Writing in the AJC, Christopher Quinn documents the continuing decline of the Southern Baptist Convention:
“Membership in the 16-million strong denomination is dropping. They lost 38,000 members between 2007 and 2008, the last of four stagnant years, according to Convention numbers. Donations to missionaries fell $30 million short of a $170 million goal this year…..
David W. Key Sr., director of Baptist Studies at Candler School of Theology at Emory University, said Southern Baptists blamed their own moderates and liberals for problems in the past. The Convention shed its moderates as it became more socially and theologically conservative in the last two decades. Now, they are beginning to look inside for fault, he said.
Southern Baptists’ narrowing definitions of who Christians are in a society that is diversifying is one reason the group is losing membership, Key believes.
“You no longer have the luxury of saying that everybody has to look the same,” he said.”
… Danny Aiken, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in North Carolina, admitted to problems in the Convention.
“We have lost focus as to why we exist, both as a convention of churches and as a local church,” Aiken said. The lack of growth is because Baptists are not preaching the message of salvation in Jesus, as they have in the past, he said.
A similar story is playing here in Georgia as well. As Quinn noted in a story a month ago, “Southern Baptists in Georgia are declining as a percentage of the state population, according to their Annual Church Profile.”
“In 1970, nearly one in five Georgians were Southern Baptists, but the most recent profile from 2007 statistics shows a little more than one in ten Georgians are members of the denomination. Growth has flattened in recent years and dropped by a tiny margin in 2007 while Georgia’s population has grown rapidly in the last 30 years.”
In some ways, the debate over the convention’s future direction echoes that within the Republican Party: Should they try to moderate and reach out, or is the better approach to recommit to what some Southern Baptists consider core principles? For the moment at least, the convention seems determined to take the second approach.
“The slowly shrinking Southern Baptist Convention voted on Tuesday to sever 125-year-old ties with a Texas church that allowed homosexual members to have their photos in the church directory.
Messengers (delegates) to the SBC’s annual meeting voted overwhelmingly to disassociate from Forth Worth’s Broadway Baptist Church, following an executive committee ruling Monday that the congregation “failed to establish its compliance” with the SBC rules that ban churches that “act to affirm, approve or endorse homosexual behavior.”
According to the Associated Baptist Press, “it was the first time the SBC has ejected a church simply because denominational officials perceive that the congregation is in violation of a policy prohibiting affiliation with pro-gay churches.”
… Two years ago, then-SBC president Frank Page said the declining numbers can be blamed, in part, on a perception that Baptists are “mean-spirited, hurtful and angry people” and that the denomination has been known too much in recent years for “what we’re against” than “what we’re for,” Page said.
“Our culture is increasingly antagonistic and sometimes adverse to a conversation about a faith in Christ. Sometimes that’s our fault because we have not always presented a winsome Christian life that would engender trust and a desire on the part of many people to engage in a conversation on the Gospel,” he said.
“All Southern Baptists should recommit to a life of loving people and ministering to people without strings attached so people will be more open to hearing the Gospel message.”
That’s apparently the approach Broadway Baptist tried to take in 2007, when gay couples who were attending Broadway asked to have their portraits in the church directory. Rather than reject the request, the congregation voted to publish a directory with candid snapshots and group shots rather than with traditional individual or family photos.”
The Post also notes that the convention is likely to sever ties this week with a Georgia church, First Baptist Church of Decatur, Ga., which recently called a woman to be its lead pastor. The SBC’s Faith and Message, revised in 2000, clearly states that “the office of pastor is limited to men.”