Sunday, June 8, 2008

Where Have All The Southern Baptists Gone




According to a Baptist Press news article from 1950 through 2007 the annual number of baptism bounced between 350 and 450,000 an average of 400,000 per year. If my math serves me right that is almost 23 million baptisms in fifty seven years. The current membership enrollment in the SBC is around 16.3 million. The average worship attendance is 6 million.

The birth rate as reflected by baptism in the SBC is approximately 2.45% if we accept current membership enrollment and baptism reports. Crudely estimating, the death rate among Southern Baptists is approximates 36% if we consider the difference between 23 and 16.3 million over fifty years. About one death for every 3 births. But if we take into account the fact that only 6 million attend and perhaps 2 million others active but not in attendance, the death rate among the Southern Baptists explodes to about 66% or 2 out of every three births. The interesting statistic is a reported decline in membership of .24%. But wait, how can that be if the baptism rate is more than ten times that? Is the SBC baptising and then throwing the baby out with the baptismal water? Is it effectively killing off more of its baptized than it is baptizing?

The difference between 23 million and 6 million is a whopping 17 million souls lost from the ranks of the SBC. Nearly as many as they claim are on membership roles. Even if the shut-in and excusable (travelers, sick, et cetera) are granted, and say the total numbers of active membership is 8 million and not 6 million, the total number of lost souls from the SBC is still nearly 2 times the annual number of its active members. You can kiss the Great Commission good-bye, unless of course all that you consider yourself responsible for is baptisms and not discipleship. And, we might mention doctrinal acuity of active membership, but that is another shame, a digression not altogether unrelated.

The current emphasis in SBC land is how to increase the annual numbers of baptisms so as to stave off declining membership. Wouldn't it be better to try to figure out how to stop the bleeding? Or, is it the case that it really does not matter; who cares if the annual number of baptisms merely maintains a membership of 16 million if the powers that be are comfortable with the income generated by a third or a half of members' active and giving? The renewed interest in regenerate membership must consider the fact that it appears that the SBC does not care about its members. Whether they lose them or not, does not matter as long as enough stay. How contrary to Scripture. Perhaps the disrespect and usury is one reason for the decline in membership. But, again, I digress.

Isn't time the SBC reconsider that new members classes' precede baptism as necessary confirmation of separation from the world and covenantal commitment to the local church? Isn't it time that the revivalist fad be put to death for the earnest Gospel, one that requires a man lay down his life and dedicate it to life-long growth in doctrinal competency? It should be the thrust of the SBC to renew its commitment to its membership by requiring doctrinal foundations be instilled before baptism is offered. And then to insure that the Great Commission if fulfilled in all its parts.

The reason is simple: The disciples were schooled by the Master before they were admitted into his fold. Contrary to the common misunderstanding that baptism is the norm immediately ensuing upon a profession of faith, (the disciples were fond of professing faith they didn't understand), the confession of the faith by the disciples did not occur and could not properly be given, until after the resurrection; after years of discipleship. To confuse John's baptism with Christ's call to discipleship and the baptism in the Spirit that He would grant them upon the completion of their training is to betray the essence of the Baptistic understanding of believers' baptism. Establishment in understanding is the norm. We after all uphold believers baptism- a believer must know what he believes. The disciples did not know what they believed until after Christ had risen, it was then they were baptized in the Spirit as true confessors.

The current practice among the SBC currently is no different than that of the paedobaptist who baptizes before the child has an understanding and thereupon can make a reasoned confession of faith. The SBC would do well if it would reinstitute catechesis as confirmation to the inquiry churches should be performing before admission to membership through baptism and, when necessary, for the admittance of petitioners to membership who have been baptized elsewhere. Or, it can continue condoning aborting two thirds of its children with callous disregard for whether or not they were ever born-again.

8 comments:

Gordan Runyan said...

ST, I wish you'd stop beating around the bush and just say what you think...

Anyway, I have heard it argued recently by a fairly high-profile evangelism group that the Great Commission is about "making" disciples (i.e. getting them started, through conversion) and not so much about actually discipling anyone.

After reading your post, I figure that should get your blood boiling. No need to thank me.

kingofbleh said...

Here some more alarming numbers:

In 2007, 4,500 SBC missionaries baptized 600,000 new converts (1:133) while 44,000 SBC churches baptized less than 400,000 (1:11).

When you consider that the total living expense for the average missionary family is a mere fraction of the average church budget, it gets even more alarming.

The church I attend, for example, spent $3.6M in FY '07-'08 and we had 86 baptisms in that same time frame. That's $41,860 per baptism. In 2007, the IMB's budget was $290M with 600k total baptisms. That's $483 per baptism.

Now nobody can place a price on a soul, but you have to wonder if this HUGE disparity is a sign of where the Holy Spirit is moving and which efforts God is blessing.

Strong Tower said...

Gordan- I've got to quit reading BP and other SBC news sources or go back on BP Meds.

I just think it interesting... and imagine what house cleaning evangelism could produce if it weren't for the "it's dare fault, thez not comin cuz dare sinnin," or the obligatory silence of the lames.

