worry about it. It’s pretty clear we need to pare our rolls by at least 10 million anyway.

    • says

      A short-term missionary to China spoke to the pastor of the local Chinese church as he prepared for his final departure from China. He said, “We will be praying that God will remove the persecution from your church.”

      The Chinese pastor replied, “Oh, don’t do that. We are praying that the American church will be persecuted.”

  4. volfan007 says

    From what I read, and from what I hear, SBC Churches were very concerned about winning souls to Christ back before the decline began…60 years ago. The Churches of the SBC were witnessing and preaching the Gospel, and they were concerned about people being saved. They truly had a burden for lost people to be saved.

    Then, liberalism began to creep in….and, the doctrinally sound Churches lost their first love; satisfied that they came to Church and believed right….and, all the rest began to happen….

    We must come back to where we have a HEART for God…where we are passionate about seeking God…where we’re passionate about winning souls to Christ….in short, we need revival and a Great Awakening…..

    Without a Great Awakening, I believe we’ll continue to see a decline, and we wont be the only denomination seeing the decline…

    David

    • says

      David,
      BINGO! 60 years ago we began to focus internally. The burden for the lost was traded for a create a new cool idea for a specific church time and see if we can draw people.

      A Great Awakening is our only hope! It will produce the burden to reach lost people!

      Lord send it and let it start in me!

    • says

      I think it is oversimplification to say, “they used to be interested in sharing the gospel and now we are not.”

      I think the issue goes deeper than that.

      In the 50s, we fit culture. Now, we are counter culture.

      • says

        Dave,
        When you look at the numbers on people who share their faith outside of their own family this truth jumps out strong and big! It may sound over simplified but David nailed it. In our studies for our Spiritual Awakening Conferences the numbers were staggering when trends were examined. The lack of soul-winning or the decrease actually began 10 years before the signs of it were visible.

    • David Gallimore says

      David, while I agree with what you say, I think Dave is also correct in saying it is not only an issue of evangelism, but, I believe it’s not only cultural either. I think when you see a surge in the spread of the gospel, it is an overflow of the Spirit working in God’s people, so yes, we need revival, we need a Great Awakening. All this must come from a church that is spiritually healthy though. If there’s going to be a turn-around in the trend is it going to have to begin with an honest inward look at ourselves?

      “satisfied that they came to Church and believed right” – Very accurate description, and one I think that still prevails in our pews right now. There are members on the rolls of our churches that are comfortable with occasional attendance and that they have made a confession of faith, while never being exhorted by the church as a whole to conform to the image of Christ.

      The ability to speak truth in love has been lost in our churches. The ability to have meaningful spiritual conversations in our churches has been lost. Have we dropped the ball in the area of discipleship? Of course I don’t make these observations as a blanket statement, but I think it’s prevalent in many churches.

  5. Chief Katie says

    Dave,

    It’s refreshing to see and hear the truth. Last week I posted an article by James White on BHO’s tweet regarding “marrying whoever you love”, on another site. It unleashed a fury of hateful attacks upon the truth of the scriptures. I was told that “we (meaning conservative Christians)” are the reason for the increase in atheism because we hold to such “bigoted extremes”.

    If standing for the gospel of Jesus Christ and the truth of His word is viewed as bigotry, or as Justice Kennedy called it “being an enemy of human decency”, so be it.

    Truth is truth and the best thing we can do is to keep our eyes “fixed on Jesus”.

        • D D says

          Focus on the “fury of hateful attacks” comment above. We can have the correct stance and biblical principles, but why must we so vehemently condemn and attack others who hold another view? Anytime I post anything “controversial” on social media, I have to remind everyone to be kind and respectful…that discussion and dialogue is encouraged, but attacks are not. Example…Texas is going through a big abortion debate at the moment, but screaming at one side, “baby killer” or “murderer” doesn’t encourage dialogue, it begs for hatred to be aimed back at you.

          • says

            Standing for the truth against such attack as “enemy of human decency” which is designed to turn society against the Christians and their Faith. While I don’t approve of screaming hateful words at anyone, I do believe in taking a stand for the truth as it is a biblical precept and practice.

  6. says

    Excellent analysis, Dave. I look forward to the further discussion on the issue of our decline and the suggestions give from here on out.

  7. says

    I think we have to make this shift in our mindset–at one point, especially in the South, the church was part of the culture and could count on cultural help to accomplish what we did. This included spreading the Gospel–

    Now, we need to dust off those old missionary biographies that told of mission stations in the midst of pagan cultures and realize: that’s what your local church is. The mission station in the midst of the pagan culture around you. Reach those people, strengthen those folks to reach them.

    And realize just how many of those missionaries and early believers in those cultures faced real persecution. We’ll have to be willing to live in that.

  8. says

    Quick question, Dave: Could the decline in our denomination be a result of a lack of doctrinal preaching and teaching in the pulpits? I’m not speaking of the Calvinism or Arminianism debate, but just sound preaching? What I keep hearing at our conventions is that we are stressing expository preaching but it doesn’t seem that’s what’s happening from the leadership. This (in my opinion) leads to a shallow congregant who is easily swayed by the culture.

    • says

      I believe that sound preaching of God’s Word is the key to most things in the church.

      Eric Hankins made a shocking statement (I don’t have the exact quote) at the Gospel project breakfast. It’s shocking because I can’t believe he had the nerve to say it!

      They were talking about preaching and the gospel-centered hermeneutic, and he said, “The problem today is not that we preach the Christ-centered hermeneutic or that we don’t. The problem is that there is just a lot of crummy preaching!”

      I’m pretty sure he used the word crummy.

      I think the most important discipleship program in the church in the Word of God preached over time. So, yes, I think one of the problems today is the lack of biblical preaching. However, I’m not sure that the preaching was that much better in the 50s and 60s.

      The difference, to me, is that we fit our culture then, and we don’t now.

  9. says

    There are, certainly, many different ways to look at numbers. When you browse through sociology of religion texts, you’ll see folks, from Rodney Stark to Pew Forum, and specifically those in the rational choice camp, examine religious groups in terms of their membership as a percentage of total U.S. population.

    I put together the blog post and research below back in June 2011 (before the 2011 stats came out, I think) because I found it interesting that Lifeway had never looked at the SBC in that way.

    Ignore my analysis if you like, but take a look at the graph based on SBC annuals and US census.

    http://tinyurl.com/sbcdecline

    P.S. – along the lines of your thesis – which has merit – there must be a strong emphasis on civil rights and race. That was a pretty transformational issue that certainly had an impact on a denomination that had been so shaped by/shaped southern culture.

    We can look back at the 50s and 60s and say the statistical decline began, in part at least, because the southern church was caught up in a cultural crisis over civil rights and lost much of its moral authority with the larger culture and lost some of its “Christ transforming culture” ability.

    An interesting book worth reading – a nonpartisan book to be sure – is Robert Wuthnow’s The Restructuring of American Religion which examines how the role of government changes in the post-World War II era and how that expansive role for government intruded on roles that were previously the domain of churches and church-related mutual aid societies/agencies – leading to a restructuring that resulted in different types of declines among the dominant denominations in the U.S., some fast, some slow.

    • Dave Miller says

      Thanks. I think that racism was tied up in that culture of the 50s and 60s and was a part of our cultural problem.

      Actually, when I was hunting through the internet, I saw the graph from your article. Interesting stuff.

    • says

      Aaron,

      I wrote my comment above before I read your’s here. I agree completely that race and our position on that issue – which defined the South almost completely – was our undoing. We have never recovered, although we engaged in a series of defensive actions from the 70’s to the 2000’s that were somewhat effective but that were never able to put us on the right footing.

      • Adam G. in NC says

        Yep, where I live its still white churches and black churches and now hispanic churches. The only few exceptions would be in the cities and a few CBF affiliates in the country, but out here in the sticks its still mostly separated by race.

  10. says

    I think you made a good educated guess on this. Southern Baptists aimed for middle class white families in the South, and hit the target pretty well. The churches developed a culture of traditional worship and appropriate church activities to fit in with that lifestyle. It worked for a couple of generations, and then, as more and more of the culture was adopted into the churches, and church leadership aged, the fifties and sixties worked hard to make sure that their church and the culture that they were familiar with did not change. So the next two generations of middle class white southerners either left, or moved into more free, less baggage non-denominational churches.

    The way the SBC does business is a reflection of the leftover familiarity with that culture as well. Taking the middle of a productive work week to go to a series of meetings with preaching that is, frankly, boring, sitting and listening, and participating in an activity that resembles voting while everyone knows the key decisions have already been made by a few select leaders in the denominational oligarchy is only interesting to those of the age and generation who grew up with that. The very fact that the SBC is resistant to suggestions to expand messenger participation and voting to an on-line format, while virtually every other kind of business is done that way now is a good illustration of where the denomination is from a cultural perspective.

