Southern Baptist Convention SBC

Southern Baptists vs United Methodists

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Mark Tooley challenges the conventional wisdom that evangelicalism should become more progressive to prevent its decline.

The popular conventional narrative asserts that young people in droves are quitting evangelical Christianity because it’s too socially and politically conservative. Of course, the implication is that if only Evangelicalism would liberalize, especially on sexuality, then it might become more appealing.

But all the available evidence as to what happens to liberalizing churches strongly indicates the opposite. Mainline Protestantism is in many ways what critics of Evangelicalism wish it would become. And yet the Mainline, comprised primarily of the “Seven Sister” historic denominations, has been in continuous free-fall since the early to mid-1960s. Its implosion accelerated after most of these denominations specifically liberalized their sexuality teachings over the last 20 years.

  • Episcopal Church peaked in 1966 at 3.4 million, now 1.7 million (50% loss).

  • Presbyterian Church (USA) peaked 1965 at 4.4 million, now 1.4 million (68% loss).

  • United Church of Christ peaked 1965 at 2.1 million, now 850,000 (60% loss)

  • ELCA (Lutheran) peaked 1968 at 5.9 million, now 3.5 million (41% loss)

  • Christian Church (Disciples) peaked 1964 at 1.9 million, now 400,000 (80% loss).

  • United Methodists peaked 1965 at 11 million, now 6.9 million (40% loss).

  • American Baptist peaked 1.5 million, now 1.2 million (25% loss).

What unites these denominations in decline? The undermining of Biblical authority. Tooley points out that the two Mainline denominations that have not officially liberalized on sexuality, United Methodism and American Baptists, have declined the least.

In contrast, All growing denominations in America are conservative, including the Assemblies of God, which in 1965 had 572,123 and now has 3.2 million (460% increase), the Church of God in Cleveland, which in 1964 had 220,405 and now has 1.2 million (445% increase), the Christian Missionary Alliance, which in 1965 had 64,586 and now has 440,000 (576% increase), and the Church of the Nazarene 1965, which in 343,380 and now has 626,811 (82% increase).

What about the Southern Baptists, America’s largest evangelical denomination? They have been in decline for the last 18 years from 16.4 million to 15 million. That’s a loss of 8% compared to the average Mainline loss of 50%. While SBC membership figures are down, its worship attendance was up by 120,000 in 2017.

Meanwhile the Southern Baptists have been planting churches with a 20% increase in the number of churches over the last twenty years. There’s been a strong focus on planting black and hispanic churches. Something the liberal/progressive Mainline denominations find impossible to do.

I’ll have more to say on this topic soon. Over January I’m working on my next book which is on the Lifecycle of Movements — how they rise and fall.

Why the Southern Baptists are doing ok

Recently I compared the demise of the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) with the continued vitality of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).

Demographics play their part, but in the end, movements make their history depending on their core identity. The PCUSA has chosen decline and decay, the Southern Baptists have chosen differently. Here are five elements I can observe (from a distance) that characterize the SBC: 

1. The authority of Scripture

If there’s one thing that distinguishes Southern Baptists from the Protestant mainline, it’s their belief in the authority of the Bible. Now belief must be backed up by obedience, but there is no hope for a movement that won't come under the authority of Scripture. 

Movements are born and renewed by the Word and Spirit.

2. The primary missionary task

At the heart of the SBC's mission is the spread of the gospel, the making of disciples, and the multiplication of churches. This is the reason for their existence. They may not always live up to it, but the Great Commission is central to their identity.

3. The independence of the local church

The SBC is a Convention of independent churches, not a centrally governed denomination. Every movement institutionalizes. But it’s a lot harder to institutionalize if the local church owns the property, governs and finances itself, and has the authority and responsibility to plant new churches and send out missionaries. Centralize those activities and your future is bureaucracy and decline.

4. The priesthood of every believer

A professional clergy class is the end of any dynamic movement. The Southern Baptists have a long history of empowering ordinary people to share the gospel, make disciples and plant churches. Their explosive growth on the US frontier was achieved long before they built their first seminary. Again, they may not always live up to the ideal, but it’s who they are and a key to their future.

5. Descendants that can't be counted

Historian, Philip Jenkins wrote an article on how Baptists are being left behind other Protestant traditions in the explosive growth of the church in the developing world. He's wrong.

Baptists differ from virtually all other Christian traditions in that newer churches are nowhere near matching or overtaking their northern world counterparts.
— Philip Jenkins

What he doesn’t know is SBC missionaries don’t plant SBC churches, they plant churches. Those churches will share the same convictions outlined above. But they are indigenous churches. The churches don’t belong to the SBC. Now they are becoming partners in fulfilling the Great Commission.

For a generation, SBC missionaries have been at the forefront of pioneering church planting movements around the world. Now many former SBC missionaries are leading the way in a host of other mission agencies that are catalysts for indigenous church planting movements.

The SBC has children and grandchildren all over the world, we just can't name or count them.

The PC USA and the SBC — Two histories, two futures

Baptism: PC USA & SBC

Baptism: PC USA & SBC

The Presbyterian Church (USA)  has released a new hymn for its 223rd General Assembly meeting in St Louis, Missouri this week (June 16-23). The hymn is entitled “Draw the Welcome Circle Wider.” But statistics released ahead of the gathering reveal a denomination struggling to retain it’s aging, mostly white (91%), membership.

In 2017 the PCUSA lost 67,714 members and a net 147 congregations.

2017 was not an aberration, but a continuation of long-term decline that dates back to the 1960s and shows no sign of change. 

