Why Do People Attend Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) Churches?

ifb preacher phil kidd

IFB Preacher Phil Kidd

Independent Fundamentalist Baptist churches are known for their commitment to literalism, Biblical inerrancy, and strict codes of personal conduct. Demographically, IFB churchgoers tend to be white, Republican, and middle to lower class. IFB churches also have anti-culture tendencies, as revealed in their support of the Christian school and home school movements. The IFB church movement has spawned numerous colleges, including Hyles-Anderson College, Tennessee Temple, Midwestern Baptist College, Baptist Bible College, Pensacola Christian College, Clarks Summit University, Maranatha Baptist University, Massillon Baptist College, Crown College of the Bible, Faith Baptist Bible College, and West Coast Baptist College. Though not explicitly IFB institutions, Bob Jones University, Liberty University, Cedarville University, and Cornerstone University are sympathetic to IFB beliefs and practices, and attract a number of IFB students. You can find a comprehensive list of IFB secondary institutions here.

Millions of Americans attend IFB churches. Add to this number those Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) churches who hold similar Fundamentalist theological and social beliefs, and IFB churches are a sizeable minority within the broad Evangelical tent. While some IFB apologists trace the movement’s genesis to the Modernist-Fundamentalist battle of the 1920s, most would say that the IFB church movement was birthed out of opposition to liberalism in the Southern Baptist Convention in the 1950s and 1960s. Many of the fathers of the movement were Southern Baptist pastors who pulled their churches out of the Convention. I attended numerous Sword of the Lord conferences in the 1970s and 1980s where big-name IFB preachers trumpeted the astronomical numerical growth of their churches while delighting in spouting statistics that showed the SBC was in decline. I heard Jack Hyles, then the pastor of the largest church in the world — First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana — run down the list of the largest churches in America, pointing out how many of them were IFB churches. Hyles, along with countless other IFB preachers of that era, believed that their churches’ growth and the SBC’s decline were sure signs of God’s approval and blessing.

Today, the IFB church movement is in steep numerical decline. Churches which once had thousands of members are now closed or are a shell of what they once were. IFB colleges have also seen drops in enrollment due to the fact that the feeders for these institutions — IFB churches — aren’t sending as many students to their schools. The Southern Baptist Convention, on the other hand, has been reclaimed from liberalism and many of the largest churches in America are affiliated with the Convention. (The SBC is the first denomination that I am aware of that has reversed its course and returned to its Fundamentalist roots. The Convention is now home to a burgeoning Calvinistic movement. Many liberal/progressive SBC churches broke away in the 1991 (1,900 churches) and formed the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Liberals who remain will either seek out friendlier associations or be excommunicated.)

For countless Christians, the IFB church movement is all they have ever known. Their entire lives, from baby dedications to graduation from an IFB college, have been dominated and controlled by Baptist Fundamentalism. In many ways, the IFB church movement is a cult that shelters families from the evil, Satanic outside world. All that congregants are required to do is believe and obey. Is it any wonder that the hymn Trust and Obey is a popular hymn in many IFB churches? Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey. For those born and raised in the IFB bubble, all they know is what they have been taught by their parents, pastors, and teachers. Encouraged to make professions of faith at an early age, these cradle Baptists know little about the world outside of the IFB bubble. The bubble protects them from outside, worldly influences and helps to reinforce IFB beliefs and practices. (And when IFB youths run afoul of the strict rules found in IFB churches, they are sometimes sent off to IFB group homes and camps so they can be “rehabilitated.”)

The video below graphically (and beautifully) illustrates how deeply and thoroughly Fundamentalist beliefs dominate the thinking of those raised in Fundamentalist churches. Sung by Champion Baptist College (now Champion Christian University) tour group, the song I Have Been Blessed, is a compendium of IFB beliefs. The young adults singing this song really believe what they are singing. Outsiders might label these singers ignorant — and they are — but I choose to be more charitable, knowing that their singing of this song is simply a reflection of the tribal religion they have been a part of their entire lives.