    Most of the megachurches grow by collecting more people to pile up more resources to do more appeal to the culture, in order to attract people from the churches that are declining. But there are SBC churches that are growing by actually adding converts to the kingdom. They are usually non-traditional, like the Journey in St. Louis, or Ecclesia in Houston, or churches built around reaching ethnic, cultural or language groups. Most of the growing churches are small, located in areas outside the deep South, and have indigenous leadership. The idea of a Southern boy going “up north” to “grow a church” has never worked. Having grown up in an SBC church in an area outside the Deep South, there were those pastors who came and led the church in genuine evangelism and discipleship, and those who came and chased down people in cars with Mississippi and Alabama license plates. Most of the latter are gone, as are the churches.

    Arresting the decline and moving ahead is not going to be a matter of denominational emphasis or initiative. This will require a church by church change, and many of them won’t do that. I expect that we will see a decline along the lines of that experienced by the United Methodists or the Presbyterian Church of the USA before there is a recovery and a move back up. We will have to get through the megachurch era and back to organic congregations before it happens.

  11. says

    Dave,

    While the stats and your reading are undoubtedly correct, I would probably disagree with one of your conclusions. I believe the SBC will continue to be the largest non-Catholic denomination in the US for quite some time, even with this trend.

    I would encourage you to do some more digging and see if this parallels the trends in the rest of evangelical and Protestant Christianity. I’m guessing the SBC is a microcosm of a broader cultural trend. Just guessing, but I would not be surprised to see this the same trend all across America’s religious landscape.

    Let us know what you find out.

      • rick says

        Thanks for the quick response, Dave. I would still be interested in seeing the stats. The Indy-Fundy, GARBC, ABA, Churches of Christ, and Nazarenes that I’ve talked to have all reported similar declines in recent decades, so I would be interested in what aspects of the decline are unique to the SBC. Even the popular press has been reporting on the general decline in church attendance for quite a while now.

        • says

          I’m not sure that being the “largest non-Catholic” denomination in the US has the significance it once did. We’re in a post-denominational age, and the fact is that there are twice as many people in Charismatic churches each week than there are in SBC churches, and it is the loose confederation and fellowship that they have, and the backing away from traditional membership requirements that is the attraction. Likewise, there are more people attending independent churches that identify as Evangelical and Non-Denominational than in SBC churches, also by a fairly significant margin, and they have that same kind of loose association and lack of traditional membership. And at any rate, while the SBC still has 15.9 million members, the actual attendance is 6 million, which means that our actual numerical strength in the Christian community as a whole is significantly and substantially less than it is represented to be. We can’t locate 10 million church members, and I suspect that a lot of them are in the Non-Denominational churches of one kind or another. And I think that is as big a problem as the big red brick First Baptist Church on the courthouse square having half the attendance it once did, and most of those under its roof on Sunday being past 70.

          • Frank L. says

            Lee,

            That seems to fit with what I am experiencing in my own community. The more charismatic, community style churches are experiencing growth while my First Baptist Church is experiencing a difficult time.

            We are growing, but not at a rate I would expect for the amount of energy and resources we are expending. After 60 years plus in this community, we are beginning to look a bit dated.

            I have resisted the idea that our denominational name is a hindrance, but I’m not sure I can sustain that position anymore. This is a difficult time for older churches.

      • says

        Southern Baptists should be committed to Bible-based theology and practice even if the result is lower numbers.
        What is the chief and highest end of man? Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever. Not to play a numbers game.

        • Greg Harvey says

          Needless to say, AG assemblies mostly feel the same way about what they teach…and the fact that they’ve experienced almost 500% growth isn’t proof of their apostasy, either.

          • Christiane says

            ‘the fact that’ . . . based on one statistic from a person who is associated with AG, you accept the claim as ‘fact’

            it may be fact, but it is ALWAYS wise to compare a statistic with those of other sources, particularly sources that are ‘disinterested’, a term that means they don’t have anything to gain by self-promoting

            check out other stats on AG, and compare them . . . do this over time, establishing WHO is involved in presenting them, and if they have any connection directly with AG . . .

            hope this helps

        • Dwight McKissic says

          Job,

          I’m not sure how your comment related to the Assemblies of God. Sure, they like every denomination that is not Baptist, hold some doctrinal views that are not in sync with the SBC doctrinal statement; but are you intimating that overall, the Assemblies of God are not committed to “Bible-based theology and practices”? Do you consider them a cult? Would you be specific as to what theology and practice they believe and engage in that you consider out of bounds? Thanks.

          • Mike Morris says

            Gentlemen,

            Check out the statistics released by the Assemblies of God (USA) this year:

            http://ag.org/top/About/statistics/index.cfm

            Click on “2012 Summary Statistical Report” and “Major Worship Service Attendance, 1978-2012.” The 2012 Summary Statistical Report shows a .4 percent increase in major worship service attendance from 2011 to 2012. The Major Worship Service Attendance chart for 1978 to 2012 shows a general pattern of decline in percent growth change for that period. Graph it and see the trend for yourselves.

          • says

            So, if the 498% growth figure for 1960-2011 is correct, most of that growth would have come in the 60’s and 70’s? Or are we comparing apples and oranges somewhere?

          • Greg Harvey says

            So a 3.3% growth rate for the economy according to a WSJ article I read today equates to a doubling in size of the economy roughly every generation i.e. 20 years. 1960 to 2011 is 51 years so you’d expect the growth of about 2.5 generations.

            Two generations would be 400% and three would be 800% on a 3.3% growth curve. So they’re not maintaining that quick of an overall growth. The latter years indeed show a decline in growth v. a 3.3% rate, but it still is an increase of some half million adherents year over year domestically.

            Surprisingly, the water baptisms are outpacing spirit baptisms by a significant margin. That could be considered a regression to more orthodox beliefs on when the Spirit baptism occurs, which means they’d be more orthodox, not less.

            But the bigger issue in my mind with Job’s comments is that Southern Baptists would actually be in pretty decent shape today with a year-over-year growth rate between 1.5% and 2.0%. We would outpace births to American-born women but fall behind population growth including immigration.

            The BIGGER issue is the article points out that they’re succeeding in reaching minorities and that their demographics roughly match the population as a whole in the United States.

            I say issue when I meant to say “a blessing and to God’s glory”. ;)

          • says

            Dear Dr. McKissic, while I am not Job, I do want to respond to your comments about the Assemblies of God. While I am aware that there are individuals in those churches who are apparently true believers, my experience with these churches across 60+ years has been, generally speaking, negative. We had one assembly of God church in the town near where I grew up, and they had a woman pastor who had them rolling in the aisles, running up and down the pews, and etc. She packed the building. My grandfather who was a member of the local Southern Baptist Church would attend others as he felt led now and then. Sometimes I would go with him. Now that Assembly Church was an experience, but I soured on them real quickly when the woman pastor ran off with a deacon who had four sons. That was not kosher in my childhood book. Anyway, a local Assembly church near where I first pastored had blankets to hold up around the ladies, when they got in the spirit and stuck their legs up in the air and their dresses fell down around their waists, a practice holiness and Pentecostal type churches as one who had pastored a church of God told me. I am aware that some of these churches have very educated ministers (Ph.Ds., etc.) and their practices are now more socially acceptable. While I would not call them cults and have preached in at least one of their churches, I do feel that there is something wrong about the whole deal with them. I had read on the internet that Azusa Street tried to tie their revival to the Welsh Revival back in 1906, but that Evan Roberts would not allow it and this might have been a factor in the ending of that Revival. Can’t say I care for such practices to get started among Southern Baptists. Whitefield and Wesley, especially the latter from what I read many years ago, would not allow charismatic type approaches in their churches.

          • says

            My point in posting the link about the AoG is not that, as Southern Baptists, we need to all start imitating the AoG. I, like most all here, am Baptist out of conviction, and I would have to change those convictions to become AoG. But that doesn’t mean there are not some areas outside the realm of conviction in which we cannot learn a thing or two from our brothers and sisters in the AoG.

            Also, it is true that the growth of the AoG may not be as spectacular as what it might seem at first. My theory in all of this is that our stagnation/decline in the SBC is more reflective of an overall stagnation/decline in American Evangelicalism than anything else. It is true that we are not doing quite as well in church growth as some other groups, but at the same time we are not doing quite as poorly as others.

