Many Christians are obsessed with converting the whole world to their religion, so any sign of even a slight decline in the membership of their denomination is disturbing to them. As an ex-Southern Baptist, such news about my former denomination is a joy to behold!
Southern Baptists Mark 3rd Year of Membership Decline
According to a newly released annual report, membership in the Southern Baptist Convention fell in 2009 by 0.42 percent to 16.16 million. That marks the third consecutive year of decline for a body that had previously bucked the shrinking trend of other denominations.
On a positive note, baptisms rose by 2.2 percent to 349,737, stemming a four-year decline.
Still, Southern Baptist Thom Rainer isn’t satisfied.
“The fact that more people were baptized this year than last year gives us a reason to hope we’re on the right path,” said Rainer, CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources which compiled the report. “At the same time, we as Southern Baptists continue to show signs of drifting from our historic commitment to evangelism, as reflected in the fact that it still takes 46 Southern Baptists to lead one person to faith in Christ.”
LifeWay Research president Ed Stetzer was also cautious in celebrating the higher number of baptisms.
“Every baptism is a person being obedient to the teachings of Christ, publicly professing new life in Christ. The fact that there are more baptisms is a good thing … yet … saying this year’s increase in baptisms is good news is like bragging your state moved from the 47th to 46th state in educational achievement. It’s better, but it’s not time for a parade.”
Stetzer pointed out that though there were more baptisms in 2009 compared to the previous year, the number was still the third lowest since 1993.
“It should break our hearts that this year’s baptism numbers are considered good news at all – it shows how far we have to go,” he said in a commentary Friday.
He also warned that if trends continue, the SBC won’t see membership numbers going back up any time soon. “Expect to hear ‘membership decline’ more times than ‘membership growth’ over the next few years,” he said.
The Southern Baptist Convention is currently considering major changes and reprioritization to get the denomination back on track toward the fulfilling of the Great Commission.
Earlier this month, the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force released the final draft of a report that includes a set of recommendations that will be voted on by delegates at an annual meeting next month. Southern Baptist leaders have urged fellow members to adopt the new vision in order to mobilize the SBC more effectively in reaching the lost.
Get a grip, Baptist leaders!
I was baptized into my Southern Baptist church in 1984. I had just turned 15 and knew NOTHING about Christian theology and history, so I was just blindly following my mother, her pastor and my friends. Then I deconverted from Christianity about five years later as a college student after reading the Bible, being exposed to Creationist literature, and finally getting to read the other side of the various issues in the library of the college I was attending at the time.
Did you know that the SBC began as a split from the Northern Baptists over slavery? And that the SBC is still almost entirely WHITE? I shudder to think how many Southern Baptist leaders supported the status quo of Jim Crow laws and regulations from the Civil War period to the 1960s. As a person who sees racism as evil, that’s reason enough to repudiate the SBC forever!
I think the reason the SBC claimed for so long to be the largest Protestant denomination in North America was because it never removes a person from its membership lists for non-attendance of Sunday worship services. But to me, that is dishonest. A person who hardly ever goes to church should not be counted as much a member as someone who attends every week for many years. But it is still a great way to inflate your church memberships to make your denomination look bigger and more influential than it really is. I wonder if I am still counted as a member of the SBC somewhere.
Millions of people can be baptized, but if most of those millions later leave the churches, as I did, then those baptisms are for nothing in the long run.