Continuing Decline in the SBC

According to the Associated Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention continues to see declines in both conversions and membership:

Annual baptisms in Southern Baptist churches have declined by 100,000 in the last 12 years, last year dropping to the smallest number in 64 years.

LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention released figures June 5 reporting 314,959 baptisms in 2012, down 18,385 – or 5.5 percent – from 2011.

Total membership of 15,872,404 marked the sixth straight year of statistical decline for the nation’s second-largest faith group behind Roman Catholics. Membership dropped by 105,000 – two-thirds of a percent. Weekly worship attendance, meanwhile, fell below 6 million to 5,966,735, down 3 percent.

This continues the trend that Christine Wicker wrote about in The Fall of the Evangelical Nation. Actually, she argued that it is worse than it appears. The attendance is exaggerated and baptisms mainly recycle members from one church to another. While we found Wicker’s thesis somewhat dicey when it first came out, the core of it seems to be playing out as she predicted.

The folks at Wartburg Watch agree:

Many leaders quietly admit that the numbers are worse than reported. Most insiders agree that the number of SBC members is actually around 8+ million. The Baptists have a penchant for leaving members on church rolls for years, even after members leave a church. They also double and triple count some of them as they hop from church to church.

Even the gold numeric standard of most SBC churches, baptisms, has questionable application as a measure of new converts. Some Baptist churches rebaptize those who were sprinkled or baptized as children as well as those who were baptized in “suspect” Baptist churches. [...]

It is important to realize that this decline in numbers have occurred since the Conservative Resurgence and the increased influence of Calvinism within the SBC. Both of those movements were supposed to be the salvation of the SBC.Yet, this decline is continuing, in spite of an increased emphasis on church planting. So what is going on?

There are no shortage of answers to that question. ABP lists several, mostly the boogeymen of the right: factionalism, self-interest and loss of zeal. As in every conservative movement, when problems occur the solution is to unify and recommit. The movement can never fail, it can only be failed.

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