What We Can Learn From the Baptists

The Southern Baptists just concluded their annual convention in Orlando. Attendance this year was estimated at 11,000 which sounds great until compared to the 45,000 that gathered in 1985.

It seems the Southern Baptists- like most of the rest of us- are suffering from declining numbers, graying members and conflicting philosophies.

The big push at the convention was fueled by their Great Commission Resurgence committee. One supporter of this committee’s recommendations said:

It’s time for Southern Baptists to get out on a limb, to get out of our comfort zone and trust God. … Southern Baptists have a tendency to be full of so much fear. Where is the God who brought us where we are? We’re going to make a decision whether to hold what we’ve got or to take the land. … The bottom line is, we can do it. We can do it now.

That sounds good, but not all agreed. Another who opposed the ideas presented by this committee stated:

Too much emphasis was placed on money and organization and not enough on spiritual renewal.The recommendations are about moving the chairs on the deck of the Titanic as the ship goes down into an icy, watery grave.

Sounds like they are having a bit of a struggle in casting a unified vision. I can relate to that. It is all indicative of the fluid times in which we live. Church as we know it is changing. The “old paths” may serve well those of us comfortable in them, but younger generations no longer are connecting to them. Consider this quote from the convention:

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking. The last two years, attendance at the SBC annual meetings has been marked by a noticeable increase in young pastors. Their presence gives the feel that the graying of  the denominaton—or at least its leadership—could be reversing. However, they have given notice that they want change—more hands-on missions, more passion for reaching the lost, more missions in the places where the gospel is not welcome, and a more vigorous, youthful tone from a convention long guided by wealthy older suburban pastors.

If satisfactory change doesn’t come soon, the young bucks will move on. Many feel more comfortable in a nondenominational context, anyway. And there’s another irony. Many historically oriented observers predict the erosion of the Cooperative Program means the SBC will become a much looser, smaller collection of quasi-independent churches 

I find this excerpt fascinating. I see a mirror of this attitude within my circle among the younger crowd. Loyalty to a church even if they were reared in it- is no longer a given. They will no longer just accept things because that is way it has always been done.

We can like it or not, but that is the way it is. Our church will either change, adapt and utilize this younger force for the Lord or they will go somewhere else that will.

If we are smart and visionary we will begin now to embrace this group and the changes they represent within the framework of our church body and theology. We will make a place for them at the table,  listen to their hearts,  focus their energy and help equip them for ministry.

If not, get ready to start seeing our churches shutter their doors.

As the Baptists now acknowledge- the times they are a-changin. If we ignore it,  then we will be passed by and  just be remembered as the church of yesterday.


7 Responses to What We Can Learn From the Baptists

  1. Dave says:

    It is important to point out though that change does not necessarily mean compromise. I found one of the most amazing examples of standing up for scripture to come from the SBC last year. I wrote about it on my blog in this post: http://thispilgrimland.com/?p=1001 The SBC example is at the bottom of the article in case you don’t have time to read the whole thing.

  2. Royce says:

    We must realize that because young folks are not loyal to church as it has been for a hundred years does not mean they are less loyal to Jesus. There are some amazing young people evangelizing and discipling in store fronts, apartment complexes, and meeting halls in mobile home parks.

    In my view we put far too much emphasis on the “building” and what happens in it. It is certain that we put more emphasis on it than the Bible does. Attending church services and doing activities in the “church” has become the standard for being a good Christian. A sad state of affairs!


  3. Donna says:

    Royce said it well. When we start thinking of who we are following more than where we are meeting, we will get it right…..

  4. Wow – you described me in your post. I wonder if that’s good or bad? I grew up in the church of Christ. But the church that I was taught to be a part of is not the one I see today. Exactly as was mentioned, I am in that group of younger folks whose loyalty is to Jesus Christ and His Church, not the CHURCH OF CHRIST. We’ve allowed ourselves to slip into denominationalism. For some reason, I think we have been taught to question, think and examine instead of just accept. And what I see is a lot of hypocrisy. We speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent, all the while we are turning our traditions (that are often no longer relevant) into matters of doctrine to be enforced.

    Although I will say that this may not be completely isolated to age. I once heard Jimmy Allen in chapel say that if he found a group of people who more closely followed the Bible than we do that he would leave in a second. I thought that was pretty neat. BTW, I am 31.

  5. Darin says:

    Thanks for sharing those thoughts. As you may guess I totally understand what is being said.

  6. K. Rex Butts says:

    Thanks for this post…and I am glad that some of the ‘old paths’ that I believe were never the ‘paths’ of Jesus to begin with are disappearing in thier fellowship as well as ours.

    Perhaps one day, both groups will realize we are and have been one fellowship in Christ all along. Perhaps…

    Grace and peace,


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