My math is probably all messed up, that really doesn't matter. The reporting of membership and baptisms is a flawed means of determining size or health, the real indicators being the actively serving membership and their acuity bibley (a team Pyro term). Retention is a major bad that I think Dr. Ascol's regenerate membership plea goes along way in addressing (see I really do like him) (:0) Some are getting the message, apparently, seeing that there are three alternative resolutions up at the convention on the subject.

What do you think of Hunt's election?

Anyway, wasn't the King SBC?

High kob- glad you could chime in. Yaya, that sounds a little lite on the evangelism spending.

And, the point is: It is a little disingenuous to speak of the GC and world missions, Kingdom Growth and what ever else, when the real problem with outreach is in reality retention. It is simply the fact that the more we retain the more feet we have in the world. Somewhere there has to be a living relationship between evangelism and discipleship, or our deliveries are mostly still-births.

Gordan Runyan said...

KOB's numbers there are illuminating, but I've got to admit I think numbers like those (the very fact that we would make such corollations in the first place, dollars to baptisms)is another symptom of our problem.

(I realize KOB is not saying the corollation is real, but merely posting the numbers, since numbers seem all-important in some corners.)

Here's another stat while we're at it: Acts 2 - 3,000 saved, no money spent on any program or, for that matter, sending anyone anywhere.

Deferring to our strong brother, Tom Ascol again here, we are in danger (putting it as generously as possible) of losing the gospel altogether in the SBC.

My own church numbers, for those interested: 72 on the rolls who live in the area and could attend services. Averaging 35 on a Sunday Morning (with nearly a third of those being non-members), and then a dozen adults on Sunday evening.

Strong Tower said...

Prez Johnny Hunt said that we have a large army so we should be taking more terrritory. Which is what I said, if, and big if, the reality was that we had 16.3 real members.

I agree that numbers really don't tell us much. There are other indicators. Is your church rural, Gordan? I think there is a difference between a mega church in Atlanta that has a third of its members or more unaccounted for, and a rural church that for one reason or another has members absent. My guess is that you are interested in those not attending, where for some congregations and SBC wide, it really doesn't matter.

My former SBC church went through a cleansing, more of a cost saving measure than re-outreach. We did send out letters and tried to make visitations, but to little avail. In the end almost all of the absentee members were dropped from the roles cutting the membership in half. But, that wasn't the biggest problem, the real problem was the nonchalant attitutde toward the church constitution and by-laws and the failure of the leadership to address mandates that were being ignored. That tends to filter down. Then of course, it was a typical SBC church run on programs and boxed instructionals purchased from Lifeway. Only one of the deacons taught a class so it was mostly left to volunteers. The others (who our constitution defined as elder/deacons) thought it not their responsibility to be apt to teach and so didn't. The final product was in reality no discipleship programs, and the result, no one captured and motivated to evangelize.

I just happen to think that the real key to evangelism is sound indoctrination. Do that, and the rest will follow.

But, I may be wrong...

Gordan Runyan said...

My church is extremely rural, but I might argue with you about how different that makes things, pragmatically. At least, in this day and age, where travelling 15 miles to church is not terribly difficult, and the science of farming and ranching is so advanced that your donkey really doesn't fall in the ditch all that often.

I am interested in the non-attenders, but like I said in another meta, I rebel against the notion that I should have to pursue "new creations in Christ" to herd them in to hear the Word.

Strong Tower said...

I don't think it is miles as much as attitude. I may be wrong, but I would guess that the available distractions of an Atlanta are not present where you're at. But, I don't know. My inlaws attended a rural church when they were living in isolated northeast Wyoming (most of WY is isolated; if you look on a map, we're right next to Pakistan). The folks would travel 35 miles or so to show up. I lived in Tampa and would travel 15 miles to a church on the north side. I could have walked down the block. Or, I could have gone to see the Buckaneers. Then, I don't know, I have never attended a rural church, nor do I really know how differently rural folk think about their obligations church wise.

The reality is that there are multiple reasons for non-attendance and our only guide is to inform those who are not attending of their obligation to Scripture. Once we've carried out the discipline mandates we've done what we should and it is up to them.

I don't think we should herd them, either. Nor would it be appropriate to condemn them for non-attendance, we cannot see the heart. As I said, the actions we took as a church to clear the roles and honestly account for the whereabouts of members went as far as we needed to go. Letters and calls, and some visitations produced few positive results. But, we had done what needed to be done and could then look at the roles and say they were honest.

Obviously there is a reason for such great disparity in numerical reporting between active members and non. It, to me, is not so much how do we get them back, but how to stop the bleed.

God bless

Gordan Runyan said...

ST, I'd say you're pretty close in terms of what you've assumed re: rural churches.

I agree we need to do something about non-attending members. I'm in favor of Biblical discipline.

My point is that when you go after these non-attenders, let's all be clear that what we're probably NOT doing is coaxing the regenerate in to hear the Word of God. Rather, what we're probably doing is what your church did: cleaning up the rolls of some dead weight.