Video Link

I have great sympathy for people who know only what they have been taught in IFB churches and institutions. From the early 1960s to the mind-1990s, I was one such person. My parents were saved at an IFB church in the 1960s and from that day forward we religiously attended IFB churches. When my parents divorced in the early 1970s, I continued to attend IFB churches. In many ways, these congregations became my family, giving me love and structure. After high school, I attended an IFB college, and from 1979 to 1994 I pastored IFB churches. (One church, Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas, would not call itself an IFB church due to its Calvinistic beliefs, but its social practices and anti-culture beliefs put it squarely in the IFB camp.) I was, in every way, a true-blue believer, never questioning my beliefs until I was in my 40s. I know firsthand how IFB indoctrination affects a person intellectually and psychologically.

Not everyone, of course, is born into the IFB church movement. Others become members due to the movement’s aggressive evangelistic efforts and methodology. Particular targets are people who have messy, unhappy lives or have drug/alcohol addictions. Wanting deliverance from their present lives, these people are often quite receptive when they come in contact with IFB preachers and church members who promise them that, if they will believe the IFB gospel, then Jesus will make their lives brand new and deliver them from their chaotic, broken lives. Once saved, these newly minted Christians are encouraged to join the churches that cared enough about them to share the Good News® with them. And many of these people do indeed join IFB churches, but unlike those raised in such churches, these outsiders often have a harder time accepting IFB social strictures. More than a few of them stop attending church or seek out congregations that aren’t as extreme.

And then there are the people who deliberately seek out IFB churches to attend. Drawn to such churches by their need for doctrinal purity, certainty, and a safe haven from the world, they are thrilled to find churches that believe the Bible from cover to cover (even though, as anyone who has studied the IFB church movement knows, IFB preachers and congregants pick and choose beliefs just as non-IFB Christians do). Perfectionists, in particular, find IFB churches quite appealing. If IFB churches and their pastors are anything, they are certain that their beliefs and practices come straight from the mouth of the Christian God (God wrote the Bible, so its words are his). Perfectionists — as I know firsthand — love structure, control, and order.

Perfectionists make the perfect members. They joyously buy into the go-go-go, do-do-do, work-for-the-night-is-coming-when-no-man-can-work, better-to-burn-out-than-rust-out thinking that permeates IFB churches. There’s no time for rest and comfort. The Bible is true, judgment is sure, hell is real, and there are billions of lost souls who need to hear the IFB gospel. How dare anyone who truly loves Jesus live a life of ease while sinners are dying in their sins and going to hell. On and on go the clichés. I suspect that most successful IFB preachers have perfectionist tendencies.

Video Link

Many IFB church members were once members of Evangelical or mainline churches. Concerns over perceived liberalism drive them to seek out churches who still believe in the Book, the Blood, and the Blessed Hope. Tired of pastors who refuse, they believe, to preach the whole counsel of God or to stand against worldliness, these disaffected Christians often find that IFB churches believe what they believe, so they leave their churches and join with the Baptists.

While I could give other reasons people attend IFB churches, those mentioned above cover the majority of people who attend Independent Fundamentalist Baptist churches.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

print

Subscribe to the Daily Post Digest!

Sign up now and receive an email every day containing the new posts for that day.

I will never give away, trade or sell your email address. You can unsubscribe at any time.

Powered by Optin Forms

15 Comments

  1. Suzanne

    Oh my! That is one very unfortunate looking tie and gloves!

    Reply
    1. Kittybrat
  2. Steve

    You forgot 1 reason folks attend IFB churches: they’re INSANE!

    😂😂😝😝

    Reply
  3. Scott

    Independent Fun and Mental Baptists…….. (Why? Brain washing!!!)

    As an Australian growing up in a calvinistic presbyterian church you arminians were always wrong! Then along came the new calvinist movement in the SB……. Hey….God is reforming his church! (That was a decade or so I saw the light). Ha… also now a 60yo apostate, secular humanist.

    Reply
  4. Scott

    Oops……… Funless anD Mental!

