Southern Baptist Numbers Are Shrinking


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?

[Read more…]

Baptists discovering toddler baptism

Southern Baptists are concerned that the number of baptisms is way down.  (And yet many of their churches are growing.  Is it that converts, new members, and the Millennial generation are unwilling today to be baptized?)  But one demographic of Baptists is getting baptized in greater and greater numbers:  children five and under.

That is not all that different from what we Lutherans practice as infant baptism.  Traditionally, Baptists–who require faith as a precondition of baptism, rather than seeing baptism as a means of grace and the faith that receives it– have insisted that infants and young children cannot have faith.  I have never understood that.  Of course babies and toddlers can have faith.  They have faith–which has to do with trust, a sense of dependency, and relationship and is never just intellectual knowledge–in their parents.  Why not in their Heavenly Father?  So I salute this trend among Baptists! [Read more…]

Baptists embracing the liturgy

A growing number of Baptists are turning to liturgical worship.  So says the Associated Baptist Press and a new book on the subject.  Why?  Because liturgy is inherently “missional.”  And because it attracts young people.

Now that the church growth movement has come completely full circle, could we Lutherans take up a collection to send a copy of this book, entitled Gathering Together:  Baptists at Work in Worship, to every pastor and district executive involved with throwing out the liturgy in the name of being “missional” and attracting young people?  Maybe they will appreciate liturgical worship now that Baptists are doing it. [Read more…]

From Moral Majority to Prophetic Minority

Russell Moore–identified as one of those mythical “Lutheran Baptists“–is the new spokesman for the Southern Baptist Convention on social issues. He is taking a different approach from the conventional political activist on the “Christian right.”  He says that Christians have lost the so-called “culture wars” and that the loss of Christian cultural dominance may actually be good for the church.  He says that Christians need to stop thinking of themselves as “the moral majority.”  Instead, they have to see themselves as the “prophetic minority.”

After the jump, excerpts from a Wall Street Journal piece on Dr. Moore by the outstanding Christian writer Naomi Schaefer Riley, who interviewed him for her story. [Read more…]

Recovering the freakishness of Christianity

Russell Moore, identified as per our previous discussion as one of those “Lutheran Baptists,” was recently appointed head of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, which makes pronouncements on public policy for that church body.  But Rev. Moore is going far beyond the usual rightwing talking points that have been associated with Christian conservatives.  In an interview with Michelle Boorstein of the Washington Post, he gives some thoughtful comments about generic civil religion, abortion, military chaplains, and religious freedom. [Read more…]

Southern Baptists cracking down on Calvinism

So what’s this about Southern Baptists cracking down on the Calvinists in their midst?

See As Baptists Prepare to Meet, Calvinism Debate Shifts to Heresy Accusation | Christianity Today.

Do Lutherans have a dog in this fight?