The 2007 Annual Church Profile of the Southern Baptist Convention was released this week-and it is not pretty. (If you’re not Southern Baptist, the ACP is a combined report of key indicator statistics from all 45,000 or so churches)
Baptisms were down 5.5% to their lowest level since 1987-and have fallen for 7 of the last 8 years. Church membership dropped for the 2nd time since 1926. Some other key indicators either flatlined or dropped.
For years, Southern Baptists have (pridefully) laid claim to the title “the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S.” and have (gleefully) compared ourselves to the declining mainline denominations like Methodists, Presbyterians, etc. We no longer have any cause to be prideful or gleeful. Southern Baptists are no longer growing; we are declining.
Nathan Finn asks the tough question: Does the SBC Have a Future? and has a spot-on answer. Ed Stetzer (one of our best missiologists) asks, Is this the end of the beginning? and answers with a prophetic ring:
For now, Southern Baptists are a denomination in decline…. Our responsibility before God is, then, to urgently consider how we should respond. Yes, most of our response should be personal and lived out in our local churches….. But if we are choosing to partner in this network of churches, and the network is faltering, it will also take some joint action….
Three issues rise to the top. First…. we have witnessed a serious (and increasing) depopulation of young leaders at our convention. Also, ethnic leadership remains absent…. Vacant seats still exist at the SBC table for the ethnic and generational diversity that matches the America we are attempting to reach.
….A second issue is the infighting which defines so much of the SBC-its meetings, its churches, and its blogs…. Satan has used our incessant bickering over non-essentials to promote his last great mission on earth-to keep lost people lost…. 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.
The third, and most important, issue is our loss of focus on the Gospel. I find it difficult to even say such a thing, but, I believe it to be true. We must recover a gospel centrality and cooperate in proclaiming that gospel locally and globally….
If we commit ourselves once again to the Gospel which guided the Apostles and the early church, then perhaps we can reply to Christ’s call made to the church of Sardis in Revelation 3: “I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.”
….My prayer is that, unlike the church at Sardis, we are far from dead. However, it is obvious to us now that we are slumbering in the light. It is time for us to once again rise to a new day. The temptation will be that the news of the day will result in a new denominational obsession to fix the problem with a new plan. It won’t work. Instead we must refocus on the Divine Obsession (Luke 15), the obsession with lost people.
…. The promise of the Conservative Resurgence was to reestablish our unwavering belief in the inerrancy of scripture…. Now is the moment for us to hone our vision and take on a bigger battle-we must battle to build upon our Conservative Resurgence and make it a Great Commission Resurgence.
If we don’t, why did we bother with the Conservative Resurgence in the first place?