In recent years our SBC evangelism statistics have declined significantly. Dr. Jeff Iorg, the President of Gateway Seminary (formerly Golden Gate Baptist Seminary) spoke about this in his convocation message in the fall semester of 2019:
“Southern Baptists have a declining effectiveness in sharing the Gospel with non-Christians and leading them to profess faith in Jesus,” he said. “Since baptism is the first act of public obedience for a new believer, baptismal rates are one important measure of evangelistic effectiveness. By that key indicator, our effectiveness in leading people to faith in Jesus is in steep decline.”
Iorg pointed to statistics that indicate the SBC baptismal rate is lower than at any time since the 1940s in spite of having more than twice as many churches in the convention.
“In 2017 just over 30 percent of SBC churches did not record a single baptism. In that same year, 50 percent of SBC churches baptized two people or fewer. And 82 percent of churches had fewer than 10 baptisms in 2017 — less than one per month,” he said. “Baptismal data indicates we have a declining effectiveness in sharing the Gospel with non-Christians and leading them to publicly profess faith in Jesus.” (“Iorg at Convocation Underscores Evangelism as Priority,” by Kathie Chute, Baptist Press, 9-3-19)
These dismal statistics raise the WHY question. Why are our churches struggling so? Dr. Ed Stetzer, Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, wrote an article about this recently. He listed seven reasons for the decline in evangelism.
- There has been a backlash to past evangelistic methods that seemed reductionistic and simplistic.
- Many believers do not have confidence in the gospel.
- It is getting harder to share the gospel in a context where people are further away from what their parents and grandparents believed.
- Some believers have replaced evangelism with another spiritual emphasis. (like social justice or environmentalism)
- A lack of compassion for the lost around us.
- Some believers fear not having the answers to questions people raise.
- Some Christians worry that their lives are not good enough to qualify them as witnesses.
(“Why Has Evangelism Declined?” www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2020/january)
To Ed Stetzer’s list I would add three reasons of my own. First, our secular society has succeeded in persuading believers, especially young believers, that one’s faith is an intensely private matter, and one should only discuss matters of faith with one’s family and close friends. Second, pluralism (the belief that all religions are of equal value) is taught in most colleges and universities. Our young adults have been indoctrinated to believe this. Further, pluralism is often promoted on television. Pastors have complained to me that their congregations have been Oprah-ized. The late Dr. Roy Fish (He of blessed memory) often said that most Southern Baptists are functional universalists. A universalist believes that ultimately everyone will be saved. Now, if you ask Southern Baptists if they believe in universalism, they will deny believing that. However, Dr. Fish’s point is that they live as if they believe it. Third, many companies, educational institutions, and organizations have banned any kind of witnessing. Some even forbid staff members from displaying a Bible on their desks.
Do you agree that it is harder to evangelize now? Do you have another reason you would like to add to these lists?