Southern Baptist

Southern Baptist decline? Maybe.

A final quote from Roger Finke on the success, plateau and possible decline of the Southern Baptists.

Historically, the low start up costs of SBC churches have allowed them to move with the flow of the population. The preachers came with the people, because they were the people, and a church could begin with only a small group of followers and little or no denominational subsidy.

These new and initially powerless churches represent the future of the Southern Baptist Convention. They grow faster than older churches, regardless of location, and their success serves as a forecast of a denomination's future

While the stately downtown churches and the rising mega-churches are held out as symbols of Southern Baptist strength, the ongoing strength of the Convention depends on its ability to mobilize churches in any location, under adverse conditions, and with few resources.

For many, the small church with a bivocational pastor is a remnant of the past, gradually giving way to modern realities. Yet, the recurring finding of this study is that the success of small congregations led by bivocational preachers is not confined to a single era, location, or denomination.

Lessons for us all.

Southern Baptist success? Maybe.

I keep bumping into church leaders of different persuasions whose goal it is to see their church plants grow to 500+.

If you want a case study of how it's done, try the Southern Baptists. I've just finished a 1994 article by Roger Finke that shows between 1920 and 1990 the average size of a Southern Baptist church soared from 115 to 396. Impressive.


The other trend he noticed was the dramatic increase in seminary trained professional clergy. Before 1950 the Southern Baptist seminaries produced 10,000 graduates. From 1950-90 the number grew to 60,000.


The Southern Baptists heritage was all about small churches and lay leadership. Today it's professional staff and large churches.

Bigger churches. Trained clergy. Sounds like a recipe for success.