In 1971, 15,000 messengers gather for the 114th annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis, MO.

In 1971, 15,000 messengers gather for the 114th annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis, MO.

There will be a lot of talking in Houston, Texas this week. After all, the Bayou City is hosting the 2013 annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Messengers from America’s largest Protestant denomination are expected to discuss several topics, from the Boy Scouts’ new policy admitting gay youths to a range of theological doctrines. But one unwelcome point of discussion this year has been the denomination’s decline.

According to data released this week by LifeWay Research, the arm of the denomination that tracks such trends, the number of SBC-affiliated congregations grew while reported membership of those churches declined by more than 100,000. This number is down 0.7 percent from last year with primary worship attendance declining 3.1 percent to 5.97 million Sunday worshippers. Baptisms decreased by 5.5 percent over the previous year with the lowest reported number on record since 1948.

“The Christian Post” reports that this year’s is the fifth dip in a row for the denomination, the “Associated Press” says the drop represents a six-year trend, and LifeWay Research claims it spans 50 years. Regardless, the denomination is failing to keep up with population growth. According to LifeWay Research, if the SBC’s membership trends continue it will hit 1960 levels by 2050.

“Statistically, our light is dimming,” said LifeWay’s Ed Stetzer at the SBC’s Pastors Conference on Monday. “We’re losing our saltiness.”

SBC Annual Church Profile (1950 - 2012) - Image courtesy of LifeWay Research

SBC Annual Church Profile (1950 – 2012) – Image courtesy of LifeWay Research

Stetzer is addressing both the declining numbers and waning cultural influence of the SBC, a problem compounded by the way its congregations, pastors and members seem to be distancing from the denomination they affiliate with. In 1999, the “Associated Press” reported on a trend among SBC churches who were dropping “Baptist” from their name. To curb this trend, the denomination approved an alternate label—”Great Commission Baptists”—that could be used by member congregations. I’ve yet to locate a single church that has actively utilized the moniker.

Another trend illustrating decreased denominational loyalty among member churches is the plummeting attendance of the SBC’s annual meeting. LifeWay reports a precipitous drop over the last decade. As of Tuesday morning, fewer than 5,000 messengers were registered for the event, down from an annual average of 7,670 between 2000 and 2012.

No matter how you look at the data, it seems to indicate trouble is on the horizon for the SBC.

As a lifelong Southern Baptist who grew up singing the Baptist Hymnal and whose father served as president of the denomination from 2000 to 2002, these trends are disheartening. But they are also understandable.

In recent years, I’ve watched my denomination fight vicious battles over issues of little importance. I’ve seen them dive headfirst into divisive partisan politics. And I’ve witnessed how anyone who doesn’t bow down to the institutional machine or even dares to question the status quo is not-so-kindly shown the door. No wonder the denomination is shrinking.

A new day is dawning in American religious life in which Christians of many stripes seem to be running fast and hard from denominations, particularly those whose behavior mirrors the descriptions listed above. If the Southern Baptist Convention wants to survive in this era, I believe they must learn to do at least three things:

1. Put first things first. “You can’t get second things by putting them first,” C.S. Lewis once wrote. “You get second things only by putting first things first.” Lewis knew what the Southern Baptist Convention has often forgotten: priorities often determine effectiveness.

If you review the resolutions, reports, and microphone grandstands of the SBC’s annual meeting during recent years, you’ll find a lot of energy expended on secondary things. The “Associated Press” reported this week on how debates over Calvinism is dividing the Convention. Add to this recent squabbles over the so-called “sinner’s prayer” and other lesser issues, and you have a denomination that expends major energy on minor issues.

The SBC’s resolution history also seems to bear this out. There was the ineffective 1997 boycott on Disney, a resolution to retain the traditional method of calendar dating (B.C. / A.D.) in 2000, and a 2011 resolution disapproving of the revision to the world’s most popular Bible translation (NIV), which requested that LifeWay Christian Stores stop carrying it. (One year later, LifeWay still sells the translation.)

If the Southern Baptist Convention wants to regain the credibility, interest, and relevance it has lost, the denomination must learn to put first things first. Namely, sharing the gospel through missions and showing the gospel through acts of service, compassion, and justice.

2. Eschew partisan politics. Tony Campolo once said that mixing the church with government is “like mixing ice cream with horse manure: You will not ruin the horse manure, but it will ruin the ice cream.” I’ll let you determine which one is the ice cream in his analogy.

During the last 25 years, the Southern Baptist Convention has rushed headlong into conservative politics, often parroting Republican talking points and baptizing the GOP’s agenda. Just last year, Richard Land, former head of the SBC’s political arm, broke tradition and publicly endorsed Mitt Romney for President.

Of the 117 resolutions passed by the denomination at their annual meeting since 2000, a breathtaking 70 of them have been political. This includes a 2003 resolution endorsing President Bush’s war in Iraq, a 2008 resolution taking a position in the so-called “War on Christmas,” and a 2009 resolution titled “On President Barack Hussein Obama.” I keep waiting for a resolution naming Sean Hannity as an honorary fourth member of the Trinity.

American evangelicalism is becoming more politically diverse and nuanced than it once was, particularly among young people. If the denomination continues to operate like a Republican lapdog, it can expect to be seen as a polarizing political institution. If they can learn to speak truth to power on both sides of the aisle, the SBC stands a chance of restoring its image. Americans want a Church that is prophetic, not partisan.

3. Learn to listen. The late Henri Nouwen once remarked, “without listening, speaking no longer heals.” He’s right. When all we do is talk, our words become a monotone melody heard only by ourselves. Therefore, any organization or leader must maintain an ongoing commitment to listen to others.

One demographic that Southern Baptists need to listen to more often is the next generation. LifeWay reported in 2008 that the percentage of messengers in the 18-39 age group attending the annual meeting has declined steadily since 1980 while the percentage of messengers in the 60-and-older group has increased dramatically.

I’ve seen many young leaders over the years that were all but required to run a leadership gauntlet—genuflecting to the Southern Baptist aristocracy along the way—before being offered a seat at the table. Again and again, the Southern Baptist Convention has gone the way of the wolf spider, cannibalizing their young. Meanwhile, other Christian communities and gatherings—Catalyst, Exponential, Thrive, Justice Conference—welcome young people and their fresh ideas. The next generation flocks to these organization’s events by the thousands while saturating the SBC with their absence.

If the Southern Baptist Convention has any hope for regaining their place of prominence, it must raise up a capable and passionate crop of young and diverse leaders. This means learning to listen to the sometimes uncomfortable and seemingly iconoclastic ideas of next generation thinkers.

“If we are just a bunch of bitter old church people, grumpy at the world, yelling at non-believers to get off our proverbial moral lawn,” Ed Stetzer told SBC leaders on Monday, “that does not show forth light and preserve as salt.”

The denomination must now decide whether to chart a new path for the sake of its future or maintain its current course. But one thing is certain. When the convention gathers for its annual meeting in another decade, people will still be talking. The question is now, “Will anyone be listening?”

163 Comments

  1. Jonathan, as a Southern Baptist myself, I concur, esp. with “learn to listen.” But will they. The older heads are too suspicious of the young, and that’s why an Acts29 remains so attractive – creating something of a balance.

    • “It is between fifty and sixty years since I read it [the Book of Revelation], and I then considered it merely the ravings of a maniac, no more worthy nor capable of explanation than the incoherencies of our own nightly dreams.”
      –Thomas Jefferson, letter to General Alexander Smyth, January 17, 1825

    • Blogged about this at: http://missouritenth.com/2013/09/29/christian-schizophrenia-and-government/

      While I agree with Merritt on the foolishness of churches automatically jumping on the Republican bandwagon, and Christians keeping the gospel front and center – I hope that Merritt is not implying that Christians, for the sake of our young people, withdraw from active participation in Government. Because Government, like the institution of Church and Family, has been designed by God to bring order to His creation. Sure, politics can be a corruptible business. But there’s a big difference between men twisting politics for their own purposes – and God’s eternal, unshakeable Truths. And it’s Christians who, of anyone, should understand and stand for the truths given to us by God for the flourishing of community. How are we to make disciples of all the nations if we can’t share how the gospel relates to their family, community, and government?

      It’s a false dichotomy to say we should spread the gospel – which applies to every sphere of life – but then refrain from an involvement in Government. And through failing to properly engage culture in regards to what we claim to believe about God’s law, and His authority over creation, “We Christians are, for the most part, unwitting contributors to the demise of freedom and rise of oppression in our land,” Chuck Baldwin writes. “Without a firm grasp of necessary truth, how can we know what to do, who to believe, or how to act?”

      • Missouri Tenth – Mr. Merritt’s article certainly advocates attempting to influence government. He merely spoke against ALIGNING ourselves with certain political parties. This is sound advice. You can’t speak truth if you are afraid you’re going to hurt “your” party’s chances at winning something or offend your friends. All politics, on both sides, is fraught with error and needs help and guidance from the church, but we’re not giving it. We’re pandering to a specific side. The result is politicians speaking to the public about (their horrible incomplete and often inaccurate versions of) Biblical precepts instead of well-grounded religious leaders who don’t take sides speaking justice and mercy to both sides. This results in a whole lot of people thinking that media talking heads and politicians are speaking moral truth. Who needs the church when we are already comfortable worshiping a political party that tells us what we want to hear?

        My take away was that Mr. Merritt thinks we should learn to separate our own political leanings from God’s truths. They may overlap sometimes, but one should never depend on the other – you should always be able to turn to your Repub/Dem friend and say, “yeah, that’s just not true or right.” It’s a hard thing to do, but that’s why it’s a narrow path, right?

  2. I can agree with some of your suggestions, while not seeing having sound Bible translations or getting the doctrine of salvation right as “minor issues” for the institution which is called to proclaim all of God’s word.

    But more than that, can a mere methodology prevent shrinkage, or ensure growth? Aren’t you getting too mechanistic when you give such a method-centered prescription? Don’t forget that it’s the Lord who gives the harvest! Ultimately, the future size of the churches is determined by His sovereign hand.

    Our goal ought not to be numerous for numbers’ sake, but simply, to be faithful.

    • Don’t get too wound up protecting “sound Bible translations.” There was a huge economic motivation in the whole NIV issue. Lifeway was paying big royalties for prining excerpts of NIV in literature. That is one of the dirty little secrets behind the HCSB “translation.” Don’t get me started with the conspiracy theory about some people wanting a more conservative translation. I’m not nearly enough of a Greek/Hebrew scholor to know what is real there.

    • AMEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
      Jesus said to be in the world not of it, Paul said not to judge those outside, but said to PUT the IMMORAL BROTHER out, that is not happening. If the church becomes church again, instead of a hospital, social club, country club, and started using the words that Willow Creek and Saddleback hate like sin, repent, the Church might become a light again and some will be drawn to it. If those in the church act like those outside, there’s no reason for those outside to show up. Hence because of the seeker-sensitive movement. If you’re catering to the lost in the church, members will not grow and TRUE evangelism will not take place outside the church as it’s suppose to do.

