By Ed Stetzer
It is time for the Southern Baptist Convention to move from denial to decision.
It has happened again. The SBC reported membership has declined, again. And, baptisms are at their lowest level in 60 years.
I remember the first time the membership declined, just a few years ago. I pointed out (based on data from LifeWay's now-retired statistician Cliff Tharp) that it was not an aberration, but a pattern. The 50-year membership trend was moving into negative territory.
"Put simply," I wrote in light of 2007 data, "membership may go up next year, but the trend points to the negative. It probably won't go up. But, even if it does, I believe we will have more declining than growing years over the next decade. Unless the trend changes, membership has peaked."
How did we respond? I remember how strongly these observations were denied. A segment of the SBC seemed to think closing our eyes or disputing the data would change our reality.
In 2008 when we were again faced with the data of a continuing trend, I noted, "Today we are facing a set of numbers to which we are not accustomed.... This year, I believe that our tipping point continues to tip. Unless things change, we are about to enter a time when we grow accustomed to decline and think back to the good ol' days of growth."
Following that report, there was a little less denial. Actually, more spoke up. Chuck Kelley, president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, warned that Southern Baptists are in danger of entering a deep decline with all the accompanying problems.
Subsequently, the data for 2009 revealed no reversal.
Now, we can see four years in a row of statistics confirming a long-term trend of membership decline in the SBC. It is what it is.
It is time for the SBC to move from denial to decision. I am only echoing what others have said before: It is time for change in the SBC. But change, just for the sake of change, is not enough. We must ask, "What kind of change do we need?"
Until next time...share the journey and enjoy the ride!