LifeWay Research reported the numbers from the 2014 Southern Baptist Annual Church Profiles (ACPs), and the numbers were not encouraging. However, there was and always is hope!
According the ACPs, the number of new church plants rose between 2013 and 2014. However, baptisms, financial giving, average attendance, and membership each declined. The most dramatic was that the SBC “lost more than 200,000 members, the biggest one-year decline since 1881” (emphasis added).
See Also: “The Southern Baptist Decline Continues–and Accelerates” by Ed Stetzer
The Bad News: Continuing SBC Decline
This trend is not new. The 2013 ACPs also showed a decrease in baptisms despite an increase in church plants. Furthermore, statistics over the last ten years (2005-2014) reveal a disappointing trend:
- Membership declined eight consecutive years (2007-2014)
- Baptisms declined eight of the last ten years (slight increases in 2009 & 2011)
Overall, both membership and baptisms are declining. According to LifeWay Research, SBC membership and baptisms are on a fifty-year downward trend, with a steep decline in baptisms since 1999.
Despite the less-than-wonderful news, however, there remains a proverbial silver lining.
The Good News: Great Potential for Revival of Personal Evangelism
Although the SBC is shrinking, there seems to be a renewal on personal evangelism within the Convention. The North American Mission Board has emphasized “Crossover Columbus 2015” (Columbus, Ohio, hosted the 2015 annual SBC meeting), which emphasizes reaching the people of Columbus with the gospel of Jesus. In fact, one of my colleagues reported that there were over 40 people saved in just a few days:
Many thanks to @BrandonKiesling for organizing & leading 51 from @swbts in intentional evangelism. Thanks to God’s grace 46 received Christ!
— Matt Queen (@DrMattQueen) June 14, 2015
Over 50 @swbts students took part in intentional evangelism this week at #Crossover15. Praise God for the 46 who received Christ!
— SW Seminary (@swbts) June 14, 2015
I applaud NAMB, SWBTS, and those who are striving to re-emphasize personal evangelism. Furthermore, I ask God to bless their work!
Not only is personal evangelism being promoted at the SBC’s annual meeting, Christian leaders have recognized the need to shed the worldly Americanized Christianity that emphasizes material gain and business-influenced numerical growth. Such men as Kyle Idleman (Not a Fan) and David Platt (Radical and Radical Together) have called for a return to biblical Christianity that emphasizes evangelistic ministry and sacrificial service. Additionally, my own work, 1X Evangelism calls Christians to a renewed emphasis on reaching their communities with the gospel.
It is my belief that the negative trends among the SBC can—and will—be reversed. So long as Christians continue to emphasize being gospel-centered and doing evangelistic outreach, then God will bless their faithful work. Though Satan will try to find ways to interfere by causing division, misleading believers, or turning minor issues into major wars, the Holy Spirit is more powerful: “You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
Yes, there is reason to be concerned—even disappointed. Nevertheless, there are reasons to be optimistic and hopeful!