  3. Jonathan,

    Well written as usual and very insightful. I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, but given your assessment, why remain in the SBC? Your ministry is very important and you will reach many lives as effectively outside the SBC as in it. Please keep up your good work.

      • I wonder if the possibility of existing in multiple networks is a bigger part of the equation than we realize. At some point, because we have limited time and resources, we will direct them toward those organizations that we most closely identify with–and in an age when the church is virturally a la carte, established movements like the SBC can no longer rely on proximity alone. Even if other organizations are not ideologically opposed but simply run parallel, their very presence dilutes the influence and resources that were once directed through local churches–and in this case–ultimately to the convention.

  4. Just one comment. Although the only “young people” conference I have attended is the Justice Conference, and, opposite of the SBC, it was seriously lacking older attendees. My mom (53) attended with me and felt like she was the oldest person in every room. I think both the older generations and the younger have a ways to go and need to learn the value of having a conversation with the other.

    • I agree. It seems that too many of our churches are becoming so polarized along generational lines. The “worship wars” have certainly contributed immensely to this phenomenon. IMO we need to find a way to reintegrate our churches.

      • When I physically left the Southern Baptists over 20 years ago…mentally…I had left 15 years before that. The last straw for me was a retired jazz musician telling me I was sending people to hell for working at a secular radio station for a living. Never looked back and ended up at an American Baptist church the past four years.

        When I move this week to another state…am considering American Baptist/UCC/Episcopal. Don’t care if a Southern Baptist church is the only one in town…would never attend services at one again. They have lost their way and I don’t feel they will ever find it again…if they don’t get off of this conservative republican hades they choose to put themselves into.

  5. Johnathn,

    Your answer is good enough for me. We all have to listen to God’s calling, and I am glad you are willing to identify issues as you see them.

  6. What you’ve identified is the same problem affecting most churches and the reason Lifeway Research predicts the loss of somewhere near 50% of our churches over the next two decades. Churches struggle and decline, but nobody is willing to give up their preferences or consider any newer innovations. I’m somewhat surprised that anyone under 50 even attends my church.

    • Indeed, you should be surprised because of the judgmental beliefs of those in your church. Why would any young person want to join? Have you taken a good look at who belongs to your churches? White controlling men. I think Pat Robertson summed it up pretty well when he said
      “Here’s the secret. Stop talking (about) the cheating. He cheated on you, well, he’s a man.”
      “What you want to do is make a home so wonderful that he doesn’t want to wander.”
      When your church begins to believe that a marriage is a 50/50 partnership and it should keep it’s social issues out of our government, – not to mention the Boy Scouts, then you might begin to attract the young.
      As I see it now, you want nothing more than to take over our government and make Washington DC the head of the Southern Baptist.

      • I don’t think Pat Robertson is a Southern Baptist. He did study to become a SB preacher at one point, but I think he’s more a Pentecostal, Charismatic Word of Faith type these days.

        I do think Southern Baptist denomination has its flaws though, a few of which I outlined in a post farther down this page. But I don’t think it’s accurate to blame SBs for Pat Robertson :)

  7. Very good article and I believe we can all agree that the SBC has issues regarding memberships. If you look outside the SBC you will find many growing churches. Not all, but it seems a lot of these other churches outside the SBC have watered down the gospel. I do not believe that the doctrine of salvation is a minor issue. You are correct, our number priority should be reaching others for Christ, but not at the cost of being a denomination that has drifted away from irrelevancy of the scripture. I am thankful we are not doing that, but it seems we have too many churches in the SBC that are not proactive in reaching the lost. As Adrian Rogers once said, “witnessing is not some spiritual gift that some have and some don’t, it is a command by Jesus that we all must do”. Too many of our churches have members that are content to just let the pastor practice evangelism. God Bless Jonathon, keep up the great work.

  8. Everyone is biased and this piece reflects that in spades. Tony Campolo has always been partisan! The left is partisan. It’s disingenuous to label only the right as partisan. And Catalyst and the other conferences? Well, they are simply helping push evangelicalism to the left by hosting such speakers as Cornel West, Sam Adams, and Palestinian advocates like Lynne Hybels. The SBC will stumble fatally if they fall desperately for the leftist lie that they must “moderate” to survive. Better to remain biblically conservative than reach for hollow growth and worldly relevance. Of course, those with my view feel very much the loathing from those who disagree with us. So be it.

    • Michael Airhart

      To Jim Fletcher:

      The SBC is not Biblically conservative; that is one of the many myths that is slowly killing the denomination. The SBC mistakenly believes that its politics and theology are Biblical, when in fact they are far from it. While the SBC mocks the worldliness of an imaginary and caricatured if-it-feels-good leftism, the SBC is widely and more accurately viewed as practicing a feel-good worldliness of aristocracy, mammon, consumption, deliberate environmental destruction, unjust and catastrophic war, and opposition to human rights — including the rights of other Christians.

      It amazes me that the SBC gets away with claiming to defend Christianity from persecution, when it has sponsored warfare against Latin American, Iraqi and Palestinian Christians. Among our nation’s troops, and in our schools, SBC organizations and chaplains have proclaimed a mantra of “religious freedom” when in fact they have bullied other Christians and Jews, forcing other denominations and faiths to participate involuntarily in morally and spiritually misguided SBC prayers and political appeals.

      Yes, the SBC must learn to listen. But first, “listen” must be defined.

      It does not mean vacantly hearing what someone said, and then returning to one’s self-righteous monologue. It means acknowledging that the SBC is no holier than the party being listened to — that the SBC has much to learn from others, Christian or not, about real people and real values. You cannot evangelize successfully when your mind is full of false stereotypes about your audience.

    • Jim Fletcher — I don’t think JM is saying that the SBC should become “moderate” in order to survive. That’s your word. I read him as saying it should identify with the Lord over right-wing politics and Republicanism. And SBC has — often — overidentified with right-wing politics. He points out several such events in SBC history.

      I hear him saying: keep holding on to the Bible (=be biblically conservative), but don’t require cultural/social conservatism to be central to being SBC. (Doesn’t the SBC want unsaved Democrats and Independents to come to know Jesus? But many such people would never come near an SBC church, because of the history of right-wing political affiliation.)

      I vividly remember the SBC’s Disney-boycott of 1997. I was entirely Republican back then (now way more independent), but even then I was wholly disgusted that anyone would think that boycotting Disney (!) would make much of Jesus Christ! Way to alienate every gay person (and many others) in America, SBC! No wonder people started distancing themselves from the name “Baptist” thereafter. (Does offending a whole people-group reach them for the Great Commission? No, it does the opposite.)

      But you have the exact way of thinking that perpetuates all of this. Yes, Tony Campolo has often been partisan, but it’s an ad hominem logical fallacy to indicate that the quotation cited isn’t valid because it comes from him. You can’t listen to him because of his politics. You are deaf to him because he’s not rightist like you. You prove JM’s point about the need to listen!

      Jim: you write: “those with my view feel very much the loathing from those who disagree with us. So be it.” If you take this whining martyr position, no wonder they loathe your perspective. Give me a break. You’re totally mixing Jesus and rightism: that’s what many Christians loathe, certainly. You are the Baskin-Robbins employee who’s formulating the manure/ice cream melange. You are offering us a vanilla/cow paddy cone, and then you’re offended that we’re not interested.

      Your position isn’t loathed for its (questionable, in parts) truthfulness. It’s loathed because it’s bunkered against many realities that aren’t popular with Republicans/rightist thinking. Exhibit A: Lynne Hybels. You apparently have a problem with her. She actually thinks Palestinians (such as Palestinian Christians, who suffer because of some of Israel’s actions) should be treated as humans! (What a backwards monster.) But if someone can’t even tolerate a sister in Christ because her politics are different than yours, because she’s standing up against human rights abuses, then who wants to hear the rest of your theology?

      And if your approach alienates even biblically conservative, Evangelical, gospel-loving Baptist pastors (like me), then it’s pretty certainly going to alienate a lot of nonChristians, who need to be reached, not repulsed.

      • Mark,

        Let me say that politically (which is a hobby) I tend to be pretty conservative. I struggle mightly to mitigate the way my hobby shapes my world view. I want you to know that I really appreciate the way you crafted your response. It gave me the feeling that there would be a high probability that we could have an enjoyable conversation. Others who responded did not give me that impression. I have watched with interest the last few years as this pendulum swings back and forth. I agree that my political (remember I see it as a hobby) opposites need to taste God’s love and forgiveness just as much as I do, and that is why you are here. The conservatives are a job for people like me. We need to work better together to avoid ruining each others efforts.

        Now, none of that has anything to do with what the SBC institutional role should be in that. I see that as a very different discussion. It would be best if the institution didn’t ruin either of our efforts. Maybe the focus needs to be on the gospel of grace. Let the Spirit work in the area of behavior.

      • Wonderfully and accurately stated! Ran across this article while gathering sources at my husband’s request. He is preaching this Sunday (at our SB) church on how the church must change. I agree totally that many SB members have alienated people under their prejudiced interpretation of the scripture regarding “the narrow way”. The passage in Romans regarding the weaker and stronger brother is inexplicably accurate on this topic. There are SO many disputable areas that are handcuffing the church from effectively reaching out. Matters of sin should not be watered down but disputable matters (opinions) have no place being the foundation of any church doctrine. People, Christians and non-christians alike, crave authenticity. Not aristocratic, holier-than-thou mindsets that in no way extend the hand of fellowship to anyone who dares to disagree. Keep the main thing (Jesus) the main thing and trust every other disputable matter to be ironed out as people work out their faith. The church has lost focus instead of focusing on loving the lost.

  9. Robert Gillchrest

    Because of the “resurgence” among a select group of SBC “leaders”, and their inclusive language over the last 20 years (“he’s one of us”), the denominational annual gathering has decreased in importance and attendance. It used to be fun to see former college and seminary classmates at the gathering; it’s not happening now because the inclusiveness has shut out so many. Others realize it’s also a tremendous monetary expenditure for some. In SBC strongholds (Houston and Texas) you might expect a large turnout, but with 2 other SBC groups in Texas you understand why not. People get elected who are among the “anointed” group, there’s no suspense there; everything gets relegated to agencies who dump the resolutions and votes into their circular files. And don’t forget, Jonathan, your daddy was/is one of the anointed, too.

  10. Absolutely! I have been Southern Baptist since 87. I was Ordained in a small South Georgia Church in 2005. I became a full time, self-funding, independant missionary in 2006. First in Moscow and now in Southern Ukraine. The politics of the SBC have left me wondering. My Lord told me to feed His flock. The flock He gave me are Alcoholics and Drug Addicts. When I read about the debate over Calvinism I laughted. Addicts and Prostitutes dont care about Gay Boy Scouts or the Tulip. They need to hear about a forgiving God of Grace and Mercy

  11. I am not a Baptist, and I would understand if my question is not welcome here. I would, however, very much appreciate an answer, as I believe this reflects on all American Christians.

