What to do about the Decline of Southern Baptists?

Southern-Baptist-ConventionAll indicators reveal the Southern Baptist Convention is shrinking and has been for some time now. Membership is down as are baptisms. My hope is that we don’t become a defensive and exclusive people. Declining organizations rarely admit their faults, but tend to blame outward factors or conditions for which they have little control. I’m a Southern Baptist not because of politics, but because of the Cooperative Program. There’s a lot at stake here – the greatest missionary sending organization in modern times.

A task force was formed recently to review baptism decline’s cause and provide course correction recommendations. The report is pretty forward, but fails to note some fundamental elements. I’d like to offer some additional insight to the findings and recommendations.

I believe we must be careful with pinning the pastor with the “whole” responsibility. The report would suggest the pastor is to blame for the decline. At some point you have to quit blaming a pastor and own up to broader audience responsibility. Here’s a bold claim: I believe the majority of pastors are not the major influencers in their respective congregations. The typical pastor’s tenure is between three and four years. They’ve yet to earn the right to influence significant organizational change or shifts. Influence happens in and because of relationship. Somehow we need to capture the real influencer’s heart.

I believe we need a new working definition of evangelism. We don’t need confrontational clichés and words less aptly spoken. We don’t need converts; we need disciples. We don’t need catchy acronyms and outlines to share a concept; we need authentic Christ followers living transparently this thing called faith among others. Our commission is to make disciples as we’re going and living life. Here’s another bold statement: For several decades we excelled at making converts, but not disciples. We have churches full of converts, but fewer disciples. We’re reaping the harvest of convert theology. If we’re going to change the tide, we must make disciples.

I believe we need a correction in our success measurement model. What is success in the local church? If our task is to achieve a numerical or objective goal, it’s easy to become enamored with the goal while forgetting the reason behind the goal. Why do we do what we do? Let’s focus on fresh objective and subjective evaluations.

I believe we need to be cautious about encouraging churches to be program oriented. It’s an old and irrelevant model. The program for program sake doesn’t work, but relationships do. People have wised up to Baptist bait and switch techniques in programming. They don’t need another activity, but something meaningful. Let’s work on greater authenticity and meaningfulness.

We’re a denomination of predominantly sick and unhealthy churches. There, I said it. If you question my statement, read Thom Rainer’s post on the Autopsy of a Deceased Church. Many of our churches are declining and struggling without any clear or noble purpose.  Churches have lifespans – they’re born and they’ll die. Some churches need to die. Okay, maybe a lot of them do. Others need to discover health. Some need to merge. New churches need to be planted. Healthy churches must multiply. We must invest in a strategic church health initiative as Southern Baptists.

And let’s not forget this is a spiritual issue – changed hearts and practices.

2 thoughts on “What to do about the Decline of Southern Baptists?

  1. Ray S.

    Ok, I will respond. I don’t typically respond to blogs, but I find this one very interesting. I am not seminary trained, nor do I consider myself a Baptist. I was raised in the Baptist church and have great regard for my upbringing, and the support the church gave my family in those days. I was directed to your blog from Facebook, which is a prime example of where our community lives. In a protected environment where there is no real accountability, where a person can build an image of themselves that really is misleading. They live a life that is in some ways a lie. They live one way, yet try to appear to be something else. They live lost. Tough statement, but being lost with no direction is where most of the community lives. This gives way to all kinds of thinking, all kinds of outside interference, and totally renders the community useless for each other. The sad fact is, most of the community if asked say they are “Christians”. If you ask them a similar question, “If you die today, are you going to heaven?”, you will get a wide response. “I hope so” Is a popular one. “I am trying” is another. All statements of no faith. We are saved by faith, the Bible says, not by works. We are saved by a confession of faith, yet many in the church, including the Baptist church can’t even say it. Why is that? The answer to that question most likely would answer the decline question. The answer….People are compromised, they are worldly, they are sinful, yet have no direction on sin and how to overcome sin. Sin is left out of the feel good, motivational preaching of today. When a soul, that struggles with his flesh, has no direction, no help, no strong leadership that can show him the way out of his struggles, he is lost. Is his soul going to hell, I would say not in all cases, but is he living in what God has provided, and is he an impact in his community. I would also say no. What follows this “Christian behavior”, is lack, fear, uncertainty, and ineffectiveness. Everybody looks like everybody else. Everyone is afraid to look different. A practicing Christian will look different. When fear comes, people are rendered incapable of repentance, incapable of worship, incapable of prayer. Without a true faith, and a repentance from dead works, you cannot worship. If you cannot worship, you cannot pray. If you cannot pray there is no power. Without power there is no move of God. So what do you have? A group of people, that show up once a week, that are fearful to live like Jesus, worship Him in real ways, and pray for their families and others. I submit that Jesus did not die a horrible death, going to hell, defeating the devil, rising again In glory, so people could go to a church building once a week In fear, and go home unchanged. Simply put, and in my opinion, the church is ineffective, declining, and shrinking because there is no power. No power because there is no repentance. No repentance because people don’t even know if they are saved or not. Saved people will want to please God. Not always successful, but saved people will run back to God, not run away. Saved people will be hungry for the Word of God, and what it says about them; their struggles, their short comings. To simply not talk repentance, or sin, or salvation, or worship, or prayer, simply is not discipleship. You Pastor are right on about discipleship. If the church ever gets discipleship, about basic Christian doctrine, I believe God will begin to move throughout the community again.I pray for such a move. I hope this is not taken as an indictment against the whole church, for I have seen many wonderful, “working hard for their faith” people in many churches in our community. May God bless their work. One last side note; As for the Baptist Convention, I mentioned that I don’t consider myself a Baptist, yet raised a Baptist. When I was hungry for help for my destroyed life 20 yrs ago, I frankly found help somewhere else. The Baptist church and it’s leaders had no answers. Thinking back, knowing what I know now, I wonder why they didn’t. I fear this is still the case today. Thanks for letting me share.

    1. Brad Hoffmann Post author

      Ray, thank you for taking the time to respond and share. You make some really good points and insights regarding the challenges faced by the church today. I wish this were an issue faced by just one denomination, but we find this happening across the board among the denominational and non-denominational congregations.There’s a definite need for repentance, surrender, worship and genuine Christ followers.

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