The Southern Baptist Convention released their Annual Church Profile and it is cause for alarm, not just among Baptist churches in America, but other evangelicals as well.
Too much emphasis should not be placed on the numbers of one specific year, but it can give a glimpse at the overall trends happening within the SBC. And the trends are not positive.
For the second year in a row, Southern Baptists experienced a decline in baptisms, down 1.46 percent to 310,368. Reported baptisms have declined seven of the last nine years.
While the number of SBC churches grew in 2013, the reported membership of those churches declined by 136,764, down 0.9 percent to 15.7 million members. Primary worship attendance declined 2.21 percent to an average of 5.8 million Sunday worshippers.
This is troubling for the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S., but it could also spell trouble for other conservative evangelical churches. The challenges affecting the SBC are not limited to only Southern Baptist congregations.
But the good news is that these challenges have been identified and solutions are available.
Clearly, the primary issue is spiritual, as SBC leaders Thom Rainer and Frank Page said.
“I am grieved we are clearly losing our evangelistic effectiveness,” said Thom S. Rainer, president and CEO of Lifeway Christian Resources. “I continue to pray for revival and a renewed passion for the Great Commission in our churches. May God renew all of us, including me, with a greater heart for the lost.”
Commenting on the annual summary, Frank S. Page, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, cited Old Testament prophet Amos: “Woe to you who are at ease in Zion.” (Amos 6:1)
“That warning in the Book of Amos is a clear call to the people of God who have lowered their guard, relaxed their vigilance, and reduced their commitment and passion for the things of God,” Page said. “That very same thing can be said of our modern-day churches as we yet again see a disappointing decline in our ability to reach our continent for Christ.”
Page said he is thankful for an increase in the number of churches, but lamented a “lack of passion for reaching people for Christ. The numbers of people in our continent are increasing dramatically while our evangelistic efforts are failing in many places and in many ways.”
“God help us realize the great needs that are before us and the great opportunities that are there. Lord, forgive us of being at ease in Zion,” he said.
A spiritual change, however, should result in practical displays. Those could be summed up in three statements.
- Recognize the value of commitment.
- Recognize the value of small groups.
- Recognize when a church is dying.