You are hereDeclining membership, baptisms worry Southern Baptists

Declining membership, baptisms worry Southern Baptists

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By Kyle Peterson - Posted on 10 June 2008

By Peter Smith, The (Louisville) Courier-Journal



For most of four decades, Southern Baptists could boast of rising membership even as more moderate and liberal Protestant denominations lost members in droves.



But with membership slightly down last year, and flat for the past five, Southern Baptists face a growing anxiety about their future as they gather for their annual meeting Tuesday in Indianapolis.
"We have peaked," Southern Baptist statistician Ed Stetzer wrote in an online commentary on the latest statistics from 2007. "...For now, Southern Baptists are a denomination in decline."



What worries Southern Baptist leaders even more than the membership numbers is a steady decline in the conversion ritual that gave their denomination its name — baptisms.



Annual rates of baptisms have steadily declined not only in recent years, but also during the past 35 years. In 2007, Southern Baptist churches reported 345,941 baptisms. That's down 12% from 2002 and 22% from 1972.



National figures show the ratio of baptisms to members is shrinking — meaning that it takes more members to achieve the same amount of evangelistic success than it once did.



Baptists and some other evangelical denominations view baptism as a central measure of spiritual vitality because they only baptize those old enough to make a commitment to Jesus — meaning that it measures how successful they are in spreading the Gospel.



Along with declining rates of baptisms, policies on who can become missionaries and a shortfall in donations to fund missions will be hot topics at the Southern Baptist Convention, which runs Tuesday and Wednesday.



For the declining baptism rate, some blame the downturn on Baptists' doctrinal divisions, including the battles of the 1980s and 1990s that led to a conservative shift in the denomination as well as more recent debates.



Read the entire article here.

Virgil's picture

This can't be a southern baptist concern only; this is affecting all denominations out there.

Virgil's picture

This article reminded me of the Chagall Guevara lyrics; very relevant to what's happening to evangelical Christianity's "big house" today:

When did you last look up in the sky?
Really look at the sky and wonder?
Used to be you could see forever,
Now there's cracks in the canvas we're under.

This is the sound of the rooftop coming down,
This ain't a murder mystery.
This is the sound of the four walls falling in,
This is the stench of recent history.

This house is crumbling,
This property is condemned.
This house is crumbling,
Who'll say the last amen?

All of us Neros fanning ourselves,
Damp with the sweat of regret.
Just killing time with our eyes to the skies,
Waiting on science our savior.

This is the sound of your rooftop coming down,
It's time to meet the maker.
This is the sound of the floorboards caving in,
This is the knock of the undertaker.

This house is crumbling,
This property is condemned.
This house is crumbling,
Who'll say the last amen?

A child takes a crayon and draws a black rainbow
Over the city where nobody is.
What are they thinking, these small-minded people?
That they can decode words on the wall?
This is the sound of the world coming down,
This is the sex of history.

This is the sound of the big house caving in,
This is the friction of joy and misery.
This house is crumbling,
This property is condemned.
This house is tumbling down.
Who'll say the last amen?
Amen. Amen. Amen.

leslie's picture

I am a 'Southern Baptist'....I have been going to the same 'Church' for 25 years. When I started there, there was 'some' preaching of 'The Rapture' and 'all things will end 'soon'..very 'soon'...There were several middle aged couples (most are dead now) that thought it best not to have children, as this 'was' the final generation. There is no more 'Rapture' teaching,but many think that it 'could' still happen, which is mostly a residue of the former generational teaching. When the next generation is never born...there is no 'next' generation.

Brother Les

Brother Les

JL's picture

Birth started dropping in 1959, with a significant drop in 1964. This means there should have been a peak when those of us born in the late 50's hit baptist baptizing age. In 1972, I turned 14 along with all the others born in 1958 (the peak year). My little sister born in 1964 turned 8. We spanned the dominant age range for baptism in 1972.