            If we have to choose between biblical faithfulness and church growth, my vote goes to biblical faithfulness every time. But there are some issues that do not involve compromise in the area of biblical faithfulness, and some that even challenge us as Southern Baptists to be more biblically faithful–the ethnic diversity question being a great case in point–on which we can learn a thing or two from those who do things a bit differently than we do.

          • says

            @Pastor McKissic:

            Leaving aside cessationism specifically, I apply the 1 Corinthians 14 test to charismatic/Pentecostal churches and find them wanting. And having been a Pentecostal for decades before providentially becoming Baptist in 2008, I can say that there is nothing that the Pentecostals have that we want.

            But lest you feel that I am singling them out, allow me to say that Southern Baptists shouldn’t be in the business of emulating infant baptizing denominations either. And I know plenty of good evangelical and fundamental Presbyterians, Lutherans and Anglican/Episcopalians.

            Church membership has waxed and waned throughout history, and also in the OT times Israel went through periods of low and high observance. And then you have the great falling away, the great apostasy that is of prophesied in the Bible. So while we are obviously called to vigorously practice the great commission, I do not think that church membership it is something that we can control. So we just have to focus on the things that we can.

  12. volfan007 says

    The only thing that’s gonna turn the SBC around is revival….which will hopefully lead to another Great Awakening.

    The only Churches around these parts, which are “growing,” are the ones, which are gaining other Churches members….it’s all transfer growth for the most part….of course, we’re all seeing some people get saved….but, most of the growth going on is not winning huge numbers of people to the Lord… it’s other people’s members…a lot of them disgruntled….joining the “happening” Church….

    David

  13. says

    You folks need to do research in conspiracy theories. You would find out that there have been plans afoot for many years now to de Christianize America (if I might so say), to remove the moral basis of our society, to demoralize it in order to bring about great changes, changes that will be the ruin of civilization as we know it. The attack has come from a variety of areas, and it has been backed with money and talent and is many faceted. There is the educational aspect, the rise of naturalism, the rigorous rejection of all supernaturalism, the increase of many in religion who think emotionalism is the only way to go and who are ill-prepared for the vicious and overwhelming onslaught of unbelievers on the faith. We send our children to the public schools where they are taught to reject their parents’ authority and views, the church’s teachings, and basic moral views are vilified and laughed at. The President of the NEA, circa 1980, in an interview in a San Diego newspaper said, “We have gotten rid of the Calvinists in education. Now we can do as we please.”

    Look at Harvard, Yale, and all the other ivy league schools, followed by private and religious schools and then the state universities, and you will find quietly but effectively Christians are being forced out of the public arena. They are being laughed out of court, so to speak. Coming back is going to take a commitment to study and effort, to prayer and labor for souls, to knowledge of the Bible as well as knowledge of what the world has to say. Schools that have decided that biblical counseling is the only way to go fail to realize that they might not be able to grasp some of the finer points of scriptural counseling, because they lack knowledge of the whole counseling altogether.

    Back in 1986-87, I remember one of my professors on video from Liberty University pointing out that there was a one shot scientific case example in Daniel chapter one. What other scientific examples could be found, if we had the knowledge that would help us to recognize them?Intellectually, the depth of the Book we preach, defies human perception and comprehension, but still it requires the utmost astute of study and reflection with all means available in order to grasp what it is saying to us.

    Barring a Third Great Awakening it is going to take us generations to win back the position we lost due to our anti-intellectualism (which was also a planned affair). As the leaders of Western Civilization which Christians of the Protestant Faith were, our forebears set the tone for all others. Now others set the tone, a skeptical, anti-supernatural, critical, demeaning, damning outlook. I pray for a Third Great Awakening, and I also pray for a willingness to reconsider our outlook on intellectualism, a biblical concept that deserves consideration in view of the fact that the first required thing in the Christian faith is a change of mind based on reflection, metanous, repentance. And the word of God even uses a form of the term logical in Romans 12:1 (your reasonable or rational service…one translation renders it spiritual, which is funny). Talk about rational and intellectual. One can’t get any more intellectual than the use of logical. I say again look at the woman of Canaan using reason as a reason for Jesus to grant her desire in Mt.15:21-28. There is more, but I say, “pray for a Third Great Awakening as if your very lives depended upon it (and they do), as if your families futures depended on it (and they do), as if civilization depends upon it (and it does), as if every freedom we now enjoy and appreciate depends upon it (and it does). God I pray open the eyes of every one that reads these blogs to praying for a Third Great Awakening every day for the rest of their lives.

    • Frank L. says

      Dr. J,

      I’m with you on seeking a great revival, but I’m not sure of how “intellectualism” is the means to that.

      As David points out, one of the groups that is experiencing growth are the Assemblies of God. Intellectualism is not what first comes to mind when I think of my Pentecostal brothers and sisters.

      I probably am not thinking of “intellectualism” in the same way that you are. I’m sure in a “short” post you could explain it a bit.

      That’s a bit of a joke: “short” and Dr. J in the same post.

      • says

        Thank you, Frank L., for a bit of comic relief. We all need to laugh now and then. Even our Lord used humor as His term for the thing in the eye is actually the term for the main house beam that held up the roof. I can hear them folks chortling now. Sad, to say, ‘short” and Willingham as a joke, is hitting the nail on the head. Ouuuch!

        • Dwight McKissic says

          Job,

          I appreciate your response.

          The AoG believes in and emphasizes Spirit empowered ministry; the fulness of the Holy Spirit for daily living; the continual impartation of all the gifts of the Holy Spirit–as listed in Scripture–for the edification of the body, and the advancement of the Kingdom; gifts given according to the Holy Spirit’s sovereign grace and will–not according to gender; and they were one of the first mainline denominations to appoint African-Americans to high level executive cabinet positions. The AoG had a Black Man serving as second in command at the AoG headquarters, when the SBC highest ranking Black at the EC building, at that time was the head custodian. The key word and point of contrast/comparison here is “emphasis”[emphasizes]. The AoG emphasizes these matters. The SBC does not.

          I agree with you to this extent. I am not saying let’s mirror or replicate the exact style, or identical doctrinal positions/lingo/practices etc., of the AoG, or any other denomination for that matter. But why would it be out of order, or out of line with Scripture, to emphasize the person and work of the Holy Spirit; His indwelling and infilling; His gifts and fruit; His intercessory prayer ministry in the life of the believer; and His role in church life and ministry? After all, the only God on earth today is–The Holy Spirit.

          It is not coincidental that the growing churches and denominations in our day and time–tend to emphasize the Holy Spirit–who will always lead men to glorify Jesus. Could this be a neglected aspect of SBC life? Is the Holy Spirit the ignored member of the Trinitarian Enterprise in SBC life? Generally speaking, where cessationism abounds–church growth is stagnant and plateaued(there are notable exceptions to this). And where an emphasis on the Holy Spirit abounds, there is generally speaking, life and growth. From a global perspective, most of the growth is taking place in environments where the Holy Spirit is welcome without constraints.

          So, again, what is your objection to a ministry emphasis on the Holy Spirit? Surely, this would please God, and perhaps lead to revival, or a breakthrough, beyond our stagnation and plateau? What say ye?

      • says

        Frank L.: As to the intellectualism, I am thinking in terms of the
        God’s presentations in scripture which require close and excruciating study. Our Lord’s “Search the Scripture” actually is, so I have heard, a reference to hard rock mining which requires the utmost of physical labor and extreme effort, especially in those days. In this case, however, he had in mind the use of the mind, mental effort, if you please. I am aware of the growth of the Pentecostals. Indeed, they have been in view from my childhood back in the 40s in Arkansas. The emotionalism for which they are noted is also the source of much of their undoing. They do have more educated pastors now, but education alone is not the answer. Intellectualism is something more than a matter of education. One can have a Ph.D. and be quite dumb about so many things. Wisdom is not attached to degrees. The wisest man I ever met was a body shop mechanic, but his 10 years of research in Baptist church records had so profoundly changed his outlook that he could ask me one question which nearly seven years later blew my eschatology.. Well, I must get off. These days my strength is limited. God bless one and all, and to all a good night. And pray for a Third Great Awakening like your lives depended upon it, like the life of our nation and even of the whole world depended upon it, and all do depend upon it.

        • Frank L. says

          Dr. J,

          I can get on board with that view of intellectualism. I figured you meant something other than what I was thinking.