    My question has to do with the SGM lawsuit, and Albert Mohler’s/Mark Dever’s public statement vouching for Mahaney’s personal integrity. I cannot understand why anyone (insert Baptist pastors) would issue such a strong statement of support (later amended to remove an incriminating sentiment) for C.J. Mahaney. Can anyone explain this to me?

    Thank you in advance.

  12. To reverse membership loss, may I suggest the Baptists do the opposite of what Episcopalians, Presbyterians (PCUSA) and Lutherans (ELCA) have done to their demonstrations.

    Frankly, if Baptists continue to ‘Trust and Obey’ and continue to appropriate “The Power in the Blood’ the gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church.

  13. As a former-Baptist, now-Anglican, I whole-heartedly concur. And I would place particular emphasis on Jonathan’s second point. Politics and religion make for an odious mix. Young Christians such as myself are completely disgusted by attempts to make the Church (the Body of Christ) into an arm of the Republican Party.

    Of course the danger is that Jonathan is just preaching to the choir. It remains to be seen whether the intended audience is listening.

  14. Dennis Sanders

    Having grown up Southern Baptist, I would agree with the who danger of combining politics and religion. I would add that after 20 years in a mainline denomination (Disciples of Christ) there is still the same issue of mixing the two, only instead of baptizing Republican politics, there is a blessing of progressive politics. I think it’s hard to find a place in the church where partisan politics doesn’t rear its head.

  15. GREAT line re: Sean Hannity. There’s more truth and tension in that sentence than we like to think.

    I think the SBC needs to clearly (not with hundreds of amendments and stands) define what it stands for; as others have said, glibly stating, “We believe in the Bible” is confusing and, in all honesty, disingenuous.

    Lastly, are we sure that the SBC needs to survive? Just as churches sometimes need to move on (either through re-invention or planting), does the SBC need to exist in its present configuration? We fight and we fight and we fight about what is clearly not ‘first.’ Is it time to cut bait and ‘plant’ a new denomination? Why do we feel that we need to keep propping up what has become a dinosaur? (5,000 messengers should be a wakeup call like no other).

    Ask the Lutherans and Presbyterians how that worked for them.

    • NO! on Sean Hannity. The fourth member of the Trinity is undoubtedly Glenn Beck, who seems to have eclipsed Sean Hannity over the last couple of years in popularity, even if he IS a Mormon.

  16. Too often I see christian leadership get this wrong, but you nailed it. I work with “underprivelleged” youth and high school students with asperger’s syndrome disorder and while we are wasting time being ‘martha’ troubled with many unnessary political issues, we are missing our opportunity to bring the light and love of Jesus to the world.

  17. Tina Toombs Pelton

    Thanks for a great article Jonathan! As a woman minister on staff at an SBC church in what is considered a pioneer area, I couldn’t agree more. The convention spends so much time polarizing people and arguing over piddly issues (well, most of them piddly). I am embarrassed every year at convention time because I know there will be one hot button issue that captures all the focus and I’ve yet to see one presented in a loving manner, they seem to all produce an “us vs. them” mentality. The lack of inviting younger folks to the table and then listening to and learning from them, in my opinion, is playing a major role in the decline.

      • The problem with the statement of including more minority and women leaders is the denomination was started and have done everything they can do to make sure this doesn’t happen.

        • and when it comes to women, they feel they have a divine mandate to limit it. Heck, I know plenty of SBC congregations that would fight to the death before baptizing a black person, let alone ordaining one. And many claim a Biblical background for that. So we won’t get women or minorities into leadership until we address the fact that the SBC leadership believe God has commanded them to protect an old boys club in the name of Biblical Manhood.

      • Jonathon, I hate to say it but in your article, you never quoted any women leaders. Everyone you quoted was male and white. If you want the SBC to include women and minority leaders, you need to quote them often in your articles. BTW, I could never be a southern Baptist because the denomination is so anti-feminist. The first major women’s rights conference in America was held at an evangelical Methodist church in Seneca Falls, NY in 1848. But you’d never know if from the way that evangelical churches act nowadays.

  18. Given that every major Christian denomination has been shrinking steadily, it would probably be best to ask, “What are the common factors shared by these groups that have lead to this point?” Political intermingling and poor treatment of young leaders may factor in to some degree or another, but I doubt that these are the lynch pins.

    • “What are the common factors shared by these groups that have lead to this point?”

      The common factor: lack of immigrants who belong to the same faith community. The reason the Catholic Church in the U.S. isn’t declining as much as Protestants is because of large numbers of immigrants who are Catholic.

      What all this means, is another question.

      • Agnikan:

        its not just immigrants,

        1) the Catholic Church has the Sacraments, so no matter what these priests do,so no matter what these bishops, cardinals and priests including the Pope do, our Creed and traditions will never change something other (non)denominations does not have, which is the reason that they do not last.

        2) We have forms of piety, devotion (intercessory prayers) to Our Lady and Saints that counters the subversions and heresies that occurs periodically in the Catholic Church.

        3) Lack of leadership and organization, traditions are reasons why topnotch evangelicals converted to the Catholic church…. Mike Cumbie, Scott Hahn, Peter Kreeft, etc

  19. I have heard it said that, regarding how to “do church”, you can change the form but not the function. You can change the method but not the message. That works for me.

    “We have educated ourselves into imbecility”. Malcolm Muggeridge.

  20. Johnathan,

    I really enjoyed this article. I think that you did a great job of illustrating some of the inane ittems that get acted on. I fear that you were too kind in stopping short of saying that really the last 20 or 30 years of meeting have been way more about who will be in charge than how to transform lives. Maybe a bunch of that happens in breakout sessions etc. but it never gets talked about. That agenda filters all the way through all the programs and literature.

    If you stop and ponder all the high profile leaders we see today who started life in the SBC and now aren’t (I’ll bet some names pop into your mind) and the think past that to all the unnamed talent out there also not inside the SBC it is astounding and not a small factor. It is heart breaking. It also shows us God’s committment to continue His emmanuel agenda even if the SBC is too busy fighting to join in.

  21. I believe that part of our solution will be to stop infighting, not just in denominational issues,but within the local church. I’ve watched churches eat themselves up from the inside over things that did not matter one whit to the Kingdom-and from the viewpoint of the unbeliever-who wants to get into the middle of that? That makes us no different from the world. It’s going to take members and churches saying, “enough of this, let’s get back to the work of winning souls and teaching them how to be the disciples of Jesus that He expects us to be.” We as Southern Baptists have long enjoyed the freedom of healthy discussion and debate, to agree to disagree when necessary, as long as we stayed fixed on that one common goal–to see souls saved and to reach the world.

  22. I am not a Baptist but I am interested in the fate of Mainline denominations. So I read a lot about this problem in denomination after denomination. The one thing I never read is “Do nothing. Change nothing.” Sometimes I see you all as chasing your tail. Just relax. The ebb and flow of membership is probably not a reflection of your doctrine or even sometimes divisive behavior. Maybe it is just that the society in general is shifting a bit away from association with denominations. But society will surely shift back. You change too much as far as I can see (coming from a Catholic!). Plant your flag and let the crowds come and go.

  23. I grew up in the SBC but left the church in college in order to pursue my calling. It was heart breaking (like loosing a parent) to leave the community that raised me, but the sad reality was that there was no room at the table for me anymore. If I had been willing to be a pastor’s wife or a children’s minister, maybe, but that’s not what God has called me to. SBC has become too microscopic in its positions and dogmatic in its approach to, well, everything. I hope that there might be some within it that can rise up and turn it around because if they don’t, they’ll fizzle out. Truthfully, they’re only relevant to themselves and that’s how organizations die out.

    • Yes, sister, I hear you, and the article’s author particularly in saying that SBC has gone the “way of the wolf spider, cannibalizing their young,” women especially. SBC deserves our prayers and our love but from a distance. (And yes, I was baptized upon profession of faith in a church of the SBC, happy to inspire me to seek missions work teaching men overseas by Lottie Moon evangelical drives when I was too young to realize that they would forbid a pulpit in their church in my own country because God made me a girl and they ignore there being neither male nor female in Christ.) Baptists in the deep South used “proof texts” to support slavery in the Civil War era so why as an adult should any of us be surprised where that sort of thinking contrary to the love of God or even viable scriptural translation in context can take a denomination?

      SBC’s in God’s good hands, which may mean its demise or devolution into a shadow of its legend in its own mind. But this sounds of snark when it is really only sad that women of the SBC are relegated to man-made proof-texting out of context and contrary to the gospel and everything Jesus said and lived His life among women and men to give.

  24. Deacon Dave Johnson

    The responses to this article I think are very informative. I have been an ordained Roman Catholic Deacon for 7 years now and in that time I have seen a great number of attacks on Catholicism, some well deserved I might add, especially those associated with clergy abuse, and I know that the attacks will continue on all fronts until Christ returns. Fortunately for Catholicism we have seen a gradual rise in numbers, but that could change and go the other way but regardless of the reason for the increase or decrease in numbers it has nothing to do with the church changing to meet the ebb and flow of societal structures or fad and fancy whims which are at best, as fleeting as the wind. It has something to do with things far more fundamental. People’s responses to any church has everything to do with its teaching the truth in a bold and loving way, it has to do with being true to the truth without being sanctimonious and holier than thou. It has to do with discovering and developing a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and walking in his footsteps, becoming the image of Christ. The church is like the way of the cross, occasionally we stumble and fall, like our namesake did, but like Him the church gets back up and continues its journey to the crucifixion which eventually leads us to our own resurrection. As members of the body of Christ we are asked to journey with the church and to endure the suffering as we do so, even in the face of declining numbers. Pope Benedict once noted that faith must be a reasoned thing. What he is suggesting is that without true reasoning one does not have a real faith, but merely a tradition that only the blind, narrow-minded, lazy or weak follow. So regardless what your denomination is, even Catholics, take time to HONESTLY reason your faith WITHOUT PREJUDICE by researching doctrines, tenants or whatever all the way back to Christ and if in the process you discover the truth in them, you will stick to it. You are the church, be the church, and as the church if you are Christ in the world then people will come and the numbers will grow. Don’t sweat the numbers; just be Christ in the world.

  25. Jonathan provided no evidence that any alleged partisanship on the part of the SBC has contributed in any way to the overblown stats regarding baptisms, etc. I suspect much of those stats are due to a combination of 1) the SBC being dragged down by “religious,” predominately rural and predominately unregenerate churches, and 2) a renewed emphasis on regenerate church membership in the spiritually-alive churches of the SBC. Secondly, I am of the opinion that entities like the SBC should not speak to political matters except primarily as they relate to the culture of the country. When it comes to morality and the culture there is clearly one party in our two-party system that openly and aggressively and arrogantly promotes anti-Biblical morality and sexuality. While I don’t think the SBC should affiliate with one party (and I don’t believe it does) I see ample justification for its tendency to generally support the party that at least gives lip service to Biblical morality.

