Southern Baptist Numbers Are Shrinking

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Southern Baptists are holding their annual meeting in Phoenix today and tomorrow.  And this largest Protestant denomination in America is  having to face up to the fact that their numbers are dwindling.

From 16.3 million members in 2003, the church body is down in members (to 15.2 million), worship attendance, and baptisms of new converts.  This has been happening over a number of years, so it constitutes a trend.

The problem isn’t that the country is turning away from conservative Christianity.  The trend documented over the last several decades that conservative churches are growing, while liberal churches are declining still holds true.  But not all conservative churches are growing, as Missouri Synod Lutherans and now the Baptists well know.  The Assemblies of God denomination is still booming, for example.

Not that numerical growth should be the sole criterion for assessing how a denomination is doing.  Integrity and faithfulness are far more important.  But the question is, if conservative churches are growing–as Dean Kelley documented in his important study back in 1972–why are some growing and some are not?

Some are blaming the Baptists’ association with the Christian right as part of the reason for their decline.  But Pentecostals went all in for Donald Trump and they are doing fine.

Any ideas for why the Baptists are having trouble?

And are there any lessons for us Lutherans?

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Converts to “religion of freedom” are boosting church attendance in Europe

refugees-A-INThe Muslim immigrants converting to Christianity are having a noticeable effect on church growth and church attendance in Europe.  (See this, this, and this.)

For the last few decades, churches have been almost empty on Sunday mornings. But congregations that have evangelized Muslims are coming back to life.  For example, theTrinity Lutheran Church in Berlin, which we have blogged about, used to have 150 parishioners.  Now they have 700.

The phenomenon has spread to England.  One Anglican bishop says that one out of four of the confirmations he performs are for Muslims converting to Christianity.

Two stories from British sources after the jump.  They give some inspiring testimonies about how some of these immigrants came to Christ.  A common theme:  the realization that Christianity is “the religion of freedom.”

I suppose there is a connection between the freedom of religion and the religion of freedom! [Read more…]

Will Islam become the world’s largest religion?

religion-882281_640A new study says that Islam will pass Christianity as the world’s largest religion by 2070.

The report says that in 2050, Muslims will make up 10% of the European population.  But they will number only 2.1% in the United States.

Interestingly, the study also says that the number of atheists and non-religious affiliated will decline globally.

This may very well be, but, like many statistical studies, it is mainly just an extrapolation of current numbers over time.  Muslims have a higher birth rate than Christians do, so if we graph that out, their numbers will be higher by 2070.

Other scenarios are not factored in.  For example, what if some of the 10% of the European population that has an Islamic heritage convert to Christianity, now that they can be exposed to it?  That may depend on Christianity reviving in Europe, but that is not outside the possibility of the grace of God.  Or what if the brutality of ISIS and the Islamic terrorism that is rampant in the Middle East creates a reaction against the religion?  Or what if the Westernization of Islamic countries creates a decline in the birth rate?  Or what if the Christian birth rate shoots up?

Lots of things can happen, there being many more variables and unpredictabilities in life than a single statistical trend.

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“The crowd is untruth”

Soren_KierkegaardIn our discussion of yesterday’s post The Problem with Crowds, Stefan Stackhouse linked to an essay by Søren Kierkegaard, The Crowd is Untruth.  That essay is shockingly profound,, with great resonance for today.

The Danish Lutheran/proto-existentialist takes a theological, as well as ethical, view of crowds.  He points out that the Bible says, “Love thy neighbor”; not “love the crowd.”  He deals with “the daily press” and its creation of an abstract “public” that assumes an authority over what we are supposed to consider true.  He critiques those whose profession it is to lead a crowd and how they often ignore an individual in need because of their obsession with big numbers.   He addresses preaching.  (Yes, one can legitimately preach to a hundred thousand, as well as to ten.  But don’t let the desire to attract a hundred thousand determine what you are going to preach.)  He warns against the “numerical”–attending to numbers as your main criterion.

Pastors of big churches and of small churches should read this essay, excerpted after the jump.  So should church growth consultants, who often give the direct contrary advice.  (Large congregations don’t have to be “crowds” in this sense.  And small congregations should be appreciated, though they too can turn into smaller “crowds.”)

You don’t have to agree with Kierkegaard on everything to appreciate the force of his argument here.  But let me raise a question:  How can we avoid the danger of the crowd being untruth while acknowledging the corporate nature of the Christian faith?  Some Christians do have a completely individualistic understanding of Christianity–as in Tom T. Hall’s song “Me and Jesus”–with no need, as in that song, for the Church.

I suspect Kierkegaard’s answer would be in terms of how Christianity is for “the one,” yet “everyone can become that one.”  And in what he says about the love of neighbor.  Does this solve the dilemma, or is he taking individualism too far?

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Theology & church growth

Boston_Garden_church_serviceCanadian researchers conducted a study of mainline Protestant churches (Anglican, Presbyterian, Uniting, and Evangelical Lutheran [the liberal denomination, as opposed to the confessional Lutheran Church of Canada]), comparing traits in congregations that were growing and those that are not.

They found that congregations that were theologically conservative are growing, and those that were theologically liberal are not.  (Go here for the complete study.)

After the jump, religion columnist Terry Mattingly reports on the findings, giving the breakdown on specific theological points that growing churches affirm and shrinking churches reject.

Notice that this study applies to mainline Protestant churches; that is, to denominations that are, on the whole, already on the liberal side, at least in their national leadership.  I’m curious about conservative denominations, some of which (such as the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod and even, as I recall, the Southern Baptists) are stalled in their growth, though they aren’t declining as much as their liberal counterparts.

Granted that growth is not the main measurement of a church’s effectiveness and that growth is contingent on many different factors, such as location and demographics, this at least shows that orthodox theology is NOT an obstacle to growth, as has sometimes been implied. [Read more…]

Where Christianity is growing the fastest

The world’s fastest growing church is that of IRAN.

Despite–or maybe because of–horrific persecution, the number of Christians in Iran has shot up from around 500 in 1979 to hundreds of thousands, maybe over a million, today.  More people have become Christians in the last 20 years than have done so in the 13 centuries of Islamic domination combined.

In second place: AFGHANISTAN.

So reports Mark Howard and his sources, excerpted and linked after the jump.

All of which is instructive for us depressed and discouraged American Christians.  If God can build His church in lands of such anti-Christian hostiity as Iran and Afghanistan, He can build it here.  And if those Christians can live out their faith in the face of such powerful cultural opposition and government-sponsored persecution, with our far smaller problems, we can too.

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