          • says

            Dear Frank L.: The intellectualism of the Bible is greater by far than anything of man, and yet it can be complementary to it, can speak to man’s intellect, even to his whole being. Getting a degree in Intellectual History was one of the best things I ever did, as far as education is concerned (this is outside of Greek and Hebrew and Theology and Baptist History..in the latter my research put me in a position of knowing enough to critique the text book (Torbet’s), when I took the course, due to my research). It led me to consider the reality that the Supreme Intellect of God was involved in the writing of the Bible, to postulate that the Book should reflect the profundity associated with and emanating (note my computer is getting so smart that it corrected my spelling of emmnating and did it again until I typed in the extra m then it red lined it..does your computers do such things?) from such a source.

    • says

      That’s called “hitting the nail on the head.” Public schools have been hard at work undermining the Christian faith ever since they adopted the current structure put in place by secular humanist philosophers like Horace Mann and John Dewey. Tell that to an SBC church, and suggest that they home school their kids, or send them to a Christian school, or that their church should use their facility that sits empty for six days a week to house a Christian school and see what happens.

        • John Wylie says

          Lee,

          There are lots of SBC churches that have Christian schools in their buildings.

        • says

          Your right Frank L, Lee is spot on. Having studied Dewey in Philosophy and having seen his influence in education as well as advocacy of naturalism and of antisupernaturalism, I find education to be a sickening affair…even though I attended 10 schools above the secondary level and have five degrees plus 18 hours on number six…and taught in one community college, one stage college, and one state university and taught seminary extension classes…and served as counselor in a 4A senior high school (with about 1800 students) whose pathology responsibilities were for incest and pedophilia (we had enough counselors to handled various pathologies, imagine that!).

      • says

        Your quite right Lee about the Public Schools. I have some works in my library written by some smart people, exposing the sad fact of a take over by the forces of secularism and godlessness. Does it not strike every one as strange that we use to read the Bible in the public schools and now we have to read them in private schools, that the ten commandments still on the doors of the Supreme Court by number reference (I think) are illegal on monuments and plagues (sp) in county court houses and schools? I really need to find my dictionary, but where in 100s of boxes of books?

  14. Steve says

    I think a solution is to have SBC members join additional SBC churches because they rarely “clean” the rolls to keep the numbers up! :) I believe I am still doing my part as a member of 4 SBC churches! Come on guys, lets keep the stats up, join another SBC church near you, or two!

  15. William Thornton says

    The broad generalizations here are breathtaking.

    God is punishing us for not being correct on race relations? Would that be in 1845, 1945, or now? While stats were exploding in the 1950s, was that God’s way of punishing us for deficient race relations?

    Is it worth noting that one in five SBC churches is now non-anglo? Are we being punished for that?

    We are culturally irrelevant because we haven’t changed but need to be culturally peripheral because culture has changed but we shouldn’t?

    What we need is revival, another Great Awakening, and since God hasn’t sent one, we can blame Him for the SBC’s decline.

    I suggest a few things: An honest acceptance of facts, a total ban on denominational handwringing, and a recommitment to serving Christ locally.

    I look forward to our fearless Iowa leader growing a goatee, ditching the tie, and getting a tatto or two.

    • Tom Parker says

      Wiliam Thornton:

      The hand-wringing over the decline of the SBC is quite amazing.

      What does it solve?

      • says

        And leads to the question – are we called to save a denomination or souls? I think if we are about the business of the latter, the former will take care of itself.

        I think a good microcosm of this is the hoopla over the name change. Lots of flagellation, heat, and very little light. And when the dust settles, everything goes back to the way it was only with more people hurt over the exchange. I can see where lots of activity would surround these stats, but I suspect little real change of any substance would be forthcoming.

    • Dave Miller says

      There’s a difference, William, between saying that God is punishing us and that we are suffering consequences for our own sin. The latter, I think, has some validity.

      • William Thornton says

        I don’t totally disagree but neither do I think that it explains much. We were (and are) mostly white and southern. The SBC being rather conservative relative to race issue didn’t hurt the denominaiton in that cultural milieu then.

        If the case is being made that it hurts us now with non-anglo churches, perhaps.

        What we are good at is tightening the circle. There is always a group who feels they are saving the denomination by bearing down on liberals, moderates, fundies, Calvinists, traditionalists, women. I suspect that going forward the latter will prove to be a major obstacle to growth.

        • says

          William Thornton, you are missing my point if you are responding to what I was saying.

          When we did not use our power and wealth to advocate for justice for those in our midst according to what we had the potential to do, our wealth, power, and influence slowly dissipated – first with culture at large and then with our own children. Was it God’s punishment upon us or was it just the natural consequence of using our blessing largely for ourselves? Only God knows, but the effect is the same.

          You are also correlating God’s blessing with large numbers and wealth, something that I am not saying at all. Or, perhaps you think that I am saying that. My point is that when we had the ability to really affect our nation in a Godly way and there was a major issue right in front of us, we punted because it would have cost us something – perhaps everything. Now, 50 years later, the issue remains and our nation still doesn’t know what to do about it and we have lost our power and ability to make the difference that we once could have in the way that we once could have.

          Does that mean that we are impotent now? Absolutely not. It is just that we cannot do what we once could so we need to look forward and do what God has for us today. I do not bring these things up to condemn people. My grandchildren will wonder why I missed what I missed and why I lived the way I lived. I will have to answer for that and admit that I was often selfish and didn’t do what I should have. But, we can learn and grow and move forward.

          In a discussion of what we wrong, if we don’t go back and look at when we did have power and ask what we did with it, then I think that we miss the opportunity to really understand what happened to us and where we can go from here. You are right, we need revival. But, we need to be revived away from self and toward Christ and that applies to all areas of life.

  16. Dwight McKissic says

    “…one in five churches are now non-Anglo.”

    William,

    I’m sure that figure is accurate. And it is certainly a figure worthy of note & celebration.

    Here are my concerns. That figure is not reflected in entity head leadership, nor at the cabinet level leadership in proportionate numbers. I’ve seen Asian and African American Pastors address the concern that convention participation, platform representation, and overall involvement does not reflect the # you quoted. Therein lies a huge problem & disconnect that is thankfully being constructively worked on. Improvements can be seen & measured. We still have a long way to go though.

    Secondly, the non-Anglo churches must take greater responsibility. AA SBC churches give less than 1% to the CP. Reasons for that are many & varied, but that is an issue that non-Anglo churches need to do some soul searching on. The participation platform gap may be directly related to CP contributions. But CP contributions are directly related to race relations inclusion & powerment. Both sides I believe are waiting on the other to act first. In the meantime progress is being made but slowly.

    • Tom Parker says

      Dwight:

      I would like to know what the SBC is doing right now about having non-white SBC Vice-Presidents, or other top level-positions.

      What is the plan or is their no plan.

      Where is the action minus all the talk?

  17. Bruce H. says

    Great post, Dave.

    I would like the SBC to take further steps by purging the rolls. We need to get naked before God and quit letting grandma and grandpa say we need to keep them on there should they ever come back. Actually, the only true members that are present are those who tithe. That is the numbers we need to present to the world. (This was just a rant, sorry.)

    Jesus did say “He” would build His church (Matthew 16:18). If that be the case, we simply need to be faithful and obedient to what He said about our life and our life toward others and let Him build His church. If Christ builds His church, He may also change His church. For us to change it means we are trying to put our hands on the problem again. It may not be ours to change.

  18. says

    Dave,
    First, THANK YOU for a much needed ‘pull the curtain back on reality’ post. Well written and focused.

    Second, I offer what I believe to be a root causal issue in the decline. That issue is an unrelenting focus on the wrong target and the absence of clear definitive terminology drawn from the text of Scripture.

    The focus has been and continues to be a metric that is seriously flawed. The Great Commission issues on imperative command – Make Disciples. The SBC has no definition of what a disciple is and no objective means of measuring our accomplishment of whether or not people are being transformed into the image of Christ. This is an issue of character and conduct that corresponds to the Fruit of The Spirit and evidence of a renewed mind. The metric has been numbers; how many baptisms, how many members (an issue it is so distorted that it is beyond tragic and hypocritical), and how much $$ did we put in the pot.

    We should not be focused on baptisms & converts. We should be focused on transformation of those who claim to be Christ-followers into His image and their fidelity to His call to ‘come and die’ living for others rather than self.

    In SC they gave trophies for those who baptized the greatest number each year. A church has 200 members – they baptize 76 in a given year. The next year they baptize 89 and their membership is now 209. What? Where are the other 166 people? The tragic reality is that they very possibly were not redeemed in the first place.

    There have been numerous attempts at the National Convention to correct this discrepancy between membership and active participants in a local church. This initiative was ALWAYS denied, voted down. Until we repent of this glaring falsehood and begin to implement true accountability around the definition and objective assessment of who is and who is not a disciple the decline will both continue and accelerate (how many of the so called members are 75 years of age or more?).