    • Jonathan Merritt

      Is an unjust war killing tens of thousands of innocents “unbiblical morality”? Don’t be so quick to assume one party has a corner on morality. It all depends which standards you use to measure morality.

      • Sorry, but not everyone agrees with you that the Iraq war was unjust. Both political parties were responsible for that war, by the way. Leaders on both sides of the aisle alleged that Saddam had WMDs. They also agreed that his refusal to abide by UNITED NATIONS resolutions were wrong and needed to be addressed, by force if necessary. So, is the championing of homosexual activity and marriage Biblical morality? What about the taking of millions of innocent lives in the womb, and even some outside of the womb? Is that Biblical morality? There is only one party that promotes all of the evils and excesses of the sexual revolution, and it would be a travesty if Christians did not at least speak out against such advocacy.

        • Jonathan Merritt

          I’m using the phrase “just war” in a theological sense. The church throughout history has utilized criteria for determining if a war is a “just war.” The Iraq conflict fails the test of that criteria.

          • If the Iraq War was an unjust war then World War II was an unjust war. SH was clearly killing 10s of 1000s of his own people and gave every indication of trying to obtain WMD to use not only on his own people but against neighboring countries. In addition, it was believed by political and intelligence leaders, Republican and Democrat, that he was willing and able to provide WMD to terrorists. In many ways, SH was acting in a manner similar to Hitler. It was on the basis of his murderous regime and his threat to us and others that war was declared on Iraq.

          • I know less about politics than the Just War theory. I believe that unless the Executive Branch knew our intelligence regarding WMDs was erroneous, then the war was just. Am I wrong (unless you also believe that there was no serious prospect of success)? We did not know that the loss of innocent lives would exceed what was judged to be the potential evil. One can only know that after the war has started.

        • It would be nice to be able to show all of us where Jesus talked specifically about abortion and homosexuality…rather the piecing together verses which suit your purpose.

          • D. Lowery, is that your standard for taking a position on a political or social issue – that you show specifically where Jesus mentioned it? Where does Jesus say homosexual activity and marriage is good and right? Oh, nowhere. Well, how can you support that cause if Jesus did not specifically address it? What about environmentalism or the government confiscating the wealth of the haves to supposedly distribute to the have nots? Oh, did Jesus not talk specifically about those things? Well, I guess no one can take those positions because no one can meet your standard for such things. Look, D. Lowery, the BIble specifically addresses homosexuality, sexuality in general, marriage, and other related topics. The clear message of the Bible on all of those matters is that sex is limited to the marriage relationship, which is the union of a man and a woman. As for abortion, the Bible teaches that life is from God and that all human beings are made in the image of God. Science, more so than the Bible, tells us that human life begins at conception – though the Bible indicates this as well.

      • I am still waiting for some shred of evidence linking political partisanship and the SBC stats much celebrated and overblown by haters of the SBC!!! If individuals are picking which church to join on the basis of that church’s position on the Iraq War then that raises some serious questions and concerns about their fitness for church membership.

        • Jonathan Merritt

          Well you could start with the data released by Robert Putnam and David Campbell of Harvard and Notre Dame. They detail the connection between the partisan co-opting of religious conservatives with the decline of young people in their book, American Grace, and also in an article for Foreign Affairs: http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/137100/david-e-campbell-and-robert-d-putnam/god-and-caesar-in-america

          Their work is pretty extensive, and they are considered to be two of the foremost religious sociologists in America.

          Then again, I never insinuated an empirical correlation in the article, so it is kind of a moot point. I was simply arguing for what I believe is a better path.

          • So, you weren’t attributing the SBC’s decline in numbers, to some extent, on political partisanship? You said that if the SBC is going to survive it needs to stop engaging in political partisanship. Is it not reasonable to conclude you were doing more than insinuating a correlation between the two? As I said, if there are individuals going around picking which church to join based on the Iraq War then I think a church would be better off if those individuals joined a different church. SBC churches would be better off with members who join on the basis of having been converted by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, not on the basis of their political views.

          • Jonathan Merritt

            If you’ve read my stuff, which you clearly haven’t, you have seen a boatload of stats on the shifting opinions on political partisanship and religion and the way people are responding differently to that. Or you could read my last book, which you also clearly haven’t. It’s well resourced with empirical data on these shifts also.

        • Johnathan,

          When the war started there actually was a good deal written on both side regarding the question. I don’t remember specific articles or sources but I remember enough that you could find one that matched what you wanted it to. My guess is that as the war became less popular it became pretty to find lots of articles on the side of calling it unjust. It is more subjective than you are indicating.

          • Jonathan Merritt

            One of the reasons is because the most flagrant violation is the matter of proportionality. As the death toll has risen, it’s become clear that the war fails to meet that criteria. Very few people are actually defending the war on just war grounds now. Only one Christian ethicist I know would make that argument and he would equivocate.

        • Brent said, “If individuals are picking which church to join on the basis of that church’s position on the Iraq War then that raises some serious questions and concerns about their fitness for church membership.”

          I have seen people online say they have chosen which churches to reject based on those criteria- and most of them are moderates, left wing, or undecided and really desiring to attend a church, don’t know which one, but are totally turned off by churches that preach (these were actual examples they gave) pro NRA/ 2nd Amend speeches, a preacher who emphasized that support by taking a gun out at the pulpit during a service, churches that hang American flags all over and inside their church buildings and so on.

          I am not anti- NRA or anti- gun, by the way, and I’m a patriotic American. A few flags here and there don’t bother me.

          But let’s not kid our selves that the Southern Baptists (of which I was raised) and a lot of other conservative churches/ denominations do not frequently tie politics and social conservative concerns to Christianity – because they do. It used to not bother me, but it does now.

          • Daisy, I have no problem reversing my statement to say “If individuals are picking which church to join on the basis of the church’s position on gun rights and the 2nd amendment then that raises some serious questions and concerns about their fitness for church membership.” I am, however, tired of people stereotyping the SBC on this matter. I have been attending SBC churches now for two decades and only once did I see anything approaching what you described above – and it was on the 4th of July. I don’t doubt what you describe exists, but it is NOT the norm for the SBC. I guarantee you there are spiritually dead, wrong-headed churches in the SBC. That is the nature of an organization with practically no membership requirements other than sending money. I am also tired of people like JM complaining about the political activism of SBC churches but who are mute when liberal churches champion – to a far greater extent – liberal political causes. That doesn’t seem to cause a response at all, even though they preach politics much more consistently and openly (in part because they have nothing else to preach).

          • Jonathan Merritt

            First of all, I’ve been in SBC life for 30 years and have seen the inner workings in ways few have. I respectfully disagree on your July 4th assessment, though it is getting better.

            And if you read my book–which you obviously haven’t–I am an “equal opportunity offender” with liberal Christians and their partisanship. Pf course, I’ve covered this in numerous outlets. You shouldn’t make general statements about “people like JM” unless you are well acquainted with their records.

        • Brent:

          There are increasing number of actions on the part of the SBC “that raises some serious questions and concerns about their fitness for” membership in the Kingdom of Heaven.

          Political calculations about war are just too complicated to fit into the simple-minded paradigm of easy ethical determination. In that the primary concern of the Christian soldier in the things of God, it is questionable why a Christian would want to be entangled in the affairs of this world or alienate a potential convert on the basis of doubtful disputations about complicated matters. Besides, if you are going to justify the Iraq War on the basis that you have, then you must, in keeping consistent with your ethical principle, conscript America into every geopolitical situation in which similar conditions are happening.

          You say that we should champion Biblical morality. And perhaps we should; although it might relatively and ultimately useless to do so in an unconverted soul. But how are we to do that; by coercive measures or by persuasion. The Bible seems quite adamant about the latter (2 Cor 10:3-5). Perhaps, I can see the point of protecting life as a necessary measure of love. However, I do wonder whether the civic authorities should be making any winner-take-all determination as to what constitutes marriage, especially since any decision just exacerbates civic tensions which will contribute to a likely conflagration over a matter of the private Estate of Marriage.

          Since jurisdiction of marriage was only given to the state in the 16th C., it does not seem neither necessary or even Scriptural that civic authorities be the determinant of what constitutes a natural dynamic in human nature. Marriages, which are fashioned out of less than Biblical standards, if we are right, should fall naturally short of best outcomes.

          • “it is questionable why a Christian would want to be entangled in the affairs of this world or alienate a potential convert on the basis of doubtful disputations about complicated matters.” – So Christians should not speak out about any of the affairs of this world in part because it might alienate a potential convert?? So, Christians should remain mute on world affairs? Sorry, but I see no need to give up my rights as a citizen and my desire to make the world a better place, AND bring my knowledge of God’s truth to bear in world affairs, because I am a Christian. Now, those things are not my top priority…but I am able to walk and chew gum at the same time. You may want to reconsider your view of conversion – how and why it occurs – if you think political opinions are crucial to that process. So, should Christians opposed to slavery remained silent and inactive because doing otherwise would 1) entangle them in world affairs, and 2) alienate a potential convert? Next, my position on Iraq would not conscript Am into every geopolitical situation. Not EVERY geopolitical situation, not even a majority of such situations, are a potential direct threat to the safety and security of the USA. Finally, as for championing Biblical morality, I am not doing so because I think it will get people into heaven (directly). Salvation is not by works, especially works you were forced to do. If you think any evangelical Christian is championing abortion or opposing homosexual marriage because we think doing so will be the basis of getting people into heaven, then you need to reconsider your understanding of salvation.

    • Brent, I was for years very much a social conservative and a Republican. I’m still pretty sympathetic with social conservatism, a little less enthused about the GOP these days, and will never be a liberal or a Democrat.

      Having said all that. As I’ve gotten older, and also having had experienced a few traumatic things in my life, including the death of someone very close to me, I’ve come to realize that the Southern Baptists (and conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists) have their priorities wrong.

      All the years of preaching and ranting against societal ills and evils (such as abortion and homosexuality) for the past 30+ years by preachers and Christian lay persons has done nothing to erode either.

      All the ranting and gnashing of teeth over the decay of traditional marriage has not nothing to halt the steep climb of divorce or the situation of prolonged, unwanted singleness.

      And, as a never married Christian married woman who always wanted to get married, but it just did not happen (I’m in my 40s) now, I am even more turned off by the non stop obsession with Southern Baptists to defend “traditional marriage.” Ranting against homosexuals, divorce, etc, has not helped me actually get a spouse.

      On a larger note, a church or denomination screaming or complaining about other people’s moral shortcomings at every opportunity does nothing to improve things or actually change the moral landscape.

      If SBs spent more time in actually spreading the Gospel and helping people where they are (helping hurting, lonely, poor, etc) and less time on arguing or complaining about homosexuality, abortion, and other such issues, they may attract and convert the very people practicing those things.

      And to clarify, I am not a liberal, progressive hippie who believe the “social gospel” should be number one. I believe doctrine is important, etc, but that there is too much emphasis by SBs on politics and complaining about secular culture.