    Reply
  5. kittybrat

    I feel bad for people still in these churches. There is a commonality. If you queston ANYTHING that is said, you are accused of letting Satan in.
    Some of my old friends still are IFB, including family, and there is another commonality. Cock-suredness of their having the TRUTH, and ridicule of those who hold other “inferior” beliefs.

    Reply
  6. Lynn123

    Bruce, I truly cannot imagine anyone being attracted to an IFB church. But, if you say there are some, I’ll try to believe you. My impression is that they’re all dying. I mean, I am truly, truly shocked to think that there are people who grew up in IFB and are still there when they are old!! It’s simply astounding to me. I think-don’t these people ever get out and about? This stuff really still appeals to them after fifty or sixty years of it??? It’s simply unbelievable to me.

    I mean, unless you’re living on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean…do they not read any books? Do they not have the internet? To me, it’s like a time-warp-you’d have to be pretending it’s still the 1960’s and 1970’s. That was their heyday.

    I don’t know. I guess, maybe, there are still Christian women who have Christian radio on in the background while they go about their day, who faithfully attend Sunday morning, Sunday nite, and Wed. nite services??

    I was born into IFB. But in my mid-twenties, I moved to a different city. Then I moved to another state. Then I moved to Philadelphia. It was all broadening for me, even though I was always in church throughout. I occasionally wish I’d stayed in my hometown my whole life, in that protected little world. But then-I shudder to think of that. I’m glad I moved on!

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      There will always be people who crave and need certainty. There will always be people who want and need an authority figure to tell them how to live.

      Many IFB churches are dying, but some continue to grow. In Toledo, for example, there’s a large IFB church that built a multimillion dollar building a few years ago.

      It now seems crazy to those of us who left the IFB church movement, but just remember there was a time when we were diehard IFB zealots. I try never to see myself as superior to people in the IFB. The greater goal is to help them see a better way.

      Reply
    2. Karen the rock whisperer

      I am the daughter of a woman who craved certainty and the comfort of being under authority. She would have done well in an IFB church. She did well as a pre-Vatican II Catholic. But then Vatican II came along and loosened up the church, and she was very uncomfortable with that.

      Many of our arguments during my teenage years were about religion, since the nuns who taught in my Catholic schools were very much post-Vatican II theists. That was profoundly uncomfortable for my mom.

      Reply
    3. cheezit99

      I was YOUNG for the IFB, and when I entered in my early-mid 30s, everyone was 20 years older then me. At the last IFB I attended I was well into my mid-late 40s, now very late 40s, and every adult in the place was at least 62-65 plus. The only younger adults were people who still lived at home in their 20s but they were very few and far between The IFB is dying. Generation X and Millennials are not interested. Good riddance. I believe it is the right wing conservative, Tea party, religious Baby Boomers [more affluent types who had the 1980s as the trickle down hey day who voted in Trump. They are completely out of touch with the lives of anyone 60 and under, economic and otherwise.

      Reply
  7. Lynn123

    Well, as in The Sound of Music, they’re suffering from a deplorable lack of curiosity, in my opinion. If the adults are happy in the IFB, more power to them. But, for heaven’s sake, don’t subject sensitive, impressionable children to such.

    I thank God that I was born with a healthy curiosity, find people fascinating, love learning, love reading, and have a great sense of humor that no IFB indoctrination could suppress forever!

    Reply
  8. ObstacleChick

    I once read an article that in repressive communities that the people need to feel a sense of superiority in order to continue to carry out their restrictive rules. Think orthodox Jews, fundamentalist Muslims, fundamentalist Christians – they must feel that their beliefs are superior to those of other groups or else there is no reason to adhere to strict food laws, clothing laws, rules of conduct, etc. It makes sense. If one is not completely invested into their belief system, there is absolutely no reason to follow through with these rules that set them completely apart from the rest of society. The reward of compliance must outweigh the difficulties involved.