    **Example from my World. We have 60 SBC churches in the West Cullman AL Association. 50 of the 60 have Bi-Vocational pastors. Of the 10 that have a funding plan for a full-time pastor only 6 have a pastor, the other 4 have an Interim. Why is this true? From a purely fiscal perspective, they simply cannot offer a minimally adequate compensation for a pastor to provide for his family. The majority of these churches are in precipitous decline. The portrait of decline may be far worse than any of the here-to-for graphs and data have revealed. There is an issue of Critical Mass. When an organization or organism falls below that threshold there is no recovery apart from a dramatic intervention by our God. That is called a miracle. We ought to change what needs to be changed and NOW!

    Thanks for raising this important issue. Perhaps in Baltimore we should ask the question ‘What/Who is a disciple?’ and how do we measure the veracity of that claim?

    • Randall Cofield says

      Tom,

      A lucid, cogent, yea, even biblical post.

      Why we as a denomination cannot grasp the primacy of making disciples is beyond me.

      Thank you for your contribution to this discussion.

      Grace to you, brother.

      • cb scott says

        Randall Cofield and Tom Fillinger,

        I want to engage your comments with maybe some food for thought, or . . . maybe not.

        I don’t think the focus of your comment as to the decline is completely accurate. Let me explain.

        You are correct. “The Great Commission issues on imperative command – Make Disciples.” That is true. However, who was the mandate given to by our Lord? The answer is, the Church. The mandate of the Great Commission was not given to the SBC.

        You stated, “The SBC has no definition of what a disciple is and no objective means of measuring our accomplishment of whether or not people are being transformed into the image of Christ.” I think you are correct in that statement also.

        However, it is not the SBC who defines “what a disciple is.” Jesus did that and He gave the Church the mandate to make them. The Church has been given the definition of a disciple and the mandate to make them. Local churches are manifestations of the Church. Therefore, local churches should know what a disciple is and make them as commanded by our Lord.

        The SBC can report the count of disciples, but local churches are to make them. Obviously, many local churches are not making disciples and many other local churches are not truly making disciples, although they claim they do and many of them are reporting this falsely.

        Tom Fillinger, you stated, “We should not be focused on baptisms & converts. We should be focused on transformation of those who claim to be Christ-followers into His image and their fidelity to His call to ‘come and die’ living for others rather than self.

        I think that part of that statement is true and wonderfully stated. You are right. “We should be focused on transformation of those who claim to be Christ-followers into His image and their fidelity to His call to ‘come and die’ living for others rather than self.” That is so true. Yet, and sadly, it is not happening as much as it should. Too many local churches and the pastors thereof are leaving the “come and die” part out.

        You also stated, “We should not be focused on baptisms & converts.” I think in that part of your statement you are wrong.

        We are to focus on both the conversion of lost sinners and their baptism once converted. We are to be equally focused on reaching lost sinners with the gospel, baptizing them when they are converted, and bringing them to maturity as disciples that they might produce fruit to the glory of God and fulfillment of the the Great Commission in obedience to Christ, our Lord.

        All of that is the calling and the mandate to the Church from Christ. That is not the calling and the mandate to the SBC. Making disciples in the duty of the Church and is to be carried out by the visible manifestations of the Church, local churches.

        Tom Fillinger, Randall Cofield, and All, we can make all the motions and resolutions and the development of strategies in Baltimore we want, but until local Southern Baptist churches, led by called men of God take the Great Commission seriously, the SBC is powerless to do anything about its decline, but watch it happen.

        The problem of decline in the SBC is, was, and always will be a local church problem. It is an ecclesiastical problem, not a convention problem. Anyway, that’s my opinion.

        BTW Tom Fillinger, may God grant great revival to the town of Cullman, AL, a fine southern town if ever there was one.

        • says

          CB Scott,

          This is a BLOG not a Dissertation or a 13 week course in disciple making. You are ABSOLUTELY CORRECT about each church must define and measure genuine discipleship.

          Go to http://www.igniteus.net. On the Home Page click on TOOLS, the Video Downloads. There is 90 minutes of HD Video that takes the viewer through the five (5) phases of the Intentional Disciple Making Process we provide to Pastors and Churches. We define every term we use and we support those definitions with in-context exegesis.

          Thanks for your comments and that observation. By the way, even with all this data that makes denial of reality impossible, only 1 in 10 Pastors/Churches will even consider changing the path they are on. Facts DO NOT & WILL NEVER change peoples minds. Only the Holy Spirit bringing Reformation & Renewal will ever do that.

          In Grace,
          Tom 803 413 3509
          info@igniteus.net

    • David Gallimore says

      Well said Tom, somewhat the point of my brief comment but you said it a million times better than I ever could have. I think discipleship is the great overlooked factor in this.

    • Dave Miller says

      Tom, good thoughts. Discipleship is the process of bringing rebellious sinners into obedience to Christ. It involves both evangelism and what we often call the discipleship process – teaching people to obey. Reaching out and teaching.

      So, if we ignore either evangelism or spiritual formation, we err.

      • David Gallimore says

        “So, if we ignore either evangelism or spiritual formation, we err.”

        Could it be that we are ignoring a certain area of discipleship, that is, the majority of discipleship is taking place only within the church walls but absent in everyday life where it could be argued that it is needed most?

        And Dave, very good post!

      • says

        Dave,

        Evangelism is simply the First Phase of Making Disciples. By the way, Evangelism is NEVER found in the NT. Take a reputable Concordance and search for that word. Not there EVER!

        Much about renewing of the mind. Much about transformation. We need to be precise about defining our endeavors and also have a ‘no fudging’ accountability structure that we all submit to.

        In Grace,
        Tom

        • Dave Miller says

          Neither is the word Trinity. The concept of evangelism – announcing the good news of the gospel to sinners, is on every page.

        • Frank L. says

          Maybe you should try a Greek concordance. Euangelizo and cognates is found throughout the N.T.

        • Greg Harvey says

          Strong’s search:

          Result of search for “2097”:
          2097. euaggelizo yoo-ang-ghel-id’-zo from 2095 and 32; to announce good news (“evangelize”) especially the gospel:–declare, bring (declare, show) glad (good) tidings, preach (the gospel).

          2098. euaggelion yoo-ang-ghel’-ee-on from the same as 2097; a good message, i.e. the gospel:–gospel.
          2099. euaggelistes yoo-ang-ghel-is-tace’ from 2097; a preacher of the gospel:–evangelist.
          4283. proeuaggelizomai pro-yoo-ang-ghel-id’-zom-ahee middle voice from 4253 and 2097; to announce glad news in advance:–preach before the gospel.

          • says

            The clear mandate of the Great Commission is DISCIPLES not merely converts. Yes we should/must evangelize but as I stated and correctly so, Evangelism is simply the essential first phase of making disciples. It is NEVER the end of the story and that is precisely what it has become in the SBC. Check out 16.3 million as compared to 6.7 million for objective evidence of this fact.

            In Grace,

          • Frank L. says

            You hear this often: “”””The clear mandate of the Great Commission is DISCIPLES not merely converts”””””

            Of course, this is true, but not the whole truth. This is like saying the objective is two year-olds without having babies. Discipleship of necessity means evangelism.

            You cannot have effectiveness in one without having effectiveness in the other.

            I do agree we could probably do a much better job of intentional discipleship.

  19. Jess Alford says

    Dave,

    Please excuse my ignorance, but is the ones saved under the preaching of our missionaries in other countries reflected on your graphs? If they are, then I suspect the graphs would be more in the negative than what they show if it was just inside the U.S. alone.

    Great Post, you did it again.

    • William Thornton says

      Overseas stats are not included because we don’t start SBC churches overseas. Also, many of our overseas folks are in places where they not only don’t preach but where there are no churches. The metrics there cannot be compared to Dave’s SBC stuff here. IMB overseas baptism totals are usually pretty impressive but those include totals from a network of national groups that our people work with. It’s a soft stat.

  20. Shirley Sells says

    Hello,

    Can someone send me the link to the Lifeway research for the 1950-2009 decline in membership?

    Thanks.

  21. volfan007 says

    I believe it’s a heart problem. SB’s have programmed things to death. SB’s have adopted enough vision statements and done enough campaigns to fill the SuperDome. SB’s have been reaching out to the younger generation…to Black people….to Asians…to Latinos…and doing all kinds of things to reach all the different kinds of people. SB’s have been emphasizing Church planting….and focusing more money on missions. SB’s have had Discipleship Training; 6 week study courses, and we’ve had more conferences than you can shake a stick at. SB’s have tried everything under the Sun to reach more people. And, we’re declining.