Therefore, a significant factor is the falling birth rate among Southern Baptists.

Another factor is surely that the mother of all Purpose Driven Churches, Saddleback Community Church, is Southern Baptist, yet they don't stress baptism.

Blessings,

JL Vaughn
Beyond Creation Science

ad70lhodges's picture

One factor not considered in the article is declining denominational loyalty. The "community church" approach is often more "seeker" sensitive. While some in this movement are connected to the Southern Baptists, (Rick Warren for example), many others are not.

JL's picture

Those "community churches" are Southern Baptists are often non-baptizing. That alone must bring the odds down.

Blessings,

JL Vaughn
Beyond Creation Science

Virgil's picture

I can't imagine the birth rate being that significant..it may be a factor but many young people leave the denomination because they are tired of their infighting and their staunch denominationalism. I attended a college associated with the SBs and almost everyone I went to school with back then no longer attends an SB church.

Like someone else here said, house churches, community churches, etc, are all breaking the mold. Add preterism to the mix and you will really start seeing the cracks.

JL's picture

Virgil,

If a couple had 4 children in the 1950s and all got baptized in the 1960's and early 1970's, that would be a baptism rate of 200% per generation and a growth rate of 100% per generation.

If a couple had 2 children in the 1990's and both got baptized, that would be a baptism rate of 100% and a growth rate of 0% per generation.

The national change in birthrates is much bigger than the change in baptism rate the Baptists are reporting. So either the Baptists are getting more effective in evangelism or their birthrate has dropped less.

If birthrates are not factored in, any demographic analysis is bunk. There are fewer young people today (in proportion). If the church did "everything right" for every generation, then the baptism rate would still have fallen from 1972 on.

Blessings,

JL Vaughn
Beyond Creation Science

mljtl's picture

Virgil,

I listened to your Podcast with Jason and Sam yesterday and was interested in your comments about what you were looking for in "church." I was wondering if you were familiar with Jon Zens and his magazine Searching Together. He also has a website where some of his articles may be accessed: http://www.searchingtogether.org/ He is very tight with Frank Viola and has some material well worth reading. It is interesting that the 2003 Searching Together conference focused on "Last Things". I was one of the speakers that year and was Amil at the time. Sam Frost, Lloyd Dale and Dan Delagrave represented the Preterist position (Ed Stevens was also there, but did not speak). There were also speakers from the Premil and Postmil perspective as well. I believe it was truly a unique situation with all of these different views being discussed in one place - we all managed to get along and really enjoy each other for the most part. It was a turning point in my life. I couldn't ignore the points put forth from the preterist speakers. A lot of inner turmoil followed until my resistance was finally broken. Jon was a "partial" preterist at the time, but my hope is that he is becoming less and less "partial."

Thanks,

Steve Temple

mazuur's picture

Virgil,

"I listened to your Podcast with Jason and Sam yesterday and was interested in your comments about what you were looking for in "church.""

Yes for sure! You need to get that new book by Frank Voila "Pagan Christianity". It has definitely change my entire perspective of how and what "Church" is. I am actually looking to establish a new "organic" Church in my house. I get so downcast every Sunday when I attend the "Church" we attend, and it isn't all because they are futurist. It's also everything that is brought out in Frank Viola's new book.

-Rich

-Rich

Paige's picture

Like What, Rich? Could you elaborate a bit?

Interested,
Paige

mazuur's picture

Paige,

I don't even know where to begin. It is everything about "Church" today. The buildings, the "Pastor" (an office that does not exist), the performer/spectator setting of the "service", the "institutionalization" of it, to ...

Get Frank Viola's new book! You will love it. It's not very big or long (just the kind of book I like), and pretty cheap to boot.

Sorry that wasn't much help. It really is all encompassing and overwhelming to try to elaborate on all that bothers me about doing "Church" today.

