Why is the Southern Baptist Convention shrinking?


If you read enough right-wing criticism of Mainline Protestant religious denominations such as ours, you will run–repeatedly– across the unsupported assertion that our membership numbers are in decline because our theology is not sufficiently conservative. No doubt that explains why those crypto-Communistic, syncretistic, New Age revisionists in the Southern Baptist Convention are also experiencing a decline in membership.

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Bill Carroll

We all want the Church to grow. But what does decline in numbers mean?

It could mean loss of relevance, real or perceived. It could also be the direct result of becoming more faithful. If the story of Jesus is any indication, the Church is not really meant to be "successful." A lot of what passes as Church growth literature involves a frantic attempt to prop up models of ministry that are not sustainable for the long haul. Real growth can occur when a community chooses to participate in God's mission. Growth in faithfulness is what matters. Growth in numbers is a possible but not necessary byproduct of growth in mission and faithfulness. We are called to make disciples not to recruit people into a "Christian" subculture or prop up a "Christian" nation.

The argument against the mainline has never been particularly convincing. I don't think there is any simple reason for the Southern Baptist decline either. It is part of a much broader sociological movement toward a post Christian culture. I believe that this is an opportunity for the Church, in all its forms, to rediscover its authentic vocation. The real Gospel is always relevant, and authentic ecclesial structures are part and parcel of that Gospel. What the Church of the future will be has not yet been revealed, but it won't look like the old mainline, nor will it look like the contemporary evangelical movement.

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