Wednesday, April 23, 2008

ACP statistics released for 2007

Chris Turner, Media Relations Manager for LifeWay, has issued a report on the 2007 Annual Church Profile report for the Southern Baptist Convention. Some of the numbers are alarming enough to cause Ed Stetzer to say that "For now, Southern Baptists are a denomination in decline."

Stetzer has some insightful commentary on what the numbers indicate and he has some good suggestions on what those of us who are committed to laboring within the SBC should do. Three issues that the ACP call us to note, according to Stetzer, are, 1) the loss of SBC leaders-- especially ethnic and younger leaders who are abandoning the SBC; 2) the public infighting that characterizes so much of the SBC culture; 3) "Our loss of focus on the Gospel." Stezter writes, "We must recover a gospel centrality and cooperate in proclaiming that gospel locally and globally." Amen.

No doubt there will be various interpretations of these numbers over the next several weeks leading up to the annual meeting in Indianapolis. It is impossible to say exactly what they mean with any certainty. Baptisms are down to the lowest number since 1987. Total membership is down. Typical Sunday morning worship attendance is slightly up.

Those who lament the baptism statistics do so because they believe that the reported number of baptisms is a true indicator of the effectiveness of our evangelism. Where the Gospel is clearly understood and central to the evangelistic enterprise, that is a reasonable belief. In a day, however, when the Gospel has been lost or at least marginalized, that belief is debatable.

Regardless of how you interpret the numbers, they serve as a reminder of how desperately we need reformation and revival in our churches. Surely no one who loves the SBC would dispute that. And, surely, no one would take that as an expression of disloyalty to all things SBC. Time for denominational posturing and boasting is long past. It is time for humility and integrity.

16 comments:

SS&SG said...

I think younger leaders would stay if we in the SBC would stop the harsh infighting. As regards the loss of the Gospel, I think that it would be good for those on both sides of the SBC calvinism debate to come together around the Gospel. I think it needs to be intentional. We need to come together and define the Gospel. And we need to have a unifying message as to how the Gospel has been watered down as to be rendered nonexistent. I think that the problem is that the Calvinism debate has become such a intense debate that even when we agree, or should agree, we tend not to come together because, for some of us, we have an us-enemy mentality.
I could be wrong in my analysis, but that is the way it appears to me.
Stephen

ABClay said...

Will there ever be a day when we (as a conference) rest in knowing that it is not up to us to save people?I think this is why the recovery of the Gospel is so important.

Perhaps we aren't reaching the people we need to reach because the "Gospel" that is being preached is so foreign to the true Gospel that even the "non-elect" don't know to reject it. (thanks JMac)

The numbers game is really tiresome. If our local church is a new testament church, they will surely keep track of their numbers, but they will not fret over what their numbers do or mean.

Grace and Peace...

ABClay

DoGLover said...

Perhaps the failure of the resurgence to produce the desired evangelistic fervor lies in the fact that engaging the head doesn't necessarily connote engaging the heart. Having the right words in our confession doesn't automatically lead to a change of affections.

On the other hand, could it be that some churches are beginning to become honest about their reporting? Are we beginning to ask questions of those who walk the aisle? Are we beginning to instruct people in the gospel before declaring them members?

I hope the latter is the case, but I suspect not.

J.D. Rector said...

Personally, I think it is high time for MY church and all the churches of the SBC to teach and demand that our members show some evidence of a regenerate church membership. IF you do not show up for a number of days, months, and yes... even for a number of years, it is time for us to remove such people from our church rolls.

I am amazed that when I share this view, I am looked at with disdain from many in our denomination. Ironically, I have local civic organizations that will not tolerate absentee-type membership from those who desire to be a member of their organization.

Jesus said that HE would build HIS church! Let's be the church that Jesus is building and do it effectively. I think it is more than high time that we demand expectations and responsibilities from our church members that show a genuine regenerate church. membership.

Someone correct me if you think I am erring in my thoughts here...
For the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ and God's glory!
J.D.Rector

SS&SG said...

It seems to me that we have for a long while been much smaller than we thought!

Debbie Kaufman said...

JD: I am just as concerned that we do not become zealots in the other direction. I can see years, possibly even months. But days, weeks? We shouldn't be so eager to group everyone who does not show up under the unregenerate umbrella, but on a case by case basis.

We should be careful as there may be personal circumstances as to why one does not show up for days, weeks and even months even years. We need to leave room for the Holy Spirit to work, and not be the Holy Spirit. I just don't think we should be so quick to write someone off, we are speaking of human beings here.

For Sale By Owner said...