    It’s a heart issue. It’s not God’s fault, William. That’s not what I’m saying. It’s OUR fault. We have left our first love. We try to live with one foot in the world, and one foot in the Divine. Our people are more interested in their children playing baseball, and basketbal, and being the next beauty Queen. Our people are more concerned with having the biggest, nicest house in the neighborhood. Our people are more concerned with being invited to the “in crowd’s” parties. And, we’ve left our first love.

    Judgment begins in the House of God. Christians need to repent, and fall in love with Jesus, again. And, when we fall in love with Jesus, once more, then the Great Awakening will follow.

    Until that happens….we’re just spinning our wheels and twiddling our thumbs.

    David

    • William Thornton says

      David, these discussions often yield the exclamation that nothing will change until God sends revival. That puts the blame on God. I think that it sometimes causes us to subliminally absolve ourselves of responsibility.

      I agree with your comments.

  22. David Gallimore says

    “We have left our first love. We try to live with one foot in the world, and one foot in the Divine. Our people are more interested in their children playing baseball, and basketbal, and being the next beauty Queen. Our people are more concerned with having the biggest, nicest house in the neighborhood. Our people are more concerned with being invited to the “in crowd’s” parties. And, we’ve left our first love.”

    Amen to that David, hearts are not in the right places.

  23. Louis says

    Dave:

    Thanks for such a good post.

    Some of the decline is due to cultural developments that are beyond our control. Some of those developments are intellectual, moral and things unrelated to those. More disposable income. More cultural group offerings etc. People are more busy. Families are more fractured and diverse. There is a lot that grabs attention nowadays.

    Some of the decline is due to the fact that many churches are culturally behind in their presentation, their ministry emphasis etc. I am amazed at the programs, emphases and approaches that churches will cling to. The angst over whether to change the name of the SBC was a window into this.

    Some of the decline is due to the fracturing of the Convention and the development and new groups. The independent Baptists left the convention in 1950s. That had an impact. A few have come back, but many have limped back, a shell of their former selves.

    Nondenominationalism is still the rage in many places. The impact of that on denominations for the last 40 years is clearly present.

    The racial component is a part of this. There is nothing that we can do about that, inasmuch as most of it occurred decades ago. I believe the SBC is doing what it can do. This is not only an Afrian American issue, but Hispanic, as well. But the theologically liberal churches that acted more progressively on the race question decades ago have not been rewarded with an increase in membership. In fact, the decline of those denominations in more steep than the SBC. So that is a mixed bag.

    Going forward, however, the SBC will have to work hard to be more diverse. That would take an effort, I believe. For example, I would be interested to know if anyone here has sought and found a young African American to be on the staff of your church. We have not officially looked, but we would love to find someone who would have a natural connection to the African American community. Such people are not easy to find.

    The biggest challenge ahead is whether the SBC churches and the SBC will react to the negative changes in the culture by retreating to a cultural ghetto or by continuing to be involved in the culture at large.

    I believe the Independent Baptists are to be examined in this regard. “Come out and be ye separate” gave some initial energy to their movement, but over a generation, they basically retreated from interaction with society. Over time, that makes evangelism (other than stranger evangelism) very difficult. And the kids raised in that system face a big hurdle as they become adults – will they stay in the system or step outside of it?

    We do not face easy questions about reacting to the continued hostility toward many Christian values in the larger society, but I believe retreating to live in Christian enclaves is not the proper approach.

    The health of individual churches is the key to this. I believe in focusing on church renewal and health. Churches should be faithful doctrinally, and emotionally healthy places. I do not worry now as much about SBC churches becoming doctrinally unhealthy. But I do worry about churches having unhealthy practices due to poor leadership and following fads or trends that make them unhealthy or exclusionary or polity practices that make them unfriendly places.

    It’s good to consider these trends, and to put them in the proper perspective that you have, Dave. However, it would a mistake for us to focus too much on whether we are being successful and how big we are, rather than focusing on simple faithfulness and disciple making.

    Someone said if we are too ambitious about leaving or building a legacy, we will leave a legacy of ambition. We certainly need to be aware of that, too.

    • David Rogers says

      Awesome comment, Louis. I think you pretty well summed it up there. I agree with everything you said.

    • Dave Miller says

      This is another comment that deserves its own post. Excellent.

      I agree, by the way, strongly, with this comment (all of it, but this one stood out):

      “However, it would a mistake for us to focus too much on whether we are being successful and how big we are, rather than focusing on simple faithfulness and disciple making.”

  24. Bill Mac says

    I think Tom F. is near the mark. But really, what if it there isn’t really any blame at all? What if it is just a cycle? (like Global Warming for you skeptics).

    All Christians and churches need to reflect and correct, but doing a post-mortem on the SBC seems like a waste of time. Be faithful, and let God worry about the rest.

  25. William McLeod says

    This is the clearest most reasonble explanation of the decline of the SBC that I have ever read.

  26. David Rogers says

    Some related (and interesting) thoughts, by Tim Downs, in his book Finding Common Ground…

    “Many of our modern churches and evangelistic movements were founded during a time when the American fields were abundantly white for harvest. But the fields of the fifties and sixties, like the fields of Jesus’ time, were ripe for harvest because of countless sowers who had worked to create a soil that was conducive to the growth of the gospel. The “soil” of our society is the whole environment in which Christians seek to live and minister. It is the culture, the atmosphere, the worldview, the zeitgeist—the “spirit of the time” in which we live. In each generation, Christians must attempt to plant the seed of the Word of God in the soil of the prevailing culture. Historically, some soils have been better than others. In each case, the nature of the soil determines what kind of life it will support…

    “There is no doubt that the soil of our society has eroded significantly in a short period of time. Over the last forty years, many para-church organizations and churches have struggled with a thinning harvest in America. In an attempt to recapture the glory of past harvests we have recruited more harvesters, sharpened our sickles and scythes, and challenged our workers to greater commitment and longer hours.

    “Maybe it’s time to analyze the soil. Maybe it’s time to sow.” (pp. 16-17)

    “Almost thirty years ago, as a young college student and a very new Christian, I was trained in the basic principles of evangelism. I learned to present the gospel using a simple tract, the Four Spiritual Laws. I discussed that little booklet with roommates, fraternity members, grad students, international students, and even professors. I presented the gospel to literally hundreds of people during my four years of college, and I found a tremendous amount of openness—even eagerness—to discuss spiritual things. In those days, I could assume the openness of the average hearer. My sole filter when considering a potential listener was, “Are you busy?” Today, many Christians attempting to do evangelism find that they now must assume the disinterest, or even the hostility, of the average hearer. As a result, the statistics on evangelistic success from most ministries are much lower than they were thirty years ago.

    “What accounts for this change? Our first instinct has been to examine ourselves. Have we lost our first love? Are we lacking in dedication or commitment? Are we as bold as we used to be? Our second response has been to reconsider our methodology. Is this booklet out-of-date? Are we behind the times? Should we expand this, enlarge this, reprint it in four-color, or make it available on CD-ROM? The option we rarely consider—perhaps because it sounds unspiritual—is that times have changed. Perhaps our nation has entered a different phase of the harvest cycle. Perhaps our culture’s fields are not as ripe as they used to be.

    “In John 4, Jesus uttered His famous words, “I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest” (v. 35 NIV). Christians have often assumed that Jesus was stating a timeless spiritual principle: Now that the Messiah has come, a new era has begun. The fields will always be white for harvest. Is that what Jesus was saying? If so, He picked a strange metaphor. In actual farming, a time of harvest is followed by a time of rest, followed by a time of sowing, and the process begins all over again. In farming, no field is always ripe for harvest Was Jesus telling us that His fields were different, in that they were always ripe? Or was He tellling His disciples something about the day in which they lived? “But when the fullness of the time came,” Galatians tells us, “God sent forth His Son…” (4:4). Much has been written about the “fullness of the time” and why the Messiah came when He did. Could it be that a part of the “fullness of the time” was that the fields of Jesus’ time had been throroughly sown and were now abundantly—perhaps uniquely—ripe for harvest? (pp. 102-03)

    “Let me state my concern plainly. Because we enjoyed such evangelistic success in the sixties, we told ourselves that the American fields would always be white for harvest. Because harvesting was so effective, we told ourselves that harvesting was the only technique we would ever need. If the fields are eternally ripe, we only need to harvest. Why bother with anything else?