      SBs should be known for what they stand for, not what they are opposed to, but many people only know that SBs are against homosexual marriage, women in leadership, and abortion – not that they are for Jesus and for helping people.

      You cannot or should not expect un-saved (Non Christian) people in secular culture to agree with or live by all Christian morality at all times.

      People have to accept Christ first and have a changed heart, which comes by preaching the Gospel to them and showing compassion, not forever banging a fist on a lectern about the evils of homosexuality, and so on.

  26. I grew up in a traditional Southern Baptist Church. In the church I grew up in I do not remember any political issue ever being discussed from the pulpit nor do I recall any broad discussion in the church body about political issues.
    I do remember the importance of the Gospel, baptism following salvation, worship being a priority and the teaching of God’s Word being the focus of the church.
    Body life was about care and relationships, and included things that are trending today- like in home fellowship and non traditional settings and even those “instruments of the Devil” and the “modern songs”
    Maybe the simple truth is that the SBC should clarify its mission and purpose to get back to the foundational actions of the Bible.
    Discipleship happens where the Great Commandment and the Great Commission meet.
    Could it be that simple?

  27. I am Christian, not of your faith, and offer a comment regarding the association of conservative minded Christians with the Republican party. We, if I can include myself in this group, seek a bulwark against what we see as serious threats against the life and values we grew up with i.e.,faith in God, belief in doing what is right as we read and heard preached on Sunday.

    I have determined that the Republican party is not conservative, it is not the Democratic party but it is not as conservative as I would like. I think we are like an alcoholic who keeps trying the same course of action and expecting a different result. We are expecting a non-Democratic party, the Republican party,to be conservative just because the other guys are liberal. This is not so.

    Politically we need to rethink the situation and decide what action(s) to take.

    I don’t know what Christ would do about party politics, I just know what he expects of me, to be kind, gentle and love my neighbor as myself. In today’s world, that is a full plate.

  28. Hey Jonathan,

    I’m not part of the SBC, but what do you think of Mohler’s comment that the number of baptisms has a correlation to the number of babies Southern Baptists have? Babies have gone down by 50%.

    • This might be slightly off topic to Jacob’s post, but Re: babies.

      Christ said that the church was supposed to grow by witnessing to the unsaved, not by Christian parents making more babies. But a lot of Christians have turned marriage, or having kids, into an idol.

      There are even some fringe Christian groups, such as Reconstructionists (and perhaps Quiverfull), who believe America can be won over and changed if Christians out- breed the Non Christians, so they forbid women from using birth control and encourage them to have a lot of children. This manner of trying to populate God’s kingdom is not a biblical view at all.

      Christ said (in Luke 14:26),
      “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters–yes, even their own life–such a person cannot be my disciple.”

      But how many churches, denominations, and conservative Christian groups actually live by that teaching of Luke 14:26? As far as I’ve been able to see, they do not.

      Some Christian churches have placed the spouse (marriage) or nuclear family at the center of their lives, when the Bible says Jesus Christ should be at the center.

  29. Nice. Now you are resorting to “do you homework” and “you haven’t read my book.” Those are very compelling arguments. Dear SBC, if you are worried about stats then please don’t listen to JM on how to fix the “problem.” The SBC seminaries are healthy and are attracting unprecedented numbers of young people to their classrooms. You are not perfect, but you are healthier than you’be been in a long time – especially spiritually. For decades now your churches have been inflating membership numbers and utilizing gimmicks such as firetruck baptistries to attract and baptize people. This generation of SBC leaders recognizes the errors of those ways and are now dealing with the statistical realities of addressing those legacies of Moderate control of the convention. You are doing fine. Keep your current means of attracting members 1) the fact that someone has supernaturally been regenerated, and 2) the cooperative effort to spread the gospel of God’s infallible Word, to NA and the world. You don’t have to seek to attract young people who put their moderate-to-liberal political positions ahead of Biblical fidelity. That may bring you more numbers, but it won’t make you healthier. Don’t be a lapdog for any one particular political party, but likewise don’t stand mute when one of the two political parties in our system champions sexual hedonism and leads the charge to eviscerate religious liberty for Christians in America.

    • Brent said, “The SBC seminaries are healthy and are attracting unprecedented numbers of young people to their classrooms”

      If I’m not mistaken, some of those seminaries are heavily Neo Calvinistic and are churning out obnoxious, rude young Neo Cal preachers who misrepresent themselves to churches in the hiring process, they then go into a Non Cal church that doesn’t want to be Calvinist and make it Pro- Cal, which causes some churches to break up, or at least causes discord.

    • Brent said, “one of the two political parties in our system champions sexual hedonism”

      The problem is not just in political parties. Some of these guys I mention next are not Southern Baptists, but – there is a problem with sex- obsessed, hedonistic preachers among conservative Christians.

      There are already some YRR-bent preachers (see Mark Driscoll) who preach sexual hedonism in books, sermons, and in blogs.

      See also: Ed Young Jr. (who put a bed on the roof of his church for his “Sexperiment”) and every other preacher these days who thinks it’s hip, trendy, relevant and cool to tell married Christian couples to have more sex and to have it kinky. One preacher even put a stripper’s pole in his church during a Sunday morning service.

      Look up this article:
      The Church of Sex by David Kupelian

      Conservative Christian preachers are trying to compete with secular culture at who can be more sexy and titillating, which is, in my view, one more reason all of Christianity is dying, not just Southern Baptists.

  30. I at least made an argument – if the Iraq war violates the Just War Theory then so did World War 2. You have yet to make an argument explaining exactly how the Iraq War was not just. You just state it as fact when there are numerous Christian Ethicists who completely disagree with you.

  31. Lynn Claygton

    A major problem with the SBC is drawing the tent smaller to fit fudamentalists’ desires and cocksure ideas about what Christianity is all about. We were told if the fundamentalists could get our theology straight we would experience great revival and be awash in baptisms and church growth. Still waiting. We were assured of peace within if all the liberals would just leave us to our purified doctrine. Allas, Fundamentalists must have a satan figure to rally against. Got the inspiration thing settled so there had to be another satan figure–this time Calvinism. The Calvinsts must feel betrayed because they were suckered into the inerrancy battle on the side of the fundamentalists. Also, SBC agencies are ineffective at leadership. Better ideas, better materials from other sources are available with lots more snap, crackle, and pop. The present good ole boy system has and is now placing ineffective, boring men in key leadership positions more on their “right” stances on inerrency than competency. Lot’s of pretty boys who look good but don’t know where to look for new ideas. The visions are shortsighted and ineffective. The statistics prove it. At a time, Baptist churches needed the convention’s size and outreach to overcome a sense of isolation many small churches felt. No longer. Even smaller churches can identify more with mission tours and projects and other affiliations and feel they can use mission money without sending it off to Bureaucracies with no faces, just oureached hands with palms up. So, no, SBC agencies must prove themselves beyong denominational identity. They aren’t doing it. I am old and thank God I am not starting a ministry among a convention that is so archaic. Sadly, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship chose issues that were unable to rally most Baptists. They are a very nice group of people but are slipping into oblivion. You offer solid ideas on reviving the SBC. But trying to revive something that is actually on life support of its history will not for long last. So, SBC, thanks for the memories.

    • Lynn, I read the first half of your post and agreed with much of what I saw, but it seems to me it’s the Calvinists who are suckering the Non Calvinists, not the other way around. The young Calvinist preachers are causing division in churches.

      • Daisy, I don’t see the Calvinists trying to throw out the non-Calvinists out of the SBC. I agree, the Calvinists are causing significant problems in local churches. The average S Baptist laypersons would not be happy at all if they were confronted with pastors who believe solid Calvinist beliefs, especially the determination by God for some to heaven and some to hell. A large questions of me is why this is just now on the front burner.

  32. I appreciate your nod to the need to have addressed women’s roles in ministry and leadership. Missing also is any mention of the need to overcome the convention’s inertia toward overcoming racial boundaries (still a reality in spite of having re-elected Dr. Luther) One of the most powerful witnesses SB congregations could offer in the world today would be to live out Paul’s declarations that ethnicity, socio-economic status, and gender are transcended in Christ.

  33. I, too, am a former-Southern-Baptist, and I am still a woman. In my previous life, I served in a church that relegated women only to subservient positions. I was verbally abused because of my gender by the male leadership; I could not teach teen-age boys, even if my own children were in the group. I am not alone. I see a trend in faithful, talented, gifted Christian women leaving and/or rejecting the SBC as a denomination because of its view of women. In the past it has denigrated women based on gross misinterpretation of select biblical passages. Not many white, middle-class male leaders mention this as a reason for the decline of membership, but I know it is an issue. It took the SBC 200 years to apologize to the African-Americans for its stand on slavery; it may take the SBC that long to apologize to women for its stand on gender.

    • @ Judy. I totally agree with your post.

      One reason I am thinking of leaving the SB has to do with what you said in your post, about their views of women.

      I’m also tired, as a never married woman over 40, and who has no children, being made to feel like a second class person in conservative Christian circles because I remain single with no kids.

      Southern Baptists not only need to repent of and fix their stance on gender roles, but their abysmal treatment or neglect of older singles as well.

  34. Denominations of any type are not scriptural. You simply cannot find them in the church of the New Testament. So if churches that are part of SBC eventually die out, it’s not Jesus Christ’s church that died — it’s manmade from the start!

    • Judy, another interesting biblical tidbit. Do you know what else you do not see in the New Testament? Independent churches! Autonomy does not equal independence.

      Churches in the New Testament were joined together; keeping doctrine in check, holding leadership accountable, and even raising mission offerings.

      Although denominations are not found in the New Testament, there is a pattern of cooperation among the churches. Cooperation, not coercion, is one of our Baptist distinctives.

  35. Jonathan,
    I was at the SBC in Houston. I find Stetzer emphasizes the negative – if he speaks with minorities- he seems to dwell on the SBC start. If he speaks with younger Pastors- he dwells with “the classic hateful Baptist rhetoric. I’m a 43 year old Pastor. My observation – Older Pastors are accomodating the younger Pastors with their demands, whines and gripes far more than younger Pastors are respecting the older. It is time for all of us to put our big boy pants on and GO make disciples. I participated in Crossover (Love Houston) and was able to work with a Houston church that had an older Pastor. We saw 13 people accept Christ. There were at least 5 other churches from different states there helping with the work. All at the place I served were old Pastors/members helping. No plaid shirts and skinny jeans were there getting sunburned and dirty with us. I’m in the middle. Our church recently helped financially plant a new church. We are mobilizing in our faith family to be on mission. It helps noone when we tell the world what a sorry lot Southern Baptist are. I think a candid conversation/blogs need to focus on what good we are doing for the Kingdom. P.S. – I don’t care for the business sessions either – but I participate because that is what keeps the SBC alive.

