The State of the SBC

Here is the thing about bad news.  Life brings it to everyone eventually.  When it is your turn, do not be afraid of it.  Do Not avoid or run away from it.  Do Not ignore it.  Do Not look for someone to blame for it.  Do let it change your behavior, if necessary, so that the bad news can eventually become good news again.  It is a call to action more than a call to judgment.

 

Click to enlarge this chart by NOBTS professor Dr. Bill Day.

Southern Baptists got some bad news this week.  LifeWay released the Annual Church Profile report (ACP) that provides a statistical snapshot on how the Southern Baptist Convention and its churches are doing, and the news was not good. Baptist Press has provided a summary of the report here. The SBC did have a larger number of churches, and that is truly good, encouraging news.  However, SBC churches baptized fewer people, had fewer members, and fewer of the members actually attended worship services in spite of adding new churches.  Those are extremely important statistical categories.  The report compared the numbers for the year ending September 30, 2016 to the year ending September 30, 2015, and nearly all the numbers were down from the previous year.  That is not the true bad news.  The true bad news is that when you put last year in the context of all previous years, it indicates the SBC is in the midst of a decline that shows no signs of either slowing down or turning around.  To the right is a chart by NOBTS professor Dr. Bill Day.  It shows the total number of SBC churches and the total number of SBC baptisms since 1881.

 

You can see quite clearly the gap between churches and baptisms that began in the year 2000 and has grown steadily wider ever since.  You can see there is no comparable gap in all our previous years.  You can also see there is no indication the decline is slowing down or turning around.  The gap between the number of churches and the number of people responding to the gospel and being baptized grows steadily wider.  It isn’t the number of baptisms.  In 2015-16 the SBC had the smallest number of baptisms since 1946, the smallest number of members since 1990, and the smallest number of people in worship since 1996.  And those smaller numbers are in spite of a steadily growing number of churches.

 

What do these things mean?  Consider it official.  The SBC is in decline, and it has been so for a number of years.  The typical SBC church is struggling mightily to reach people for Christ in its city, town, or community, and it is struggling mightily to keep present members engaged.  Pastors, please know you are not alone in your struggles, and nearly everyone leading a church is facing some variation of the same challenges you face.

 

Also, discipleship is at the root of our struggles.  SBC churches must find strategies to help their people look and live like Jesus in observable ways.  Every strategy for evangelism from the first century until today assumes the life with Jesus is different from the life without Jesus.  We must live distinctively if we are to be fruitful in reaching people for Christ.  There will be no growth in evangelism without a growth in Christlikeness in how Southern Baptists live.

 

Finally, Southern Baptists must be intentional in seeking opportunities to have gospel conversations with people outside the walls of the church.  There is always a current nudging us away from sharing our faith.  It takes focused attention to make and keep evangelism a priority in your own life and in your church.  All of us need to ask and answer these questions regularly: What is my plan for evangelism, and what am I doing today to execute that plan?

 

God still moves.  We must never forget He is able to awaken the sleeping church, invigorate the tired church, and resurrect the dead church.  We must cry out for Him to do these things in, with, and for all of us now.

 

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8 comments

  • Love the article.

    Just curious though, won’t Christlikeness follow as a result of increased evangelism? Christlikeness seems like a characteristic we might attain through obedience to the Holy Spirit in performing our daily exercises of prayer, Bible study, fellowship and evangelism.

    I am very passionate about this and would love to discuss a strategy for increasing evangelism training in the SBC. Evangelism seems to take a back seat as an exercise we encourage people to do once they reach some elusive benchmark in their walk.

    The way I see it, skipping evangelism is like skipping leg day in the gym. You look good up top worshipping and going to church, but your walk is powerless and you don’t get anywhere in Christlikeness without pouring into those far from God what God has been pouring into you.

    In the three SBC churches I’ve served in, evangelism training has been nonexistent. We talk about it a lot, but no one teaches it. Unfortunately, evangelism took up only a fraction of my academic studies in my undergrad program at BCF and in my MDiv program at NOBTS.

    If we start teaching people how to answer those two wonderful assessment questions:
    1) What’s my plan?
    2) How will I execute it?
    I believe we will see a reverse in the trends mentioned in your article.

