Across America, church statistics reveal denominations hemorrhaging members and receiving diminishing contributions. While the SBC’s trends are not as alarming as most Protestant denominations, our recent slate of statistics reveal we too have reason to be concerned. In as much as these statistics are symptomatic of deeper, spiritual realities, they are troubling indeed.
In spite of statistics that show decreases in certain key denominational metrics—including baptisms—I am actually encouraged about the SBC. My encouragement is not rooted in some political calculation, nor in the assurance of a near-term reversal in trend lines. My encouragement is rooted in what God appears to be doing in at least five key areas of our convention.
Denominational meetings aren’t known for inspiring the heart, but I have attended two in recent days that did just that. The first was an unofficial gathering of about 100 SBC servants and pastors for prayer and dialogue; the other was an official, SBC Executive Committee meeting.
In those settings, I was struck again by my true admiration for those God has placed in leadership positions in the SBC. In these gatherings, confession and humility displaced pride and self-promotion, and a collective yearning for God to do a new, reviving work in his church was prevalent.
Imperfection abounds, but I’ve consistently found our leaders worthy of respect, appreciation, and even admiration. As Southern Baptists, we have leaders worth following.
Though each SBC entity faces ongoing funding challenges, a careful look reveals agencies performing remarkably well. In fact, 35 years after the Conservative Resurgence, the SBC is reaping what it has sown in our entities—and it is dramatically positive.
We have over 16,000 students enrolled—in one degree program or another—in the six SBC seminaries, ranking all of them among the top ten in North America. These students are studying under faculties committed to the BF&M 2000, the local church, and the Great Commission.
Even more encouraging is the quality of our students. At Midwestern Seminary—and, by observation, all six SBC seminaries—our students are convictional for biblical truth, passionate about the Great Commission, courageous in the face of stiff cultural headwinds, and in love with the local church.
Our two mission boards—under the strong leadership of Kevin Ezell and David Platt—are channeling this generational commitment, where a new wave of church planters and missionaries are proving ready and willing. The ERLC continues to be a prophetic—and increasingly needed—voice, speaking to and for Southern Baptists. LifeWay, GuideStone, and the Executive Committee continue to serve with marked faithfulness as well.
The BF&M 2000 is robustly biblical, affirming both historic Christian orthodoxy and Baptist distinctives. Our convictions form the theological framework for our denomination, and serve as the foundation for our collective Great Commission efforts.
While many Protestant denominations appear to be in competition to see who can become the most unbiblical the fastest, Southern Baptists have repeatedly demonstrated their commitment to biblical truth.
While I, like all stakeholders, am concerned about the weakening of the Cooperative Program over the past several decades, I am still amazed at the level of ministry partnership the SBC enjoys. We are an eclectic group. Even with our different ages, geographic regions, theological and cultural flavors, we still partner together in ways that provoke envy amongst most every other evangelical denomination.
Pugilistic personalities will always be among us, and kamikaze bloggers will unfairly criticize. But the fact that nearly 16,000,000 freethinking Southern Baptists congregated in more than 46,000 churches partner as we do continues to encourage me greatly.
We often say the Southern Baptist Convention’s headquarters are not located in Nashville, but in the 46,000 churches of the SBC. This is true, and it is my joy to visit dozens of these headquarters yearly. My encouragement is not placed in demographic trends within our churches, but in the people in the pew, who love the gospel, the Bible, and one another. Seeing this always encourages me.
It has been said that numbers are like people—if you squeeze them hard enough you can make them say most anything. I’ll not squeeze numbers and try to find good news where it cannot be found.
Our numbers have always been much softer than they appear, especially when one contrasts total membership with actual church participation. In this regard, Adrian Rogers once quipped, “We Southern Baptists may be many, but we ain’t much.”
In the years to come, we may become smaller in number, but more robust in witness. We can have a future—and a healthy one—as a denomination that is smaller by certain metrics but more biblical, evangelistic, and fervent.
Let’s not grow discouraged because of a downward line on a graph. Christianity is more than a statistic. What God does in his church, and in the hearts of men, often surpasses our ability to quantify, especially by the world’s standards. Lets pray, witness, seek the Lord, and thank him for the many signs of grace we still see on his people, Southern Baptists.topicsSouthern Baptist Convention