    “So we teach each new generation of Christians how to harvest—only how to harvest—and we assure them that the fields around them are ripe and ready for the picking, if only they will have the faith and the boldness to go. Our books and our training videos are loaded with illustrations that show how easy it is and how open people are to hearing the gospel. But when they go, they sometimes have a rude awakening. The fields around them do not always seem ripe. People are not as eager and open as they expected—sometimes they’re even hostile. And so, because harvesting is all they know how to do, they begin to withdraw from the fields.” (p. 105)

  27. Patrick in NC says

    Funny you should mention J. Frank Norris – When the RSV came out in ’52 was when a lot of folks started leaving the SBC and going to the Independent Baptist Churches. While the growth rate of the SBC churches was declining, the growth rate of the IFB (Independent Fundamental Baptists) was skyrocketing. One need look no further than Jerry Falwell’s church (now affiliated with SBC) to see how the history went.

    It would be interesting to add SBC and IFB numbers together – you could see when the real decline started because both are in decline now.

    My bet is that the peak was right around or after 1980 – that’s when Reagan became our Constantine and we all sold out to conservative politics. I am as conservative as anybody else, but I don’t think the Lord is pleased with politics sliding into the church the way it has. And yes, He is the one in charge of growth!

  28. says

    @volfan:

    “It’s a heart issue. It’s not God’s fault, William. That’s not what I’m saying. It’s OUR fault. We have left our first love. We try to live with one foot in the world, and one foot in the Divine. Our people are more interested in their children playing baseball, and basketbal, and being the next beauty Queen. Our people are more concerned with having the biggest, nicest house in the neighborhood. Our people are more concerned with being invited to the “in crowd’s” parties. And, we’ve left our first love.”

    I doubt that this is the case. Southern Baptists were just as concerned with chasing the American dream: the house, car, color TV, white picket fence etc. in the 50s when the SBC was booming as we are now. As a matter of fact, the 1950s was when the mass consumer culture was practically invented, and SBC members were part and parcel of that. Such was Dave Miller’s entire point. He just chose to focus on the racial dimension and some cultural markers like homosexuality, divorce and illegitimacy instead of some of the more worldly issues. But in the 1950s, Southern Baptists watched sitcoms on TV and Disney movies in theatres just like everybody else, and sent their kids to public schools with the football games, proms and sock hops like everybody else. Claiming that the SBC was less worldly in the 1950s is only tenable if you believe that the world of the 1950s was more to your liking than the world of today. In many respects it was, but it was still the world. Look at it this way: if anything it should have been easier to separate from the world in the 1950s than it is today. But it was not done because we had the false idea that the culture reinforced Christianity. But the world cannot reinforce Christianity. It can – to borrow from John Bunyan – reinforce Mr. Worldly Wise Man and places of Morality and Legality. It can reinforce state churches, and state churches went to great lengths to maintain “Christendom” cultures (Soren Kierkegaard wrote a lot about that) but not legitimate Christianity.

    Everyone says that to fix this problem we need revival, but there is no evidence that revival is going to come. Did revival come to Europe? And look throughout most of church history … dominated by Roman Catholicism, which I do not consider to be a legitimate expression of Christianity. In that era the number of true believers was very small: did revival come then? Only if the Protestant Reformation can be considered revival, and that was a long time coming. Also, if you look at the Old Testament as an example, after the Davidic kingdom split into Israel and Judah, Israel (the northern kingdom) never experienced what can be called a revival and Judah only had a few that were not sustained. You can’t even call the return of the exiles from Babylon a revival because only a fraction of the Jews actually returned.

    The truth is that God never promised us a vibrant, growing influential Christian church. God promised us that there would be converts from every tribe and nation and tongue (the Great Commission) but not large numbers of Christians in every nation, or in any particular nation.

    Now yes, I am speaking to you as a 5 pointer but consider this: the Anabaptist movement started in Switzerland and quickly spread to Denmark, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands etc. Where is the Protestant evangelical church in – whether state or free, Reformed or otherwise – in those countries now? And the Wesleyan movement began in England, yet today there are precious few in that land that represent Wesley or Whitefield, let alone Newton, Spurgeon or Wilberforce. And as for those who blame the SBC malaise on its refusal to assent to charismatic doctrines, yes Pentecostalism has led to explosive growth of Christianity in Latin America, Asia and Africa. But consider that the true originators of those doctrines were in Europe! It goes as far back as some Anabaptist movements but definitely took root in England in the 19th century. Charles Parham and William Seymour, who started the Pentecostal movement in America, were consciously following in the footsteps of British charismatics like Smith Wigglesworth. But what is the Pentecostal scene in England and the rest of Europe now? Except when it comes to churches started and mostly attended by African and Latin American immigrants to Europe, virtually nonexistent.

    I am not going to endorse the idea that the SBC now has fewer cultural Christians and a higher percentage of regenerate believers now that the culture no longer reinforces churchgoing. One of the reasons for my refusing to take this position is that we have not experienced legitimate widespread persecution – i.e. poverty, imprisonment, martyrdom – due to Christianity as believers in many other countries are. But I will say that Jesus Christ in the Bible promised us that He would build His church. He never promised us that the church would always be big, growing and influential in all places and times. In fact, some of the New Testament epistles i.e. Hebrews, Revelation etc. show that declining church membership and falling away was a concern in some congregations and regions even then.

    Do not get me wrong. We can and should pray more. Disciple more. Fast more. Attend church more. Evangelize more. Sin less. Give more. Read our Bibles more. And yes pray more, saying it twice. But the Bible does not record any promise that our doing such a thing will result in an increased number of Southern Baptists, or even Christians in general. Instead, such good works, such obedience to God, will be to the benefit of and result in blessings to the Christians who do exist, however many of us there are and wherever we might be. God will work and move, but not necessarily in the way that we think that He will or want Him to, because His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are higher than our ways.

    To those praying for revival: revival can take other forms. Revival can result in existing Christians having more faith, joy, observance and spiritual maturity. (That actually is more in line with the dictionary meaning of the word.) It can result in new converts being made in places that there are currently no Christians or never have been Christians. (More in line with the original great commission in Matthew and Acts.) Or it can be an increase in the number of people who get saved, get born again, even as church membership and attendance declines. (If real persecution does break out in America, expect precisely that to happen.)

    Also, the Bible does let us know that a time will come when there will be no revival or church growth (though conversions will still be taking place). That will be the time of the great falling away as discussed in 2 Thessalonians 2. Are we on the precipice of that endtimes event right now? Maybe. I personally do not think so, but it is a possibility. I will say that even if we aren’t dealing with it right now, it will be an issue for Christians in some day and age to come. And when it does happen, worries about remaining “the largest Protestant denomination” will seem trivial.

    • volfan007 says

      Job,

      I wasnt talking about chasing the American dream. There’s nothing wrong with the American dream. There’s nothing wrong with wanting your children to be good in baseball, or basketball, either. I was talking about leaving our first love….being MORE concerned with our children being good baseball players, than with their spiritual well being. I was talking about professing Believers being MORE concerned with big houses, and being asked to the “in” crowd’s parties and events.

      I believe if you’ll look back in history…whenever God’s people were in love with Jesus, and on fire for God…then, great things happened, and people got saved. And, when their fire starting dimming…then, the Churches turned cold…and people stopped getting saved.

      We’ve had some fires burning bright in the past….the Anabaptists, the Moravians, Luther, Wesley, Whitefield, Evan Roberts, Charlie Culpepper, and so many others…..we’ve seen Great Awakenings take place….people got fired up for the Lord…fell in love with Jesus….and then, people got saved…then, when they start losing that love for Christ…like what’s happend in Europe….then, the Church gets cold, and the people stop getting saved.

      Let’s turn the heat up!

      David

    • cb scott says

      Vol,

      Don’t worry too much about what Job says about ‘chasing the American Dream.” He is still chaffing because we revolted against King George and declared independence from England. Job doesn’t shoot firecrackers on the 4th of July.

      However, I am kinda aggravated at you because you did not mention SEC FOOTBALL in your comment about the American Dream.

  29. Louis says

    David,

    Thanks for this comment. It is great.

    I don’t find hostility to much of what the church does or stands for, but caution, especially to certain approaches.

    3 different salesmen came to my door last Saturday. I was tired from a long bike ride. When they knocked, I opened a speaking grill that we have on the door. It’s about a 6 inch by 6 inch window, like the small window in the old speak easy doors you see on TV when they show that era. I was irritated each time I got up. I had the immediate perception that these sales people were going to try and scam me, and I did not want to unlock the door. I cut them off and told them that I was busy.

    I know churches that still believe in the “door knocking” approach. But I look at how I reacted, and I suspect that most people today would react the same.

    But there are places where Christians are well received. I saw some very nice things said about the SBC disaster relief in Oklahoma after the storms. I also hear good things about medical missions trips etc.

    I realize it’s not all about technique. God is in control of all of this.

