Present Reality: Southern Baptist Are In Decline.


Professor Barnhardt: There must be alternatives. You must have some technology that could solve our problem. Klaatu: Your problem is not technology. The problem is you. You lack the will to change. Professor Barnhardt: Then help us change. Klaatu: I cannot change your nature. You treat the world as you treat each other. Professor Barnhardt: But every civilization reaches a crisis point eventually. Klaatu: Most of them don’t make it. Professor Barnhardt: Yours did. How? Klaatu: Our sun was dying. We had to change in order to survive. Professor Barnhardt: So it was only when your world was threatened with destruction that you became what you are now. Klaatu: Yes. Professor Barnhardt: Well that’s where we are. You say we’re on the brink of destruction and you’re right. But it’s only on the brink that people find the will to change. Only at the precipice do we evolve. This is our moment. Don’t take it from us, we are close to an answer.

Below are statistics, quotes, and thoughts about the state of Southern Baptists in North America. There is quite a bit of discouraging news and yet there is some good and encouraging news. Studies for a while now have pointed out that denominations in general are in decline as are most churches who make up those denominations. The only up-turn in attendance among churches, generally speaking, is that of interdenominational or nondenominational mega-churches and my feeling is that in a lot of cases these growing churches are growing largely from transfer growth of those who have left the denominations that are in decline.

What is bothersome to me about what I have already written and what I report below is not that we are seeing the demise of our or any other denomination, but that we are not advancing the Kingdom of the King. The data and concern show that people are not zealous with the good news of Jesus and therefore Baptism is declining and Baptists are declining. Let’s take care not to make the cooperative program or the denomination the point. The Kingdom of God and His glory are the end, and denominations are the means to accomplish that end. We are not advancing our denomination but the message of Jesus. That is a sidebar.

So what do you want first, the bad or the good news? Either way they both deserve our consideration.


79% of SBC churches baptized 10 or fewer people in 2007-08 church year. 38% baptized 5 or less. 23% baptized 0! – Reported from the 2009 Southern Baptist Convention.

According to data from 672 messengers who provided additional information during the registration process, messengers 18-29 years old accounted for 5.95 percent of the total; 30-34, 4.76 percent; 35-39, 5.51 percent; 40-44, 5.51 percent; 45-49, 13.10 percent; 50-54, 14.73 percent; 55-59, 18.90 percent; 60 and over, 31.25 percent. From Baptist Press and the SBC

Offsetting the rise in giving, along with a slight increase in the total number of SBC churches and primary worship attendance, was the nagging reality that baptisms in 2008 fell for the fourth straight year to 342,198, a drop of 1.1 percent. “The numbers simply tell us that Southern Baptists are not reaching as many people for Christ as they once did,” said Rainer. “It still takes 47 Southern Baptists to baptize one person for Christ. – Ed Stetzer Southern Baptist Are In Decline by Ed Stetzer

Total SBC membership fell by 38,482, or 0.2 percent last year, to 16,228,438. Sunday school enrollment dropped 123,817, or 1.6 percent, to 7,752,794.

We are a denomination in decline, at least in our membership and definitely in our evangelism and baptisms. The most rational decision now is to acknowledge its reality so we might deal with its consequences and discover solutions for our churches.- Ed Stetzer

But today we are facing a set of numbers to which we are not accustomed. Last year, I said we “peaked” in our membership. This year, I believe that our tipping point continues to tip. Unless things change, we are about to enter a time when we grow accustomed to decline and think back to the good ol’ days of growth. – Ed Stetzer


“But, as I said in my post-SBC analysis, I am still encouraged. Once people acknowledge the problem (and increasingly they did at this year’s SBC), the more likely we are to focus on the real issues, not pretend everything is going “just fine, thank you.” – Ed Stetzer

Southern Baptists support more than 10,500 missionaries who engage nearly 1,200 people groups throughout North America and around the world.

Despite the recession, giving to the cooperative program was up just over 2%.

The Gospel will not fail, even if SBC declines and the church in North America declines. Jesus promised it would overcome and the Bible leads no doubt that the gospel will not fail.

Not every church in the SBC or North America is failing or declining, just most of them.


Here is the principle: People do not change until the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change. And, neither do denominations… – Ed Stetzer

First, we have to deal with the continued loss of SBC leaders. As we have recently reported in Facts & Trends, we have witnessed a serious (and increasing) depopulation of young leaders at our convention. Also, ethnic leadership remains absent after decades of ethnic change in America…

A second issue is the infighting which defines so much of the SBC–its meetings, its churches, and its blogs… Satan has used our incessant bickering over non-essentials to promote his last great mission on earth–to keep lost people lost… If the focus of every SBC meeting is a new controversy to be debated, new parameters to be narrowed, and new issues to be fought, the trend toward decline will only accelerate.

The third, and most important, issue is our loss of focus on the Gospel… We must recover a gospel centrality and cooperate in proclaiming that gospel locally and globally.” 3 Solutions from Stetzer
Southern Baptists gave 2.3 percent more to missions last year despite the economic downturn, but they lost members and baptized the fewest number of people since 1987, according to the denomination’s Annual Church Profile (ACP), compiled by LifeWay Christian Resources in conjunction with Baptist state conventions.

What now? Acknowledge reality. Pray and depend on God, trusting Him knowing that He is faithful to His promises. Make the Great Commission the Imperative Mission and be willing to change and hopefully we won’t have to come to the precipice.

About brentprentice

Brent is the lead pastor and one of the Elders at Eagle Heights in Stillwater, Oklahoma. He has been married to Lacey for 14 years and together they love two sons, Luke and Elijah, and a daughter, Bella.

Posted on June 24, 2009, in Eagle Heights, The Local Church. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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