-Rich

-Rich

davo's picture

Hey Rich, my copy turned up yesterday, along with 6 other books -- now I have to decide which to read first. I did flick through his 'summary of origins' at the rear and found it all very interesting :).

davo

mazuur's picture

Oh man, go for Pagan Christianity. We need for everyone to read it so we can have a big discussion about it.

-Rich

-Rich

Paige's picture

Rich,

We have a home group fellowship, and feel blessed to be a part of it. I was just kind of wondering in what way the book impacted you...It sounds like it shook you up some :) (Thats a good thing, btw.)

Paige

Virgil's picture

I am finishing Pagan Christianity up right now; it's a very good book. I will try to do a chapter by chapter review of it soon. Viola makes some unqualified statements sometimes that I disagree with and he does not provide evidence well enough for, but generally speaking, the book is wonderful.

Jer's picture

Rich:

I've been reading the same book :) I introduced our little group to some of the topics that Viola covers after reading Paul's Idea of Community (?) by Banks. Change is a slow process in our case. But I believe John Noē, Eddie Prather and others meet on regular basis in a setting similar to what Viola is describing. You might get a hold of them.

Jer

mazuur's picture

Jeremy,

Thanks. I will be contacting Eddie.

How far are you in the book?

-Rich

-Rich

Jer's picture

IIRC, I'm in chapter 3 or 4, but I've skipped ahead on occasion. It's not a mystery novel, so that's ok :)

Jer

mljtl's picture

Rich,

I read Frank's book the week after Easter while my wife was on "spring break." I have read a couple of his earlier books ("Who Is Your Covering?" and "Rethinking The Wineskin"), but I noticed that he no longer offers them on his website. There is a lot of other good resource material out there - several books that I could recommend if you are interested that give some good insight into early church practices.

I feel much the same way you do about Sundays. I do teach a Sunday School class every week (which I guess is "unbiblical/nonbiblical" from the Pagan Christianity perspective) which I really enjoy. We have good interaction in our class and I have tried to emphasize some of the principles that Frank and others are teaching. I love the people, but the way things are set up with the "pastor" essentially running everything and standing almost as a final authority on everything is extremely frustrating to me.

Jon Zens is a good resource too. Subscription to his magazine is only $10/year for 4 issues (sometimes he double or triples an issue and sometimes he is a little late). I think he has some really good stuff to offer. He offers a "complete" set of back issues back to 1978 for $49. I've probably read them all and they have really challenged my way of thinking about "church."

I guess what really bothers me is that I've been understanding a lot of this stuff for a good while and haven't really acted on it. Like I said, I've tried to teach and live some of the principles, but haven't found a good way to get out of this "church" system. The key though is people and despite its problems, I can still love those in my assembly, even if we do differ on a lot of things (and believe me we do!).

If you decide to come to North Carolina to establish a new "organic" church, let me know. I'd also be interested in any progress you make in trying to start something in your house.

Steve

mazuur's picture

Steve,

Thanks for all your words. I share and feel everything you stated. I am really trying to deal with attending the Church that I do (right now for my kids sake), but I just can't shake these feelings. Very frustrating! And then throw in it futurist positions, and....I get very depressed. I already leave the room during the sermon because I can't stand to sit there and listen to it. Good thing they have a library. Then when the sermon is done I return to the "service".

"I guess what really bothers me is that I've been understanding a lot of this stuff for a good while and haven't really acted on it."

Oh yeah, this is driving me crazy right now. I feel like a hypocrite believing one way yet not doing anything about it. Your words, "but haven't found a good way to get out of this "church" system", is exactly where I am at.

What are the other books you would recommend? I definitely what to get more educated on these matters.

Strange thing is, I have always kind of seen these errors, but just couldn't really put it all together. Kind of like Preterism. I could see it in the Scriptures, but until I read King's work, which put it all together, I was just bothered by various passages. Once King put it together for me, I was blown away. Now, after Frank put it all together for me, I am blown away yet again!

