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.