The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is the largest Evangelical (and Protestant) denomination in the United States. According to Wikipedia, collectively, Southern Baptist churches have a membership of almost 15,000,000. Astoundingly, on any given Sunday, only 5,000,000 SBC church members actually attend church. That means, on Sundays, two-thirds of Southern Baptist church members are somewhere other than the churches they call their spiritual homes.
Thanks to the rise of the NONES and the rapidly increasing age of their congregations, SBC leaders have been in panic mode over the decline of their churches. This has resulted in the SBC doing what they do best when faced with existential crises: call on churches to pray, double-down on their evangelistic efforts, and start new, super-duper programs that they promise will stem membership decline. This is the modus operandi of the SBC: ignore the obvious and pretend things are not as bad as they seem. Unfortunately, for the SBC, things ARE as bad as they seem.
According to a Pastors’ Task Force on SBC Evangelistic Impact and Declining Baptisms, baptisms peaked in the 1970s and stayed fair constant until the late 1990s. Since then, the numbers reveal a steady decline in membership and baptisms. In 2012, the Annual Church Profile — an annual report SBC churches fill out and submit to the denomination — revealed:
- Twenty-five percent of Southern Baptist churches reported “zero baptisms”
- Sixty percent reported no youth baptisms (ages 12-17)
- Eighty percent reported 0-1 young adult baptism (ages 18-29)
As I read these statistics, I thought, oh my God, no wonder the SBC is in decline. In baseball, position players have cards which list their batting and fielding statistics. Chris Welsh, a TV game broadcaster for the Cincinnati Reds, is fond of saying when talking about player stats, “the back of the card never lies” That is certainly true for the SBC — the back of their card never lies. The stats are clear: the Southern Baptist Convention — a collective of 45,000 churches — is in precipitous decline, and it is unlikely that anything can be done to reverse this decline.
Once a church or a denomination loses its youth and young adults, there’s no hope of reversing decline and, ultimately, death. Thirty or so years ago the SBC hitched its wagon to Fundamentalist theology and Jerry’s Falwell’s war against cultural progress. While older members were thrilled with this, younger members were not. The slow death of the SBC is the result of the denomination of choosing theological purity and political power over people; especially young people.
Hosea 8:7 says, ” For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.” Thirty years ago, the SBC planted the wind, and now they are reaping a whirlwind; a whirlwind that is causing untold havoc and damage. Now, this does not mean that the SBC will hang a “Going Out of Business” sign any time soon. The SBC and its affiliated churches are sitting on billions of dollars. According to an official SBC fun facts page, denominational churches took in over $10 billion in offerings in 2018. As long as offering plates are passed, credit cards are swiped, and dying congregants leave their estates to their churches, the SBC will continue to live for another day. Denominations and churches die slowly, often taking decades and generations to finally succumb to the forces of attendance and offering decline. The numbers say death is certain. Not today, not tomorrow, maybe not even in my lifetime. But, the ugly specter of death is coming for the SBC, and the only thing that can save them is the Rapture. Something tells me that Jesus ain’t coming back to deliver the Southern Baptists from the just desserts of their war against social progress.
Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.
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