Tom,

Did you see this garbage by Bruce Prescott (sorry I don't know how to classify it any other way). Prescott has outdone himself here, given that he presents absolutely NO evidence to back up his claim that "Calvinism being taught in the SBC's fundamentalist dominated seminaries would have an adverse impact on evangelism."

And the link he offerss (besides Stetzer's work - which absolutely does NOT indict Calvinism as a problem with Evangelism) in making this claim is a survey of "254 readers who responded to [their] online poll between April 20 and July 15, 1999" in which it is claimed that "59% [of respondants] say Calvinism in our seminaries has undermined Baptist's commitment to the Great Commission."

Seriously?

Like I said - GARBAGE.

Stan McCullars said...

J.D. Rector,
I think you're on the money. BTW, I see you're serving at Lakeview Baptist Church in Auburn. My wife and I became Christians under the preaching of Al Jackson in 1986. I belive ours was the first wedding Cliff Knight performed (officiated?). In fact, God was pleased to save our son's life using Al's sermon of January 12, 1986. Please tell the Jacksons and Knights hello for me.

Debbie,
In my opinion, if someone is able and doesn't show up at church for months or years they need to find a new church. This will not hinder the Holy Spirit in any way. Paul writes in 1 Cor 5:5 "...you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord." In 1 Tim 1:20 he writes that he "handed over" Hymenaeus and Alexander "to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme." It seems that these examples would be applicable when church members are "neglecting to meet together" as in Hebrews 10:25.

The purpose isn't to "write someone off" but rather to discipline in the hope that they will repent.

J.D. Rector said...

Debbie:
I do not write everyone off as under the unregenerate umbrella for not showing up. As the Congregational Care Pastor now for nearly 20 years in my fellowship, I know those who are physically disadvantaged that live within the geographical area of our church campus. I also know the ones who are NOT physically disabled.

The Word says that ".. faith without works is DEAD!" (emphasis mine) Yes, we are all human beings. That means that I have a fallen sin nature. Totally depraved... spiritually dead! You are correct about letting the Holy Spirit work. Nonetheless, my study of the NT teaches that when the Holy Spirit truly regenerates a totally depraved, spiritually dead human being... they become alive. "Created in Christ Jesus to do good works..."

The works doesn't save them any more than putting makeup on a dead person makes them "alive".

I really believe that when I am committed to Jesus Christ, I WILL be committed to HIS commands and HIS church.
Your brother in Christ...
J.D.Rector

J.D. Rector said...

Stan:
You became a part of Lakeview while I was in seminary at Mid-America. I will give your regards to Cliff and Bro Al!
Thanks for your comments!
J.D.Rector

Tom said...

FSBO:

Yeah, I read Bruce's ... uh.. uh...well, I read what he wrote about this. If that's the best that "mainstream Baptists" can offer by way of analysis then I am doubly grateful to in a completely different river.

J.D.:

I hear you, brother. I appreciate Debbie's cautions, but I guess knowing you somewhat I assumed that you already had those in mind when you wrote what you did. My prayer today has been that this report will serve to arouse many SBC pastors to do the kind of examination of our evangelism, discipleship and church membership that results in greater faithfulness to God's Word.

Stan McCullars said...

for sale by owner,
You said Bruce Prescott. It should be Dr. Bruce Prescott. Apparently he's educated.

I guess he was sleeping when they covered "post hoc ergo propter hoc."

GeneMBridges said...

It is impossible to say exactly what they mean with any certainty. Baptisms are down to the lowest number since 1987. Total membership is down. Typical Sunday morning worship attendance is slightly up.

Having at one time held a job where interpreting statistics in public health was involved, allow me to make a quick observation by way of analogy.

Let's say you think that a particular disease is being transmitted in a geographical area, because reported numbers are up. Your job is prevention and treatment, so you do two things (a) You work on a prevention project (b) you test as many people as possible. All other things being equal, (A) is for your long term. The numbers will go down. However (B) will very likely make the numbers increase in the short term, because you're simply catching people who might have otherwise
slipped by and not shown up until one or more reporting periods later.

So, with that idea in mind...

If the SBC does get serious about church membership, right baptism, and the Gospel, it is likely that, in the short term the numbers will go down.

Take Art Rogers church. They culled out many, many members. I know a church in my area that says they have 900 people. 600 are Sunday School members. 300 actually show up on Sunday, and it's a very consistent 300 people. So, if they trimmed the roll, they would lose 600 people from membership.

