Perry Noble wrote the other day on his blog that denominations (I am paraphrasing this) are DONE, on the way out, lost. That is a strong statement. (Perry is never afraid to make strong statements and I so respect him) It does seem that most denominations in our country are trying to protect their institutions and traditions instead of advancing the Kingdom of God. Now please hear me, I have friends who work for denominational organizations that are very passionate about seeing the fame of Jesus spread all over this country and our small planet. I am not sure what denominations will look like in years to come but if they want to be useful these organizations are going to have to be willing to restructure in order to support the local church and mission work around the world. Ed Stetzer had this to say in the Tennessean today, I thought it was great insight…
Stemming SBC Membership Decline
LifeWay Research recently reported that the SBC had declined in membership. The SBC growth rate has been slowing for decades but last year was the first year of decline in a long while–but trends say that more will follow.
The SBC I care about is in decline. Yes, it’s part demographics (i.e. we’re historically rural and such regions are in numeric decline) and ultimately changes have to be made at a local church level. But, many believe there are issues the convention can acknowledge and address to help turn around the decline. Denying the facts won’t help, nor will a theological left turn, but there are things that need to change to reverse the decline.
When the news came out, some in the SBC stuck their heads a bit deeper in sand saying, “We’re doing just fine, thank you!” They believe trying harder without change is best. Besides, they say, the SBC is not shrinking as fast as liberal denominations–which seems to me like bragging that our sunset is brighter than theirs.
On the other hand, some “finger waggers” will propose that the answer is to move leftward theologically. Yet, regardless of one’s theological views (and that is important), no evidence exists to support that a leftward shift will grow a denomination–generally, the more liberal a denomination is, the faster it is declining.
Yet, a growing number of us believe that change is needed in the SBC. Let me suggest a few of those needed changes.
First and most importantly, the SBC must refocus on the gospel. The convention has become big, bureaucratic, and distracted by so many things–from politics to boycotts to programs. In the process, we have, at times, lost the focus on what was once the main thing: being, doing, and telling the good news locally and globally. We must return to our “first love” (Rev. 2:4), Jesus, and then show and share his message. We need gospel change.
Second, the SBC must address the continued loss of leaders. Ongoing denominational conflict has hastened the depopulation of young leaders. Furthermore, ethnic leadership remains mostly absent after decades of ethnic change in America.
Yet, such change will require an openness to other approaches to church and ministry from different cultures and generations. Openness will be difficult since preaching against other ways of doing church still gets the “big amen” at the SBC meeting– even though the “Amen Corner” is getting older and smaller every year. If we share a common theology, we need to hold out a chair and ask new generations and ethnicities to sit at the table of leadership. We need leadership change.
Finally, infighting must not define the SBC. It is public knowledge that Baptists do not always settle their differences amicably at the convention or local church level. If “Baptist” and “bad-tempered” are synonyms to the average American, the trend toward decline will only accelerate. We need a heart change.
Can the tide be stemmed? Yes. Will it? Realistically, the “odds” are against it. But, I am one who believes that if we obey God’s leading, He can continue to use even an imperfect people like Southern Baptists.