Image from SBCthisweek.com.
Cooperative Program Giving is up. Lottie Moon Christmas Offering giving is up. These are things to praise God for!
But, as the image above shows, church membership is down. The number of churches and missions are barely up. Attendance, small group attendance, and baptisms are down significantly.
Much of this is driven by demographics. When I go to SBC gatherings and conferences in my state convention and in other parts of the South, I am consistently one of the youngest people there. I am 41. At a recent meeting, a large number of the people there were over 70. It was not a senior adult convention. I am glad they were there! I hope they keep coming and we need to learn from older saints. But, there were no young people there. And, everyone was white. Demographics determine destiny. So, we are getting older and older.
Want some REALLY bad news? We are in free fall, actually. The area where Southern Baptists have their largest footprint – the South, which according to U.S. Census data runs from Maryland to Texas and down to Florida has 121 million people. 37% of the U.S. population. It is by far the largest region of the country. The population of this region was 100 million in 2000. Our region has grown by 21 MILLION people in the past 15 years while Southern Baptists have declined in numbers by around a million people. We are not just in slight decline. In proportion to the massive growth of the states where we have the largest influence, we are in a statistical free fall. No one has mentioned this that I have seen. I have not run the numbers here, but if we were 13% of the population of the South in 2000, then we are only around 10% of the population of the South now. That is a 25% proportional decline in the past 15 years when you factor in population growth (again, I have not run exact numbers. Just estimates.).
Hartford Seminary sociologist of religion Scott Thumma said changes in denominational totals are driven by such factors as birthrate, retention of children as they reach adulthood, and immigration. He said the Assemblies of God are benefiting from immigration — particularly from Central and South America as well as Africa — much more than the Southern Baptist Convention.
Thumma said some of the drop in SBC membership may be due to a growing preference for nondenominational congregations.
“Nondenominational churches have most of the same characteristics in terms of theology and worship style as SBC churches but without the denominational baggage of its reputation or pronouncements,” he said.
So, an appeal to immigrants who are flooding into America makes a difference. Approximately 25% of the growth of the South over the past 15 years has come from immigrants. I DID run those numbers the other day and compared census reports. Approximately 14 million of the 121 million in the South are foreign born. That number is up over 5 million from 2000. That percentage is the same basic number that Southern Baptists have declined as a proportion of the population of the South. We aren’t talking about the West or Northeast. We are talking about the South. You can lay almost all of the lack of growth of the SBC over the past 15 years on the fact that we still are not effectively reaching immigrant populations, which make up a quarter of the U.S. population if you include first and second generation immigrants.
Jousting at windmills will not help us. Only when we recognize that God has brought the nations to us and that we need to stop arguing and get on with laying our lives down on behalf of people who are new to our communities and who are being rejected by many will we see change take place. The numbers are there. They are staggering. The demographics are obvious. The South has changed. What will we do?
I am glad that this will be addressed at the SBC in St. Louis. The crisis continues. The opportunity is in front of us. When will we respond?