From time to time others have publicly acknowledged the meaningless membership numbers that dominate Southern Baptist statistics. While every honest admission of the problem is commendable, what we desperately need is a willingnes to move beyond acknowledgment of the problem to a serious investigation of its root and cause. Nevertheless, every public recognition of the problem can help move us closer to having such a conversation.
So, with a desire to see Southern Baptists become honest in our advertizing, I pulled the following quotes together.
Paige Patterson on typical Sunday morning congregations:
"Regrettably I have to believe that anytime you stand up and face a congregation these days in the average church you're looking at 30-40% that have never been born again and are not genuinely saved.... I'm talking about in Baptist churches where we supposedly emphasize nothing in the world but regeneration. Lord knows what it is in some others, but I think that's true of us and I think it's because we have been very careless. We've been more concerned about numbers to report to the denominational press than we have been about genuine conversion. So, yes, I'm very concerned about it. Matter of fact, I've got to where, going into churches, I preach hardly anything else but the new birth anymore from one of 18-20 passages that I work from, just because I'm so concerned about that. So, yes, I do share your concern about that. It can't be any other way for us to have as much of the world in the pew as we presently have." Read the whole interview here.
Do the math: If (and let's use Dr. Patterson's conservative estimate here) 30% of the regular Sunday morning attenders "have never been born again and are not genuinely saved" then the that means that only 4 million of the 6 million that tend to show up are converted. That would mean 1 out of 4 Southern Baptists are unconverted...if Dr. Patterson's assessment is correct.
Fifteen years ago the Wall Street Journal noted bogus SBC statistics
The April 25, 1990, edition of the Wall Street Journal carried an indicting article under the headline, "Official Number of Southern Baptists Is Overestimated, Even Their Leaders Agree" (p. A16). It charges that official claims of 14.9 million members are terribly inflated: "Baptist statisticians and even some top denominational officials acknowledge . . . that as many as half of that number no longer set foot in a Southern Baptist Church." Over 4.4 million of these are "so-called non-resident members, a technical term [which, we might add, has absolutely no biblical justification,] that actually allows the counting as members those the church has simply lost touch with."
"Baptist officials say such members should be stricken from church rolls. But in a denomination where membership is often equated with success, few churches will do that." Beyond this special species of members, the article also identifies another 3 million members on our rolls who "haven't attended their church or donated to one in the past year." That leaves about 7.4 million "active" members. But the picture becomes even more bleak when one considers that, according to Sunday School consultant Glenn Smith, included in this "active" figure are those members who only attend once a year at Easter or Christmas.
Former SBC President, Tom Elliff (Jim's brother) on AWOL church members
From a Feb 18, 1997 BP story by By Art Toalston (NASHVILLE, TN)
"I believe we are living in those few moments before sundown." Concern number one: "I believe every member of the Southern Baptist Convention somehow, some way needs to ... certify his or her experience with Christ," said Elliff, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church, Del City, in suburban Oklahoma City. More than half of the nation's 16 million Southern Baptists do not attend church services, Elliff said, asking, "By what right do we just assume that those people really know Christ as their Savior ... and never call them to account -- never call them to certify their experience with Christ?" Acknowledging, "There are always people who think that it's wrong to encourage other people to think through their conversion experience," Elliff cited 2 Corinthians 13:5 in the New Testament: "Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves" (KJV). The word "examine," he said of the language of New Testament times, means "cut right down to the heart of a matter," while the word "prove" means "taking a test." "This is a scriptural mandate," Elliff stated. "Somehow we need to get this business of what true conversion really is into the process of Southern Baptist churches -- Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, every week, 52 weeks of the year. People need to hear, What does it really mea
n to know Christ? What does it really mean to be born again, to be a child of God? What does it really mean to experience genuine conversion, regeneration?"
Elliff contended: "If all the people that we say are truly born again are truly born again, we'd be a force to be reckoned with in this nation." Southern Baptists "could virtually have their sway in many arenas in this nation, if we were really hot for God."