"If you decide to come to North Carolina to establish a new "organic" church, let me know. I'd also be interested in any progress you make in trying to start something in your house."

I am no Church planter, or "apostle" as Frank calls them, which I think is an error. I don't not believe there are "apostles" today. Sure, people may be gifted in establishing "Churches", but they are not apostles. Anyway, the best I can hope for (which is what I am trying to put together) is find some people who would be interested in an "organic" (I don't like that term) Church, and through the website that Frank in the book suggest, request a planter to come and get it started. I really like this idea of a planter coming and then leaving, because it gets rid of the dangers of that person becoming the "Pastor" of the members (people always want to place themselves "under" someone for some reason). The concept I think is very valid.

But, now that you have informed me about Eddie (who I know) and John, I will get a hold of Eddie and see what he is doing. The last I talked to him he was still at Kingsway Christian Church.

I will look into Jon Zens. Thanks!

-Rich

-Rich

mljtl's picture

Rich,

Jeremy mentioned "Paul's Idea Of Community" by Robert Banks above. That' a good one. Banks also wrote a book called "The Church Comes Home" that deals with more practical aspests of meeting as a house church. Howard Snyder wrote "The Problem of Wineskins" (this has been updated and I think is a good solid book) and followed that up with "Liberating The Church." Lawrence Richards wrote what I think is a very helpful book titled, "A New Face For The Church." An interesting book on the origin of, and the centrality of the modern sermon is "To Preach Or Not To Preach" by David Norrington. Steve Atkerson at ntrf.org has edited a book titled "ekkesia" that has some good chapters on various aspects of church in the house. Many consider Watchman Nee's book "The Normal Christian Life" to be a classic. The books by Banks, Snyder, Richards and Nee are readily available on Amazon or abebooks.com. I'm not sure how to get Norrington's book. I think I got my copy from Jon Zens but I don't see it listed on his website. He might be able to get you a copy.

In this information age, there's obviously a lot of material out there on the internet and I'm sure many other books that could be checked out, but these (along Viola's other books) are some that I'm familiar with.

Steve

mazuur's picture

Thanks for the info.

-Rich

-Rich

mazuur's picture

Steve,

sorry, that was Jeremy's info concering Eddie and John.

-Rich

-Rich

JL's picture

Rich,

I wonder what Voila would have to say to this?

http://www.breitbart.com/article.php?id=080610132718.9c6r9ify&show_artic...

Blessings,

JL Vaughn
Beyond Creation Science

Jer's picture

I wonder why they concluded it was a "Christian" meeting place?

Husan says, "We have evidence to believe this church sheltered the early Christians -- the 70 disciples of Jesus Christ." And then adds that a mosaic describes "the 70 beloved by God and Divine." That's not very specific, and Husan seems to be supplying the word "Christian." I wonder what other evidence they have.

Also, since the "church" was located in a cave, why have they ruled out Mithraism? The article also mentions an "apse," which were present in Mithraic meeting places.

Hmmm... Definitely need more info on this one.

mazuur's picture

I don't know, but here is what I would say.

"He cited historical sources which suggest theyboth lived and practised religious rituals in the underground church"

Seems to merely be a place of hiding place/refuge from the Roman persecution. Nero was a very ugly dude you know.

In fact the article even says, "to have fled persecution in Jerusalem and founded churches in northern Jordan"

Even though they say they founded "churches" one would have to define "church". The one they found seems to be a hiding place/home where they would obviously gather to praise God.

"Inside the cave there are several stone seats which are believed to have been for the clergy and a circular shaped area"

Well gee-wiz, I can imagine a hundred different things for several stone seats.

"There is also a deep tunnel which is believed to have led to a water source"

What one would expect to find if they would have chosen the place to live while they were hiding.

"Rihab is home to a total of 30 churches and Jesus and the Virgin Mary are believed to have passed through the area, Husan said."