    If we care about changing the population of the pews and keeping the exit steps in the baptismal wet, we have got to get serious enough to take data and articles like this and process them into practical training strategies that will sink into our DNA as Christians and ignite a fire to reach the lost.

    If we teach people how to exercise their legs (evangelism), they’ll be forced to look at Scripture and rely on prayer to see fruit for their labor. This will put potency in their time spent under the steeple and get them courageous enough to preach Jesus to the barista across the counter. The end result will be “Christlikeness” sitting in our congregations and working in our cafes, and we’ll be bringing wet towels home to wash and dry for next Sunday.

    I’m with you, Dr. Kelley! Let’s get a game plan!

    • Leslie Puryear says:

      Nick,

      I completely agree. While it is a worthy priority to “make disciples,”
      we can’t “make disciples” until we are active in evangelism. For decades,
      our priority has always been evangelism. We need to regain evangelism
      as our main priority.

      Les Puryear

  • David Burton says:

    DR. KELLEY,
    Great strong word. Thank you for helping us all remember that sharing and winning people to Jesus is key,

    I believe we need to be sharing the ‘plan of salvation’ intentionally, aggressively and unapologeticly. We’re hearing discipleship, discipleship, leadership, leadership, plant, plant…. and I too believe in discipleship, leadership and planting…..and I am having the joy of doing all 3 right now in my ministry. Praise the Lord. But I also believe in order to disciple them…. We must win them! (Who else would we disciple?) And the only way to win them is to intentionally share with them.

    That’s where we fall short. We must begin to teach and train again the simple biblical principles of personal evangelism. Don’t be afraid of what we used to call ‘programs.’ And I believe using that term just may be a a cop out for many people. Oh God forgive us. Those programs taught more people how to share Jesus 1 on 1 with friends, relatives, neighbors and coworkers than anything we’ve done since. (I challenge anyone to prove me wrong) and to be absolutely honest and transparent …these methods were not really “programs”…..They were not canned outlines/ presentations….They were God anointed principles and tools used to help create a wonderful presentation of the GOOD NEWS.

    The answers to the problem ….. It WAS and IS sharing the Word of God. We must remember the Bible says “faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” (Rom. 10:17) People will not be BORN AGAIN by osmosis. It all can start again with pastors…or sold out committed lay folks. It doesn’t matter. Just a God fearing person ready to say “yes, here I am Lord use me!” Oh for Pastors to have and show a passion once again to help their people share the greatest news in all the world.

    Yes, people who’ve been in our churches for years should know better. We do need (discipleship/leadership) to continue teaching the old Saint how to regain confidence in doing what we know they want to do…and that is “share Jesus.” We also know that young Christians/New Believers/new Christ Followers… are more excited and seemingly more productive in winning people to Jesus than those who have been saved for a long time. So let’s win NEW people, teach them how to share their faith while they are still around a lost generation and we will begin to see a fresh new HARVEST again.

    I’ll never forget what I heard some years ago….”ain’t nobody ever got saved that ain’t heard the good news!”

    Oh Lord, please help us all to be found faithful in helping accomplish the great commission. It is something every believer is to be a part of. And I know every true Born Again, Washed in the Blood Believer…truly wants to share Jesus. They really want to talk to others about Jesus. Help us as leaders to teach them how. May we remember that we are to “equip the saints for the work of the ministry.” (Eph. 4:12)

    God, Help us remember to challenge those we influence and remind them they’re all to do the work of an evangelist. (2Tim. 4:5) Oh that They would lose sight of thinking that it’s only for a few or the other guy or the one with “the GIFT”. Oh God, it’s for all of us.

    If all of us that know Jesus would just share Jesus once every day or just once every week we would see millions come to know your SON regularly. Oh God may you see it again in the heart and passion of Southern Baptist and all Christianity around the globe.
    Romans 8:31
    David Burton
    DavidBurtonMinistries.com

  • DivDel.com says:

    […] is in the midst of a decline that shows no signs of either slowing down or turning around,” said Chuck Kelly, the seminary’s […]

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  • […] SBC is in the midst of a decline that shows no signs of either slowing down or turning around,” said Chuck Kelly, the seminary’s […]

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