  36. Richard Pierard

    I would like to have seen some discussion of the SBC attitude toward the Baptist World Alliance. The SBC leadership led the denomination out of the one ecumenical body which really did link Baptists around the world, on the basis of premises and lies that could not be substantiated. We in the BWA knew quite well that the real reason for the action was that the SBC moguls could not run the organization. You folks (I am a Northerner) forfeited the cross-fertilization of ideas and approaches to Christian work that it offers. I hope you will give up your emphasis on power and return to the fold. I hated to see you leave and pray that you will find a way back to the international connection from which we Baptists gained spiritual sustenance for over a century.

  37. I am not Southern Baptist, so speak without much hope of being heard. My own ministry (Jesus People USA) and denomination (the Evangelical Covenant Church) hold views which at core should resonate with Southern Baptists.

    Yet when it comes down to it, I find my few points of contact with Southern Baptists (The Gospel Story itself being chief) contaminated by all the rest.

    * Refusal to allow women leadership in the Churches or mutuality in marriages; this point alone would be a deal-breaker for me as far as ever belonging to a SB Church. And the ham-fisted, arrogant way the SBC addresses this issue! Dear Lord save us from Evangelicalism’s largest denomination.

    * Hostility toward those, including 95% plus of African American Christians, who voted for President Obama — twice. Yes, what the article above says about the young (AND many of us who are not young but live with those affected by poverty); the political dimension of the Gospel cannot be ignored, but Evangelical whoring with the Republican Party cannot be excused and will ensure the continuing decline in both numbers and influence.

    * “Saltiness.” What a strange way to conceptuallize that idea. Losing one’s saltiness is not about loss of members, influence, and thus of the ability to continue the culture wars. Saltiness refers to spiritual vitality, our oneness with the heart of God so that as individuals and a church — of whatever size! — our impact on those around us will be as God’s preservative and healing agent.

    I want to believe that someone inside the Southern Baptist denomination will read and heed the good advice this article has. But I’m not holding my breath. Southern Baptist influence has, in my opinion, been far more negative than positive upon Evangelicalism in America and the Gospel around the world. God is Red, White, and Blue… Caucasian… and Male. Is that our Gospel?

  38. I grew up in a large SBC church in Snellville, Ga. For 18 or so years i attended at least twice a week. At age 18 I took a 2 year or so hiatus from church, becoming a statistic. I believe the statistic reads something along the lines of 50%+ leaving the church at 18 not to return (Barna group). I did return and wholeheartedly did so in a non-denominational church. I enjoy the contemporary setting and the ability for a pastor to go through an entire sermon without condemning a certain group (there are ways to love and accept people while still condemning their sin) or setting life rules that aren’t correctly interpreted from the Bible. Most churches that I know of and respect don’t lose their Biblical principles by not adhering to a man-made denomination. I know a lot of people that have the same views and opinions as me, and have left SBC churches for non fenced in greener pastures. The refusal of the SBC to evolve is its biggest problem in my opinion. The views are nearly pure but the delivery and communication of them is muddled and that is where I believe the problem lies.

  39. I believe there is room for discussion of politics in the church. The Bible says “you will know them by their fruit”. A good wholesome discussion on the issues and then the voting records of the local and national politicians is what is missing.
    Maybe not over the pulpit but in “non partisan” voter education classes on the facts.
    The preaching, (Biblical Truths), should prepare the mind and Spirit to be ready to make a Godly decision on the issues personally, so both local and national issues can be influenced by the vote of the people by and for God for the people.
    Where do the people running for office stand on issues that are important for the future, that will effect the Church’s ability to stay free to do the work God has called them too (Marketplace ministry etc.), and on how we protect the youth from influences that will erode their moral senses ie. Forced education of things that may well be taught better at home if taught at all.
    30,000,000 (million) Christians did not show up to vote in 2012 in the presidential elections and many of the negative things happening politically today could easily be seen as writing on the wall by many pastors that just stood by (keeping church and state separate), hoping the people maybe would “do the right thing”… like showing up to vote for one thing.
    The election was won by 2,000,000 votes while the veil of complacency settled over the salty saints.

    • I’m just talking about the politics that rule the world we live in and our kids will live in the future.. Of course there are many other things the church should be about. Jesus also said, be in the world, but not of it. That to me means to take your understanding (Born Again thought patterns and understanding) into the workplace being wise as a serpent and harmless as a dove. If not you then who will fill the void? (salt and light) Look around at our current political situation and the things most of the politician espouse. Its not pretty.. I think Jesus was talking about knowing all men by their fruit. Look at that instead of what they say, trying not to judge but evaluating how you can make a difference for the Kingdom.

      I may very well be off track but I am going to count on the Spirit to realign me. Thanks for your opinion though.. I will certainly consider it as I move forward

  40. Michael Martin

    While I am very happy to belong to an SBC affiliated church, I did not know it was an SBC church until attending several times beginning in 2006 (Cross Pointe, incidentally). It is a great church, with a great pastor and leadership, excellent programs, and meaningful community outreach, and it is unlike the churches I attended as a youth…in a good way. Though I endured a long agnostic phase throughout my twenties, I suspected I would likely return to faith (and church) later in life. I had zero desire to return to a Southern Baptist church, and said so…yet that is where I find myself. The SBC went to a lot of trouble to be unnecessarily antagonistic and provocative several times in the past, from the Disney ban you mentioned, to public statements like the submission of wives to husbands. While that is a biblical concept that places very high responsibilities on husbands, it’s not something you can inject into the public arena without proper context, which is what happened in my view. It is unnecessarily divisive and I believe contrary to fulfilling the Great Commission…just as attaching themselves to the Republican Party stood in the way sharing the Gospel. The Gospel of Christ is our first responsibility…not electing Republicans or proclaiming social standards to a society that does not share them. I fear many likely rejected Christ when they rejected churches that attached political ideology to their theology. As David Platt proposed in “Radical”, our churches need to remove unnecessary cultural obstacles to non-believers seeing the beauty and grace of Christ. Some churches are energized to spread the Gospel and to help their communities in meaningful ways, from spiritual support and worship to beneficial services for our less fortunate neighbors. It is a good trend. It is a shame the SBC appears to be losing members (and possibly congregations), but if it propels churches to return to it’s core mission, it will serve a good purpose.

  41. While I applaud you, Jonathan, on your ability to see that there’s a problem, I don’t believe you see what the problem really is.

    The bottom line is: The problem with the SBC is that we have succumbed to the problem faced by the Church in Ephesus: Southern Baptists have lost their “first love”! The SBC has placed it’s emphasis on programs, politics, methodology, and money (and I’m not talking about the “conservatives”, here, although many of them fall into this description – I’m talking about the people who ran the Convention going way back into the 60’s).

    My grandfather was a Southern Baptist pastor. I grew up in SBC churches and was saved at Eastwood Baptist Church in Tulsa. I was licensed and ordained in a Southern Baptist Church – the First Baptist Church in Dallas. I am the pastor of a Southern Baptist Church. I have, quite literally, spent my entire life in Southern Baptist churches, and I can tell what our problem is:

    We don’t love Christ like we did during the 1930’s, 40’s, & 50’s! I’m sorry, but we just DON’T.

    Now – this wasn’t an overnight change – it happened slowly. As reflectors of the Light of the World, Southern Baptists and their churches once burned for Christ, and incredibly so. But, that brightness began to dim somewhere around the early-to-middle 60’s, and has been getting dimmer and dimmer ever since. Yes, there was a slight increase in the output of our reflection of Him in the late 70’s and into the 80’s, but that was temporary – we’re back on the downgrade, and the chances of our recovery almost don’t exist.

    The Church in Ephesus is our prime example of this: Our Lord Himself tells them (and us) what was wrong with them (and us). He said, in Revelation 2:

    “I know thy works, and thy labour,” – they were a working church! They didn’t sit around – they were BUSY! Today, SBC churches and people are, indeed busy, but busy for busy’s sake is no good, and that what’s happening – it must have spiritual, biblical substance behind it. This failure killed the Church in Ephesus, and it’s killing us.

    Then He says he knows their “…patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars” – the Church in Ephesus, like so many in the SBC today (conservative AND liberal) are quick to examine and point out the errors, as they see them, in the teachings, methods, and beliefs of others. As you correctly point out, the political side of the SBC is monstrous and out of control. However, like the Church in Ephesus, this has become just another thing we “do” – it’s not done because we are attempting to keep our churches and seminaries and schools true to the Word of God – far from it!

    He commends them by saying “And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.” – They hadn’t quit, they were busy, but they hadn’t quit. That sounds good, but is it? It truly pictures the SBC today: so busy, so determined to move “forward”, yet, all the while, we, like the Church in Ephesus, have to face the FACT that we’re in trouble, and Christ tells them (and us) exactly WHY:

    “Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, BECAUSE THOU HAST LEFT THY FIRST LOVE”.

    We have on our church rolls 1000’s and 1000’s, and hundreds of 1000’s, perhaps even millions of people who have never been truly saved. The estimates by those who should know are staggering. And, when you have a largely unregenerate church membership, it follows that you have to resort to unscriptural and unspiritual methods to keep them. THAT is why our church music ministries and worship services have become so compromisingly worldly and sensual, turning our church services into performances singing music that isn’t music and repetitious, empty lyrics! THAT is why they’re taking the name “baptist” off of their churches! THAT is why there is precious little of the true Gospel heard or preached in so many of our churches! The leaders – desperate to keep the bodies in the buildings, even if the people are LOST – are using every tactic they can find to try to coddle them, not offend them, and not make them feel “different”. The result is these churches and leaders are sending those souls to hell, but they sure feel good about themselves while they’re on the way there!

    In the old days in SBC churches, you could sometimes smell the smoke and feel the fire when our preachers preached about folks being lost. Sometimes, it was though you could even hear the screams of those already there. But not today – modern SBC congregations won’t tolerate that kind of dogmatic preaching and teaching. Modern SBC congregations want to hear music that speaks to their FLESH – not their SPIRIT – the reason is because most of the people (including a LOT of the music leaders in churches) are lost, and have NO DESIRE to hear spiritual truth in any form, especially in the music they listen to. Modern SBC congregations want to FEEL good. Modern SBC congregations don’t want a public appeal to their souls to be saved or repent of their backsliding. Modern SBC congregations want to go home after what they erroneously call “worship” believing that they’re just fine, all the while, as Paul said of the lost (but oh so religious) crowd of his day, “Their throat is an open sepulchre” (Rom. 3:13). I learned a long time ago that, if the Devil can’t get you to do a WRONG thing, he’ll try to get you to do a RIGHT thing the wrong WAY, and that’s EXACTLY what’s happened in the SBC, and it’s one every level!

    In other words, most of the members of our churches are lost, the vast majority of the rest of the membership of our churches are backslidden, and the number of truly saved, Spirit-filled Christians who honor the Lord with their lives and works can be counted on almost one hand.

    Well, at least Christ gives the Church in Ephesus (and us) the remedy:

    “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.”