    But I do think we would be well served to make some practical, wise decisions about where we can have the greatest impact. Where can we be seen and heard for God’s glory in a way that is effective. We have to be wise and careful nowadays. People don’t want folks knocking on their doors, they don’t react well to anything that sounds like a sales pitch (sorry, Four Spiritual Laws are included there, even though I like the content very much), and they are wary of glitzy promotions.

    People are not as averse as we think they are in many cases. But they want to see something genuine.

    What may have been seen as genuine years ago, and may have been received well, is often now viewed with suspicion.

  30. Chas Jay says

    I grew up in Northwest Louisiana in the 1970’s in Summer Grove Baptist Church in Shreveport. Membership boomed from around 400 in 1970 to around 2,500 or so by 1979. Almost every Sunday numerous people accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. The people in the church were dedicated to attending to others needs and I still have fond memories of the numerous meals, prayers, visits and great comfort shown to me in the 1990’s when both of my parents and two of my brothers died in an 18 month period of time.
    I also experienced this same love from other Baptists over the years.
    While living in Southern California, I joined a Presbyterian Church (USA) because the preaching was much like what I heard in my youth. Sadly, the dedication from the congregation is nothing like my dear Southern Baptists friends back South that I keep in contact with to this day.
    As bleak as y’all think the SBC is, I felt some of you needed to hear some positive news about the denomination.
    At least you are standing firm in the Scripture while I had to leave my Presbyterian church because they have not left the PCUSA which has removed the ordination standards and is most likely going to have marriage redefined to match the cultures new definition.

  31. John Wylie says

    Dave,

    In my opinion you nailed it in your assessment of what is going on in points 2) and 3).

    Even if a person does not ascribe to a dispensational view of eschatology (provided they are not full Preterists) they can clearly see in scriptures what will be the spiritual condition of the end times, a great falling away 2 Thes. 2: 1-3, people hating that which is good 2 Tim. 3:3, people loving pleasure rather than God 2 Tim. 3:4, Christians being despised by the whole world Matt. 24:9, so much so Jesus asked the rhetorical question “…Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Luke 18:8 (ESV) This decline not only in the SBC but in all Christianity has a lot to do with it being the end times in my opinion.

    And also what you said about the church being counter cultural is spot on. And even though we had our moment in the sun as a cultural majority that was never what was intended. Look at Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, was it more conformed to culture or did it run counter to culture? Paul challenged these Corinthian believers’ cultural underpinnings at every turn. The apostle John hit the Greek Gnostics between the eyes. We have some on here who think our decline has to do with being Southern, red brick buildings and white pillars, disagreeing over PPL, or preaching styles but I personally believe that none of that is true.

    I think that Jesus described His generation in a way that is certainly true of ours. You can read about it in Luke 7:31-35 “To what then shall I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, “‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’ For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.” (ESV) In short, He was saying that it did not matter what package you wrap the Gospel gift in, some people will not like it.

  32. says

    One more point of clarification. Evangelism & Disciple Making ARE NOT SEPARATE endeavors. Evangelism is the First Phase of making Disciples who make Disciples. That is a MAJOR missing compnent in the SBC.

  33. Frank L. says

    Why the decline? 75% of non-churches said they would be likely to go to church “if someone invited them.”

    I wonder what would happen if all of us spent as much time knocking on doors as we do blogging?

    Analyzing the decline is not likely to stop it.

    I can do something about it if I will discipline my life to do it. I am going to make this a special matter of prayer today.

    God bless you all

    • Dave Miller says

      Well, Frank, why don’t you stop blogging, go out and knock on doors and then report back in 6 months.

      I weary of that argument. It’s weak. There is q time for everything. The statement implies that blogging is a waste of time. I don’t believe that, but if you do, then by all means, stop.

  34. Frank L. says

    Dave,

    I anticipated that remark and so I planned to come back one more time and clarify.

    I was confessing my own responsibility in the decline of the SBC, primarily the SBC church I am part of. I’m actually going to go down to the local grocery story where I shop and stand outside the door and see if I can engage some people in a conversation.

    I am not at all saying that blogging is a waste of time for everyone. It may be for me as you say.

    I just find it hard to sit on a computer and lament the decline of evangelicalism or the SBC and know that I have within my power to do something about it. Perhaps it is about balance.

    I do agree that the statement “implies” blogging is a waste of time. That was not my intent. I do think blogging about a decline while sitting at a computer–for me–became a deep conviction.

    It is the topic of the post that convicts me. And . . . I am only speaking about “Me.” I am sorry for not making that clear.

    I guess it is like the old cliche: “If the shoe fits wear it.” Well, in my case, and that is the only one that I can speak to, I feel a deep conviction to go out and do something about it as much as I am able in my corner of the Kingdom.

    I apologize if I was not more clear in that regard. If I am still alive in six months and the thought comes to mind, I’ll come back and report. My great fear is that I will not stay true to my convictions and I will have nothing to report.

    That would be a great shame upon me and I pray that will not happen.

    By the way, this is not a “sudden knee-jerk reaction” to this post. My staff and I have been praying about this very matter for about five weeks, after I read the parable of the Great Banquet in Luke 14, especially verse 23.

    As I said, after I posted I realized that someone would likely react in this way. I don’t have any way to edit or remove a post, so I decided to wait a moment and take my lumps.

    Well deserved they are. Again, I apologize. I was actually speaking aloud to myself. And I should have kept quiet.

    God bless.

  35. John K says

    It is interesting to see the steady decline in church attendance since the fifties. I am sure all denominations in America have been in decline if a graph was presented.

    What has changed in the 50’s and beyond in my opinion is the number of idols we have to occupy ourselves with. Television exploded through out the US and instead of sitting down and reading as a family we got together on Sunday evenings as a family and watched Disney. We started to travel longer distances from home with the new roads that stretched across much of the United States in our nice new cars. We saw how a washing machine improved the lives of the family by watching commercials on our new TV’s.

    We wanted and demanded more Idols! Just look into your church today and can you honestly say that many that sit amongst you read the bible or for that matter ever have read the bible. If you do not know the God in the bible you will soon know the God of idols.

    I am fortunate currently today. I have moved to what was once considered a small town. That is going through a growth explosion due to many new jobs, bring unemployed workers that out of desperation are coming to North Dakota of all places. With no malls, little in the way of movie theaters and virtually nothing to do. So you have two types of folks here the ones that entertain themselves at the bars or the ones that get involved in the local Church.

    Many folks come here as a last resort, and some have had to leave family behind due to housing shortages with rents that cost as much as beach front condos. The good news is the men are starting to attend church, to grow in faith and putting plans together to become leaders of their family once again and moving the family here.

    God has a way of getting our attention. God has a way of removing the Idols from our lives. I am watching and living it close up here in America and God is working in our lives. You just need to remove the Idols from your lives and start getting involved. We all have Idols we do not recognize in our lives that God is willing to remove if you don’t. It is great to see the the revival starting here in North Dakota. It will be even greater to see it spread to your town.

    • says

      John K., There is a lot of truth in what you say about the idols in our lives. In fact, I know of some Baptist church that now have idols in their church buildings. Can you imagine seeing a crucifix hanging on the wall in the hallway of a Baptist Sunday School building? I still can’t get over that. However, I would also point out that forces outside the convention have planned for this diminution of our denomination, I do believe. I could make an educated guess as to some of the forces, but the main one would be the cabal that runs the world. They are now going all out to gain absolute control, not being satisfied with indirect control. Just google cabal or conspiracy, and you will soon find so much materials to keep you busy for a long time. And make no mistake these people have a lot of power. However, God being omnipotent can easily deal with them, if we will but pray.

  36. says

    I know of a woman, a Christian worker at the time, who knocked on 10,000 doors in the St. Louis area back in the period of the late fifties and early sixties. She went on the answer the call to preach, and she built a church in a resort town, a rather good sized church (I saw a picture of the interior and could hardly believe what I say…seems the seats were behind desks in ascending rows) and gave it to Southern Baptists (the local Assn.) who told her that it would never be acknowledged that she had founded the church. That to my mind is hilarious…and by the way she was a Sovereign Grace minister and preacher who took her cues in part from Arthur Pink. Yes, I think it is funny…and wonderful. She even had one Sovereign Grace preacher to come and preach a revival for her.

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  1. […] The fault or flaw of the church is that it does not agree with my views on what a church should be. If I’m conservative, the church is too liberal. If I am liberal, the church is too conservative. If I’m Calvinists, its the non-Calvinists, if I’m not Calvinist, it’s those Calvinists causing the problems. The young blame the old, the old blame the young. I discussed this in a recent article. […]