    Funny, for work yesterday I met with a customer who is an Israeli Jew living in Brooklyn. He was well-versed in the different strains of Judaism, even the different groups of Jews (i.e., Syrian Jews vs. Yemeni Jews vs. Ashkenazi/Eastern European Jews) and he had an opinion about each (Syrian Jews are wealthy, Yemeni Jews are cheap, Ashkenazi are the best because he was one). He believed that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East and that Muslims are incapable of having a democracy and must be led by a dictator. And that Muslims want to eradicate anyone who isn’t Muslim. He was just as racist and fundamentalist as any of Bruce’s neighbors. And talk about being invested in compliance – when he visits factories in Vietnam he flies back to Shanghai to go to the Jewish center for Shabbas because God forbid he miss Shabbas. And there’s no kosher food in Vietnam, but in China he can have kosher food at the Jewish Center. You find fundamentalists in all religions……I just wish all of the fundamentalists would pipe down and leave everyone else alone.

    Reply
    1. Lynn123

      Yes, I think it is about taking life seriously, wanting to feel pure, perfectionism, high standards. I wonder if fundamentalists consist of lots of first-borns. Maybe they don’t forgive themselves easily, they require a lot from themselves. I myself am a first-born.

      Reply
  9. cheezit99

    I think abuse brought me into the IFB, I was raised with extreme narcissists nothing was ever good enough for. It doesn’t surprise me that my going no contact with an abusive family–I was “low contact” during adult married years but it just wasn’t enough, also freed me from the shackles of abusive religion via the IFB and fundamentalism. I converted in, big mistake. This sentence sums up why I did:

    ” Particular targets are people who have messy, unhappy lives or have drug/alcohol addictions. Wanting deliverance from their present lives, these people are often quite receptive when they come in contact with IFB preachers and church members who promise them that, if they will believe the IFB gospel, then Jesus will make their lives brand new and deliver them from their chaotic, broken lives. ”

    I almost died just a few months before I converted. I had experienced extreme trauma, at a job where I had to confront violence, Just a few years earlier I had become severely disabled and had several medical conditions the doctors didn’t even understand. I had suffered through extreme poverty–think near homelessness and dumpster diving to eat, and had just escaped it. Damn it, I was ripe for the picking. I also believed inside I needed FIXED and “was NOT GOOD ENOUGH” and there was Jesus with his “Deliverance Ministries”, and the His book full of promises about the joy, meaning, peace, purpose, and supposed friends that would await. Fact of the matter is most converts into the IFB don’t really FIT IN, most are family people born into the mess. Oh, if you don’t fix your body, health, finances, or lose an earlier fix and slide back into poverty, then you are a “sinner” who didn’t get right with God, there’s a time limit kind of on that “deliverance” from chaotic broken lives. I was happily married, paid my own rent and bills, didn’t drink, drug or have kids out of wedlock, and had a college degree, but I was dog poop on the bottom of their shoes.

    Reply
  10. Brian

    cheezit99, Thanks for telling it like it is… IFB belief is goes out searching for the injured, the weakened. They want to ‘help’ them get on their feet again, get on their feet again as a self-hating slave of brainwashing religious nonsense.
    Why is it so hard for the deluded among believers to see that when a biped cries out to the nothing for help, they are doing so because they have nothing to lose and their need is great. When I almost bumped another car in the parking lot the other day, I said thanks when I just missed. I said thanks to the wind because I was thankful. I also cry for help when I need it and often when nobody is around. I do not believe in any magic Creator or oie in the sky but I like to express myself. The empty nothing does not listen to me any more than my IFB dad did regarding important issues in my life. Who gives a fuck. We must say our piece and be as open as we can. I believe in the power of prayer to the whirlwind. Right now I am praying that Donald Trump goes to war, that he goes to war with North Korea… by himself, riding a donkey to meet the fellow he calls Rocket Man. Go to war, please, Donald Trump. Only you can do it! Go alone and take your family Bible with you. God speed. Amen. The power of prayer!

    Reply

Leave a Comment

You have to agree to the comment policy.