    Like the Church in Ephesus, the SBC and it’s churches COULD get right with God, but some things are going to have to happen for that to come about:

    1. We’re going to have to take a long,hard look at ourselves – we’re going to have to go back and first SEE that we were so on fire “way back when”. If saved Southern Baptists would truly look at and understand how God singularly blessed us – how He was in our midst – in those days, then turn and look at what we are NOW, that realization should drive us to our knees in tears of repentance. If we would allow ourselves to see ourselves as God does, then there MIGHT be a chance that we’d get right with Him.

    Cynthia Clawson used to sing a song entitled, “Bring Back The New Again”, which captures exactly what’s happened, and what we need to do about it (cry out to God):

    I can still remember, the wonderful feeling, back when I first got to know You
    It seemed the world was mine, I had joy, I had springtime
    But that’s all just a memory anymore
    I guess I took my eyes off You Lord, but I don’t want this callous feeling anymore
    Oh, please bring back the way it was before

    It wasn’t long ago when, my heart was glowing, and every new day was a challenge
    But indifference turned me cold, made things stale, made them old,
    Now I’ve lost the happy song I used to sing
    It seems that I forgot the most important thing, but I don’t want this callous feeling anymore
    Oh, please bring back the way it was before

    Bring back the new again, I want to see You again
    Bring back the way it was, when we began
    How did I miss the road? When did I lose the glow?
    And where did the wonder go? Bring back the new again

    We need, more than ever, to see our condition before God, and cry out to Him for mercy.

    2. We need to get back to the basics – you mentioned this, and rightly so. But, as some have alluded, this would require regaining something that has been cunningly taken away from us – the Word of God. I’m not primarily speaking of a belief that the Bible is the Word of God – most Southern Baptist, I hope, would say they believe that – I am talking specifically about the PURITY of the Bible. Most of the books people today are using in our churches are corrupted – including the revered Holman Christian Standard Bible – and cannot be trusted. They are not THE Word of God. They are not HIS infallible, inerrant, living WORD, preserved for us to this very hour. Southern Baptists have totally sidestepped the issue of Bible translation and preservation, and, I am convinced, it was done on purpose.

    Whether or not you or your readers believe this is a real issue, think about this: When the SBC was at it’s height in baptisms, what Bible were they using? When the SBC was growing numerically more than any other time in it’s history, what Bible were they using? When the SBC was making the greatest inroads into the lost world, what Bible were they using?

    Some might say, “Well, it doesn’t matter what Bible they were using – it was the Spirit of God that did those things”, and to a degree, they’d be right. BUT – don’t you think for one minute that the singular thing that underlay all of our greatest days and efforts for Christ was anything other than the Word of God! The WORD OF GOD is what brings life to the lost, and when Southern Baptists believed it AND PRACTICED it, we had our greatest days. Sadly, we have preachers and pastors and church members who SAY they believe every word of the Bible, but, when you look at how they live their lives, and how they lead their churches, and how far from the Holy Spirit of God we’ve fallen, it’s a small wonder why the SBC is on the decline: we have lost our first love, and, like it or not, a BIG part of that loss has come because most of our people don’t have a pure copy of the LIVING Word of God in their hands!

    IF the SBC and it’s churches are to survive and flourish again, we MUST see ourselves as God sees us, as individual Christians first, then as individual churches second, then finally as a denomination, let the Holy Spirit break our hearts over our sinfulness, repent of the things that we allowed to cause our backsliding, then get back to the pure Word of God, and let it be restored in our lives and churches. The result will be the greatest period in the history of the SBC.

    Can it happen? Yes. Will it? Probably not. Why do I say that? Because the Church in Ephesus didn’t, and they’re nowhere to be found.

    • Jazmin Clements

      Go back to the love of Christ like in the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s? During their support of Jim Crow and the repudiation of the Civil Rights Movement? This is why I always shun talk of “going back”. The former isn’t always better than the latter, different maybe, but not necessarily better.

  42. I agreed with most points, but there is already a lot of time and energy spent by many churches on people under the age of 30.

    Southern Baptists, conservative evangelicals, and fundamentalists need to realize and accept that times have changed.

    Approximately half the adult population in America today is single. There are many never-married adults past the age of 30 and 40, including Christians (but many of us wanted to be married. It was not a choice to stay single past our 30s and 40s).

    However, the Southern Baptists, like many other Christian groups, continues to cater to “traditional marriage” (defending it, promoting it, helping it, etc) and they cater to the nuclear family, which alienates those of us who are not married with children.

    Until and unless Southern Baptists begin expending as much time, care, and money on singles past the age of 30 as they do on other groups, and until they begin assisting singles in practical ways and respecting them (some SBs denigrate singles and singlehood), you can forget the unmarried feeling compelled or interested in attending church.

    Gender complementarianism is also a turn off, especially to a lot of women. That may cause some to stay away from Southern Baptist churches (and it’s one reason of a few why I don’t think I consider myself SB any longer).

    • Daisy –

      I taught Single Adults aged 30 to 45 for several years while in seminary. My class grew tremendously. 3 times, we grew to 150 and they split us and took us down to 40 or so, but we increased again.

      What were we doing? Well, we weren’t making ANY references to being “single” – I taught verse-by-verse through books of the Bible every week, making application as the Holy Spirit gave insight, but not once did I ever make our class members feel different. The Bible doesn’t discriminate against men or women, or different races, for that matter, and by being neutral on these issues, our class exploded. Had we done what the other singles groups were doing (in the same large church), we would have done what the other classes did – not much.

      The same is true in a church – by pointing out differences, we actually make the differences more pronounced. The Word of God, properly presented, is just as applicable to the man, woman, boy, girl, old person, young person, or what have you.

      We should encourage strong families, of course, because God’s Word does. But we should also encourage inclusion of those who are not married, and treat them no different;y than any one else in the congregation.

      Times may have changed, but the Word of God has not – what the SBC has done is allowed the culture to change the church, instead of the church changing the culture, and it’s killing us…

      • @ Todd
        Bible teaching to singles is great, but- many singles today lack an extended network of friends, and older singles, most (or all) their family is dead, and so some singles are very lonely.

        Churches need to help out in a practical fashion, such as married couples in the church inviting the singles over occasionally, especially for holiday dinners.

        Churches also need to provide more social type functions for singles to meet other Christian singles to get married – as you get older it gets hard to meet singles your age.

        Dating sites and bars are singles only ways of meeting singles- and I don’t like bars, and dating sites don’t always work.

        A lot of churches actually discourage singles from using church as a way to meet potential Christian mates, which is wrong, backward, counter productive, and is acting as an obstacle for single Christians who desire marriage.

        If Southern Baptists are serious about keeping traditional marriage alive, they will begin taking practical, concrete steps in helping singles who want help getting hitched to meet other Christian singles.

        And it’s going to take more than tossing a bunch of un-married people into a room for a Bible lesson – the church should put on dinners or other social events for them to socialize.

        But many SB churches are fixated on helping, ministering to, and spending money on teens and those age 20 – 25. And those are the groups that need the least help finding/ getting partners. That is, when they are not busy ranting against homosexuality or the Boy Scouts or Disney.

        • Daisy –

          We did all that, too – we provided connectivity for the singles through fellowships, home Bible studies, activities, etc. It worked pretty well. We didn’t just toss them in a room for a Bible lesson, either – the class was the starting place: a way to help ground the members, spiritually. The other things we did worked on the emotional and social issues.

          My only problem with it wasn’t the doing of it – it was with the attitude of some of the people who showed up: some looked upon singles classes in churches as a sort of “meat market”, and jumped from church to church looking for people to connect with in an unsavory manner. That said, those were a minority.

          As for teens and young adults, SBC churches have done a terrible job, in my view, of preparing them – spiritually and emotionally – for adult life. We’ve Pizza Pig Out’d and Hot Dog Supper’d and entertained our young people into adulthood, and, when they get there, they are totally unprepared as to how to live a Christ-like life in this upholstered sewer known as the 20th and 21st Centuries. In other words, the typical Youth Group in the typical SBC church is actually doing more damage than not having one at all!

          As for the rants – some of them are needed. After all, somebody’s got to say it. But – there are ways to do it right, and ways to do it wrong. How we address those issues sometimes isn’t always the right way.

          (and, I recalled late last night that I made an error in the numbers – we starter with 10-12 each time, grew to 50 or 60, then were cut back to 10-12. I guess my tired-from-mowing brain got the 150 from

    • @ Daisy…I attended a Conservative Baptist church for a while. Having been married and divorced…I was constantly told I could not be a Christian in their eyes by being single. The pastor and Elders told me and other adults we would never be used by Christ being single. Then…the last straw for them was when I pointed out how many of the disciples and other Biblical figures were single. They would have none of me using scripture to point out to them the errors of their ways. In the end…left that church and every church for over 10 years.

      Now…I attend a church which doesn’t do this overtly…but there are no programs for anyone my age (51) and being single. When I mentioned this need…no one would listen. Praise Him he has provided for me to move to another state and possibly to find something for me to be ministered to others and to be ministered to.

  43. Former Baptist PK, current Presbyterian Deacon. To be perfectly honest, when it comes to Biblically based sermons, discipleship, etc… I don’t notice a huge difference among any of the churches of three different denominations I have gone to, at the times i attended. However, when I look at where my former churches are now, it’s almost a whole other world. So many of the thriving and soul-feeding ministries in my church would not be possible in the Baptist church anymore. We have true partnership with churches in Mexico, Egypt, and Palestine. A majority of our Deacons and Elders are women and/or minorities. Just today we ordained a man from Ghana and a woman from South America. I’ve served as a Deacon alongside some of “my” youth who are still in high school. Not as junior members, but fully participating members. Some of our “youth” events are also international student events, singles events, and elderly events. “Out” gays and “closeted” gays interact with single mothers, divorcees, former Catholics, Republicans, and Progressives– we are working alongside the entire church family. We’re a melting pot that is truly united by love of God and sharing his love with others. I don’t see that being possible with the strictures coming down from SBC. In most circles now, I just introduce myself as a Presbyterian with some theology coming from other traditions if pressed for more than just Christian.

  44. I’m surprised no one has brought one of the biggest problems with the current SBC leadership, the power grab that was called a conservative resurgence. It is well documented that the leaders of the takeover chose the inerrancy issue because they thought it would appeal to a large number of the members of most SBC churches. They lied about the position of the convention leadership they wanted to replace, loaded the convention floor with messengers who had their voting instructions, and eventually took over the agencies of the convention. They are now reaping what they sowed. I was a life long Southern Baptist, educated in SB schools, taught and served in SB institutions, and finally was told to shut up or leave because I was a moderate. I don’t see much chance for the convention unless the repent and ask forgiveness for their lies and their abuse of men and women who had faithfully served God for years in the SB churches.