30 churches uh? Founded when? Notice they don't share that piece of information. They just state it right along side the discussion of this "church" dating some time in the 1st century, so one would just automatically association those churches to be dated around the same time.

-Rich

-Rich

Virgil's picture

I read this yesterday and I kinda laughed when they were talking about "clergy seats." The first century church didn't have "clergy" and people met in homes. There were no "church building" and "stone seats" which were reserved for special people..heck..they didn't even have chairs back then probably...people sat and ate on the floor or stood during meetings.

There are waaaay too many assumption in that article. It's more fiction that fact to me.

Jer's picture

Apparently, the inscription isn't in the cave. It's on the floor of the church above. Here's an article that provides a little more info.

Photos are available here.

Kent's picture

I don't why it is a big concern. Baptist don't beleive that baptism is required for salvation in the first place.

Richard

Richard K. McPherson

Barry's picture

Well Kent,
[Disclaimer, this post is (tong in cheek)]

suppose that the Baptist wants to become a member of a "Church of Christ" church. Now some (not all) church of Christ will respect the baptism (immersion) of others that were not done for the explicit reason of obtaining salvation.
A more shall we say, "If someone has obeyed their Lord in Baptism leave them alone" type attitude.
So then changing churches is easier :)

Now of course everyone says that Repentance is for salvation.
But what many have missed is that biblical repentance preceded belief whereas usually most say Believe and then repent.

Mark 1:
14) Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God,
15) And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.

Matt. 21:32
For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not; but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward that ye might believe him.

Peace and blessings
Barry

we are all in this together

Kent's picture

Berry,

Please read: http://www.preterism-eschatology.com/Baptism Is It Still Required.htm and http://www.preterism-eschatology.com/Salvation Who Needed It.htm

I agree with you. In today world, churches uses baptism as a form of joining their denomination.

See: http://www.preterism-eschatology.com/Baptist Baptism vs. Bible Baptism.htm

Richard

Richard K. McPherson

JL's picture

Virgil,

If you want to see a "denomination" that is truly in decline far beyond anything possible with mere demographics, look at the Church of Christ.

Here's an excellent book on the subject.

http://gospelthemes.com/wiwbk.htm

Blessings,

JL

Blessings,

JL Vaughn
Beyond Creation Science

Jer's picture

Some time ago, we visited what is known as an "anti" group CoC. Over a period of three months, about have a dozen people were "disfellowshipped." One of the elders would read a letter in front of the congregation listing the persons crimes (like worshiping at a Christian church). Then, he would quote a scripture that he believed justified their action.

Once they discovered about 25 visiting preterists, they economized. They disfellowshipped all of us at one fell swoop. Of course, I'm going to hell, but one member said he would pray for me.

From my experience, it looks like Sam is right on track in chapters 3 through 7. Shamefully, the CoC is the greatest contributor to its own demise.

Jer

Virgil's picture

The CoC has become what it hated back 100 years ago or so. Sad, sad, sad.

Starlight's picture

Jer,

Many of the cofC churches are what I consider caretaker congregations. They are simply keeping watch over the death of their 100 year traditions. That kind of mentality needs to expire.

Not all churches of Christ are in the same boat, it is just that many folks do not realize that there is life outside the ghetto. There are some vibrant growing churches but they like the one I attend which is composed of about a 50/50 mix of traditional churches of Christ members and neighbors and visitors who have embraced the freedom in Christ that we strive for.

There is no telling what the churches of Christ will look like in another 30 to 50 years. Many of us with these cofC heritages will just have to get used to some changes and quit living in our past. In fact the original message that the first group of our heritage strove for was a ecumenical blending of believers from all backgrounds. One should probably recognize that the community church concept in America is prospering and it is simply the model that Barton Stone and others called for originally. Many of our former members actually attend community style churches now, realizing that the cofC has fallen victim to a denominational idea in the end.

All is not lost, the “body” keeps on growing and transformation from one generation to another is not something necessarily to recoil from.

Norm

sidwms's picture

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