…or is it?
Depends on whose describing it and what they look at.
I have grave reservations about these parts of SBC life:
- The long running decline in baptisms. This is a trend that precedes any current controversy, wasn’t caused by Cals, Trads, Cons, the secret CBN, NAMB, the ERLC, or anything else along these lines. Decades old demographic trends, aging churches and leadership, greater secularization of our society, loss of respect for churches and clergy, lower birthrates, declining percentages of WASP populations in the South all contribute. Every party in the SBC can point fingers at the other parties. We are all in the same position, actually.
- Increased divisiveness. All it takes is a few dollars, some behind-the-scenes moves, a clever website, Oz-like manipulators behind curtains and, presto! we have a division. Time will tell if this is significant. The more facts that come out about the newest group, the less helpful they will seem, in my opinion.
- Aging congregations and church closures. The day of reckoning is coming, although tiny churches can hang on for a long time.
- How easily our ADHD convention is distracted by this or that social media controversy. Ronnie Floyd outlines a five year vision and plan. It’s summarily dumped by the Executive Committee the next day by foolish actions.
- Overall, we are way, way too opaque and need to be more transparent and open at every level, on every trustee board, every entity.
- Church attendance is down. We fight the same things as every other denomination and religious tradition in America.
Here are some measures of health and current state of the SBC:
- We have twelve national entities and the WMU as an auxiliary. All of these are in good hands. IMB is moving forward. NAMB enjoys widespread enthusiastic support. LifeWay is changing with the times. The seminaries are enrolling more with no problem schools like we have had in the recent past. The ERLC has some challenges but one might be reminded of what we had pre-Moore, a talk-show atmosphere complete with embarrassments. The Executive Committee staff is almost completely new and a new, better day looks promising. The Executive Committee trustees and leadership will not stay the same. One can expect improvement there in time.
- The Cooperative Program is doing better. This year is a couple of million ahead of last year. The percentage of church offerings is hovering just under five percent and looks stable. There is no outlook for a greatly improved CP for many reasons, but that’s my personal opinion. It’s still a huge funding engine. Ronnie Floyd would like to see it grow to $500m or more from it’s present level of $463m.
- Churches are being planted, replanted, launched, relaunched, folded into the SBC. New churches are being added from an array of plans and techniques.
- The SBC has a growing percentage of ethnic and minority churches. Most SBCers would see this as a positive trend.
- Seminaries are enrolling more and all have solid leadership. We have the six. In the 21st century two of them (MBTS, SWBTS) have been dysfunctional disasters but new leadership has caused both to recover and prosper. NOBTS has new, younger leadership and I suspect their best days are ahead. The other three are doing well.
- Our largest, oldest and most important offering, Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions is at near record levels. This year may indeed be a record. Southern Baptists support this but could do better.
- Our second largest offering, Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions is at record levels. NAMB has resources to do a lot of thing that are needed in addition to planting churches.
There are always challenges and there is always a segment of SBC life who is happiest when angry, complaining, and negative.
Sort of like every local church.
I’m not seeing any alternative to the SBC. There is no decent alternative to our seminary system. There is no global missions agency that works strategically and can do what we do where we do it all over the world. Our loose system of cooperating churches and the mammoth Cooperative Program is still the envy of others.
There are always the tire slashers and we’ve seen them at work this week. These should be ignored, rooted out if they have been put in positions of responsibility. There is always a “pox on both your houses” watching the latest SBC train wreck. They may decide that it’s not worth their time and money to continue their emotional and financial investment in our Grand, if beleaguered, Old Convention.
What we need is a little optimism that leadership can get things together between now and June.
This past week was a disaster.