  45. I am becoming more and more convinced that the dismantling of western Christianity (of which the SBC is a prime example) is being done not only by our own efforts but is part of the will of God. Thriving Christianity in the next millennium will be a global entity and if to much power and financial resources are located in one small sector of the globe’s Christian (i.e. the West) the global Christian faith will be stunted. It is time for us to decrease while Christ increases throughout the world.
    Now this doesn’t mean we should no longer care about our neighbors salvation and the current condition of our society. This just means that Western Christianity should start looking for options of doing these things with out the socio-political denominational machines that we have grown accustomed to. God used us and our resources and our structures for awhile but now (I believe) the time has come for Him to use a different tool (i.e. the Church in the East and Africa and Latin America).

  46. The church has lost what influence it had over the world. The opposite has occurred and the church is more worldly now that it has ever been, and getting worse daily. Until this changes, you can forget about all that you discussed.

  47. I find the dichotomy between religion and politics interesting and the call for separation an historically and biblical false cry. They are not immiscible, else why would a Christian ever run for political office? One impacts the other. Jesus knew that sooner or later religion meets politics. He did not wait until the cross to verbally address those issues nor did the apostle Paul, before meeting his own death.

    • Jonathan Merritt

      There is a difference between being political–having a public faith–and being partisan. I address this at length in my book, A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars. The problem here is not just that the SBC has become overly political but rather that it has become partisan.

  48. Here’s the prescription for the SBC: Flake’s Formula. Each one, reach one. Forget politics, forget culture, forget style, forget preaching topics. You, Southern Baptist church member, invite a non-church member to church.

    • I am a Christian who attends church weekly. However, I would NEVER go to a Baptist church or most other denominations. They have a created a reputation for nastiness and intolerance toward each other as well as the rest of the culture.

  49. Most Christian faiths in America have tarnished their own brands by becoming too enmeshed in conservative politics while using a very harsh tone to those on the opposite sides of the Culture War.

    If anything can save American Christianity, it will be when we once again live like those in the Acts of the Apostles so that people will “know that we are Christians by our love.” We are certainly NOT known for that now…..

  50. Jonathan,

    When you mention diversity, exactly what do you mean? If you are simply speaking of a diversity of people with different experiences from differing socioeconomic backgrounds then I would agree. If you mean holding diverse theological views, this reminds me and many other lifelong Southern Baptists of the liberalism that was confronted in the 80’s and 90’s. The Conservative Resurgence addressed the liberal theology that was being taught in our SBC seminaries and put a stop to it. If we are a people who are reluctant to make a place at the table for a diversity of ideas, there is a reason for this. However, it is a mistake to simply ignore young leaders because perhaps they approach worship differently.

    As for partisan politics, the SBC should view political positions of politicians through the lens of Scripture. As Luter has said repeatedly, something cannot be politically correct if it is biblically wrong.

    Thanks for a thought provoking article Jonathan.

    • Jonathan Merritt

      First of all, we need to quit fighting the boogey-men of the conservative resurgence. Not everyone who thinks about Jesus in a different way is a child of “theological liberalism,” which is not nearly as monolithic as some suppose. Too often we use “liberalism” language is used merely to induce fear and shore up denominational fiefdoms. I think we can remain thoroughly orthodox and still nurture the discipline of critical theological reflection, which has been lost in many corners of the SBC today.

      • Jonathan,

        Not sure which bogeyman you’re referring to but I welcome the discussion. Also, I’m not sure what you mean when you mention thinking about Jesus “in a different way”. I do not mean to suggest that there should not be critical theological reflection. Of course there should! By and large I agree with your post but I think it is a mistake to think that theological liberalism is not a threat.

        • Jonathan Merritt

          Anyone who knows SBC life should know that “theological liberalism” is not a serious threat to it today. If anyone even approaches from that, they would be fired immediately from whatever agency or seminary they worked for. The most liberal view a Southern Baptist might hold is the ordination of women as deacons and even that will make the masses run for the hills.

  51. Richard Davies

    I am clergy in a non-Baptist denomination, and my denomination also debates the matter of decline endlessly. What I miss in all of these discussions is that, as far as I know, every organization in our society is declining. The Masons are going to die out, as are the K of C. Every one of the social service organizations has a membership that is graying and declining. The Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts have both faced serious membership declines. I could go on. The over-all issue does not seem to be politics or anything like it. It seems to me that our society has lost the sense of community participation. We are becoming a nation of self-indulgent, me-first people, with no time to join with others for faith or anything else.

  52. Robert M Cash

    I’m 82, retired but pastor a small rural church, graduate of SBTS & BU. When being considered 9 years ago, I told them I was no longer a Sou. Bapt., but had been for all my life, grew up since 9 years of age in Royal Ambass-adors, going on mission trips to Mexico & Cuba, but had not changed. My Convention has changed. I use to go to most of the Annual Conventions, but no more. The greatest problem is a lack of “love” and “forgiveness”. We’ve always had our debates at Conventions, but it was done in “love”, with a spirit of “agree to disagree. But the TAKE OVER was of the Devil & destroyed the effectiveness of our Convention & churches! Now the simple word of “baptist” is negative, & is removed from many church sites due to it’s unattractive effects! We hear of many efforts to seek forgiveness of ‘blacks’ for slavery! When will the SBC seek “forgiveness” of fellow baptists who were ‘destroyed’ during the takeover!! It was not a battle for the “bible” but simply an effort to gain “power”. Just note the awards given to its leaders! It’s a joke to see Conventions seek to save the lost of the city where the Convention was held, when there is no “love” or compassion of fellow baptists who they seek to “defeat” (with a spirit of ‘hate’) in this ‘war for power’ (Payday..someday..as R.G.Lee use to say!). (I experienced this in San Antonio, Las Vegas & especially at New Orleans when a little group of leaders sang “Victory in Jesus” along the river drinking coffee & beignets, cellebrating their 10th year of these efforts!) How can the SBC expect God to bless it with baptisms with this kind of history in recent years? You might say the SBC has become an exclusive club, rather than an inclusive group of God’s children following the leadership of Christ who said, “Whosoever will .. may come! I am compelled to pray for the SBC, for it’s earlier fellowship was a blessing in sewing seeds in my life!! I thank God for the influence in my life from folks like Glendon McCullough, J. Ivyloy Bishop, Duke McCall, Gaines S. Dobbins, Dale Moody, & Roy Honeycutt, my sweet spirited – humble Hebrew professor. The spirit of most of the leaders of the takeover could be summarized by the words of the number one leader…”going for the jugler”. Yes, he tried to apologized for the use of this metafore, but I believe it was too late, expressing the heart of the matter of this movement that truly moved the SBC ‘away from evangelism, love & forgiveness’ rather than the primary purpose of the SBC to reach the lost. Hence, today we have a continuing decrease in bringing the Gospel to a nation that’s more negative toward Christianity than ever before. May God even yet bless America. Amen!

  53. As one who has been on the receiving end of hateful comments from SBC (and pentecostal) folks, I can’t say that I’m surprised by this. Having people tell me that I am demon-possessed, or that the devil rules my life (because I cannot accept the “good book” as being more than a collection of strange stories) can be annoying. Usually, I shrug it off, because I know there is no sense in engaging in conversation: I am “wrong”, and they are “right”. So, to see a decline in the attendance, baptisms, etc. is not surprising, because, as you have pointed out, so much of the energy within the organization seems to be wasted on trivial things, including finger-pointing at the way other people live their lives. Doesn’t look like there will be much of an improvement, though — I think people are truly tired of being preached at!

  54. This is all a sad and moot point and a gigantic waste of human effort. The SBC will wither away and deservedly so. There won’t be any gays around to save it or tart up its dotage. It is aesthetically and ideologically bankrupt and will join communism on the ash heap of history. Sunday mornings are meant for relaxation and newspapers (I read three every Sunday), not for communing with emotional cripples and other needy sorts.

  55. I was raised Southern Baptist and left over 5 years ago due to what I’ve read from this article along with the proud racist attitudes that the denomination still proudly defends. As a young MODERATE, I will say that the SBC needs to grow up and become more open minded or else watch your denomination crumble. Today’s younger generations, families, and young profesionials are attending non denominational fellowships where they’re getting fed by the word, serving, worshipping God with full liberty, and being well received without being shoved under the bus. Think about what the SBC has already done and it hurts big time.

  56. I believe they are on the decline because the doctrine has so many things built in to disenfranchise people. Anyone that did not meet the cookie cutter requirement was quickly shown to the door. We live in a world that is getting worse and more complicated by the day. The standard that if you hold to these rules and God will bless you and if that is not working out then it must be your fault is not working for them. For the few that still are able to cling to that shrinking ground well good for them. Educated folk are running from that. Good people have bad things that happen and the Southern Baptist balk and point and walk away. That was my experience. In fact I ran almost smack dab into a 13 year ex church member that just looked at me as if we never knew one another. LOL. The doctrine does not equip them for the rough and tumble of real situtations and real trouble. Stay in your ivory palace and hope it does not crumble. Things like the Mortgage Crisis, Rape, Serious Illness leave these folks running away from you like you have leaprosy.

  57. Very nicely written article! Just a quick background on me: I was born and raised a Catholic until 15, and then I decided that I would go attend a Southern Baptist Church. The main reason I went to the few SBC’s I went were because my friends invited me and I felt lost, and needed somewhere to go. I attended one church more than the others, because that’s where the majority of my friends were going and I soon became scared of the SBC. As being the only Latino there it didn’t help that the pastor was so right wing talking about guns, and then about how liberals weren’t welcomed there on a Sunday morning sermon, and about electing Mitt Romney as president. That really turned me off and hurt my feelings, so much hatred and people laughing at the stupid political jokes (while the teenagers stared down at their phones, which had become normal to do on a Sunday sermon). So I decided to leave, which I shouldn’t have went in there to begin with because so many people had Tea Party bumper stickers, it was just a scary experience. The other few SBC churches weren’t as bad, but politics were there too. I really wished I had went to those churches first, because overall they were better. I didn’t feel as afraid there, and people were more kind. Two of my friends that invited to go to the first SBC and I now go to an Episcopalian church. I’m in love with the Episcopalian church, there’s just so much love and I think that’s what God would want a congregation to be like. I did not feel that the first SBC I went, as I mentioned earlier; Yes, the Episcopalian church has different political views, but they constantly preach about giving helping the oppressed and giving God’s love to everyone (the SBC church I went continually belittled and insulted homosexuals). I hope that all SBC churches are like the one I went to, maybe I just had a bad apple.

  58. Oh and one last thing I so. The first SBC I went to continually mentioned the federal government debt, and how Obama was fiscally irresponsible. I’m a moderate, but lean to the left and I can agree with on that matter. However, the amusing and disguising thing is that they were themselves being hypocritical. The church fell into big debt by building a multi-million dollar built and then buying to $100,000 piano (this church had around 400 members, and the members aren’t super wealthy). They ended up having to cut a lot of things. Help for the poor (shelters, food pantry, etc.)? Cut. Money that was suppose to be used to spread the word of the Lord? Cut. They themselves created what they despised so much.

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