Now, there's a chance that might even out somewhere else. Say there is one other church where the other 600 all are, and they are serious about keeping their rolls up-to-date. The number may balance out. You've found the lost members. On the other hand, if not a one is to be found, and,worse, if 500 of that 600 is truant and Church B isn't seriously vigilant, then the dip will be bigger, because now, you're showing Church A as - 600 and Church B as - 500. So, the net loss of 600 is joined by - 500 more, due to the other church. Now, that's only 500 people lost,because you know where 100 of them are - but two churches are counting them, not one

So, I would remind y'all that, as folks get serious about church membership, the numbers will fall at least in the short term. The big battle should not be over "what do the numbers mean?" It should be over defeating the "Bigger is better" view of statistics - because that attitude is so very prevalent in the Convention, and even in IFBx circles.

The large numbers might show, for example, what they showed for Art's church. They "lost" a lot of people, but they found out that the people that were being faithful were people who had been faithful for a long time. That's encouraging, because it tells the pastors, deacons, and members that God has been at work among them all along - but it's been a candle hidden under the bush. Remove the dead branches, and you can see the light.

Trim a crepe myrtle, and next year, its blossoms are beautiful. Let it get too big, and the tree will inevitably break under its own weight.

So, it would be helpful, I think, to point out not simply that the SBC churches need to get serious about this, but that it is beneficial in the long term to do so. It's also beneficial in the short term, for you find out what God has been doing in your midst that you could not see clearly.

I would also point out that the PCA in some areas is growing because Baptists are leaving Baptist churches where they feel like strangers. They have chosen to become Presbyterian because they feel the Gospel is more important than ecclesiology, because the doctrines of grace believed and taught is more important than baptism. As SBC churches take on more Calvinist and Amyraldian pastors, it may be helpful to find out who left for the Presbyterians, not because they suddenly became Paedobaptists (and some have) but because of these issues. Baptist churches could win those persons back. The big joke in the PCA is that a large portion of their new members are Baptist Calvinists.

Rev. E. Scott Hart said...

You almost had to expect this with the way that those who hold to Gospel-rich theology (Calvinist one might say) are lambasted. To me, the more they (non-Calvinists) point fingers, the more it says their way just isn’t working and they are worried. Maybe, but doubtful, a true desire to read and study the scripture to know God, and His will, will come from this.

kingofbleh said...

ss&sg said -

"I think that it would be good for those on both sides of the SBC calvinism debate to come together around the Gospel."

This has been done at least twice in recent years (Bapt. Identity and Building Bridges). Not to mention the Together for the Gospel conferences which are open to Baptists of all stripes and hues. How many more times do we need to keep inviting fundamentalists, moderates, arminians, synergists, mega-church types and every other subgroup to the table before they will actually show up? With all due respect for those non-Calvinists who have shown up to speak, most of them have been either seminary professors or denominational leaders.

"I think that the problem is that the Calvinism debate has become such a intense debate that even when we agree, or should agree, we tend not to come together because, for some of us, we have an us-enemy mentality."

As you no doubt may have read on this site and in other places, most of the heat is coming from one side, and most of THAT heat is coming from north Georgia or western Virginia.

Anonymous said...

I read Bruce Prescott's article: Calvinism Leads Southern Baptists into Decline.

Hogwash. That may be his personal opinion, but he is totally incorrect. In November of 2007 I attended the "Building Bridges" (between Calvinists and non-Calvinists) Conference at Ridgecrest, NC, with my pastor. At the beginning of the conference, several studies were presented that confirmed, statistically, there was no difference in baptisms between same size SB churches that were Calvinistic and non-Calvinist. Furthermore, it was demonstrated that Calvinistic SB churches were no less evangelistic than non-Calvinist churches.

I came to the SBC from a Methodist upbringing. My first SB pastor was Arminian so other than the security of the believer, I didn't notice a lot of difference (apart from Baptists seemed to be more roughty in the sanctuary). After some years of intense personal Bible study I came to the conclusion (on my own) that the Bible taught Regeneration/the new birth MUST precede Conversion. This was foreign to my pastor, but he couldn't make a convincing "scriptural" argument to refute it. So, slowly, I became what I later learned was a Calvinist (not hyper).

This made me MORE evangelistic. I reasoned that 1.) I was commanded by Christ to go... 2.) The God who decreed foreordination also decreed the means - I was to go... and 3.) Since some were elect, some would respond. Only later did I learn this was classic Calvinistic thought.

For the last four years I have taught a discipleship class in evangelism at my church. And my students are far better at presenting the Gospel and far more evangelistic than those who have been trained to simply steer the conversation to the point where the prospect parrots the "sinner's prayer," and then reports him as saved. Calvinism, properly understood, results in more (and Biblical) evangelism, not less.