Statistics recently released from LifeWay Christian Resources reveal that the Southern Baptist Convention has clearly peaked, and is in decline. Not only are baptisms down for the seventh year out of the last eight, but even membership numbers, a highly inflated statistic, showed a small dip. This despite a recent campaign designed to baptize a million people a year and persistent calls to do more in evangelism.
One of the few SBC insiders willing to call it straight is missiologist Ed Stetzer, who works for LifeWay Research. In a recent post, Stetzer analyzed the trends and concluded: “Reality is we have peaked. “
In no uncertain terms, Stetzer spells out the evidence showing that the SBC is declining.
Stetzer attributes the decline, in large part, to:
1) “a serious (and increasing) depopulation of young leaders” and a lack of ethnic representation in leadership positions,
2) the “national caricature” of Southern Baptists as bickering people who can’t get along, and
3) what he sadly calls “our loss of focus on the Gospel.”
One of Stetzer’s more insightful comments relates to his second point, which I think may be the most significant factor of the three:
“The communities in which we live simply do not want to hear what we have to say when we can speak kindly to one another. If the focus of every SBC meeting is a new controversy to be debated, new parameters to be narrowed, and new issues to be fought, the trend toward decline will only accelerate.”
Those are powerful words.
They are also the truth.
We can only hope that the powers-that-be and those who support them will get the message.
[Image from LifeWay Resources]
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.