Issues to be discussed at the Assembly include:

  • Seeking God’s Peace Through Nuclear Disarmament
  • A call to the denomination to divest from investing in the fossil-fuel industry
  • The creation of an Advocacy Committee for LGBTQ+ Concerns
  • A number of anti-Israeli measures

In Dallas last week the Southern Baptists held their annual Convention amidst some controversy and some signs of decline. Membership was down for the 11th year in a row. Baptisms were down.

But Southern Baptist were still baptized a quarter of a million people in 2017. The number of SBC churches grew for the 19th year. More important than the membership, weekly attendance grew from 5.20 million to 5.32 million in 2017. Congregations gave over $1 billion to missions.

Compared to the PCUSA the Southern Baptists are doing ok. The question is Why?

South Western professor declares war on IMB missionaries

Paige Patterson

Paige Patterson

I just shake my head and I say, How many wars you got left in you, boy?
— Dr Paige Patterson Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

Earlier this year Dr Paige Patterson declared war on Southern Baptist missionaries who were committed to multiplying disciples and churches. He called for the sacking of David Garrison, a leading proponent of church planting movements.

Dr Patterson is the President of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is no stranger to denominational battles. He was a prominent figure in the Southern Baptist Convention conservative resurgence.

Four months before the IMB (International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention) announced plans to eliminate 600-800 jobs due to financial constraints, Dr Patterson called for the removal of Garrison and 750 other missionaries due to incompetence or theological error. Patterson rejects Garrison’s concept of the “wrinkling of time.”

What he means by this is it’s taking too long to evangelise the world, so we need to get out there and we need to do church planting by the thousands and thousands and thousands of house churches. It doesn’t matter who’s pastor of it. As soon as you get there, identify the man or the woman who is the most natural leader and tell them they’re the pastor, and you’re ready to go. We have tried a number of these in Bangladesh and in China, particularly, where the results have been disastrous. Predictably because a small house church with no biblical understanding and are hard put to find the Gospel of John in a Bible drill; they’re not going to lead to biblically based congregations. What they’re going to do is to watch Benny Hinn on television and follow him, and that is exactly what is happening. The vast majority of our house church plants that we have done are now off in the name-it-and-claim-it gospel and have abandoned New Testament faith entirely and completely.

These are serious charges —  if they are true. And at least one charge is true. David Garrison wants to plant thousands of churches. He is eager to win a lost world for Christ. He’s guilty on that one.

Here are the other allegations, as yet unproven:

  1. IMB missionaries, who follow Garrison’s approach, don’t care who leads a new church. They’ll appoint anyone to be a pastor who is a natural leader then move on.
  2. The new churches have no Biblical understanding. They don’t even know where the gospel of John is in the Bible.
  3. The “vast majority" of the new churches in Bangladesh and China are following Benny Hinn on television. They follow the “prosperity gospel.” They have abandoned New Testament faith. “This is exactly what is happening.”

Now we’re getting somewhere. These are allegations that can easily be proven if someone has done their homework before making them public.

Dr Patterson is the President of a theological seminary. He is an academic, a PhD graduate and a published author of numerous books and articles. He would never make allegations like these public without careful research and evidence. That's what he would expect of his students at South Western. He'd expect them to do their research, gather the evidence and present their case.

So I asked Dr Patterson to  provide the evidence to back up his charges. So far he has been unable to do so.

Meanwhile, Paige Patterson has won this latest battle. After 30 years of distinguished service with the IMB, David Garrison has resigned to become the new Executive Director of Global Gates. The mission of Global Gates is to reach the ends of the earth through global gateway cities. They began in New York and are now in six North American cities with plans to reach more gateway cities around the world.

Seems like David “Wrinkling of Time” Garrison is still impatient to reach a lost world. He's still devoting his life to fulfilling the Great Commission. Someone had better warn Global Gates to watch out for this dangerous man.

Related

Southern Baptist Missionaries Go Home UPDATED

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The Southern Baptists have been in the wars lately. For the first time in their history, church membership is falling. Now the denomination’s mission arm, the International Mission Board (IMB) has announced 15% cuts to its overseas missions force due to a $21 million annual shortfall.

But let’s not be too harsh, the SBC is still planting more churches than it’s closing, and for decades the IMB has led the world in fueling movements that multiply disciples and churches.

Here’s a list of some of the leading practitioners, trainers, and authors in the field of multiplying movements — David Watson, Steve Smith, Bill Smith, Kevin Greeson, David Garrison, Bruce Carlton, Ying Kai, Curtis Sergeant, Neil Mims, Nathan Shank and Jeff Sundell.

They are all either current or former IMB staff.

Unfortunately for the IMB too many of these men are now former IMB staff. They now serve with other agencies. Perhaps even more will be caught up in the current attempt to reduce the number of IMB staff. If that happens the IMB is in real trouble.

Financial crunches will come and go. But any denomination that makes life hard for its best people is already in decline.

UPDATE: Steve Smith, David Garrison, Neil Mims, and Kevin Greeson have just announced their resignations. Of this list of outstanding pioneers of movements that multiply disciples and churches, only Nathan Shank remains as a serving IMB missionary. Other leading practitioners like Mike Shipman and Jared Houk remain, (along with others I've not met personally).

The kingdom will not suffer. The ministries of those who have left the IMB will continue under different arrangements. But the IMB must face the root causes of their departures. This is a trend over a number of years, and it should worry any mission agency committed to movements that multiply disciples and churches.

CORRECTION: Jay Pratt has already left the IMB.

Missionaries Go Home

From the Wall Street Journal—Cash-Strapped Missionaries Get a New Calling: Home.

Peter and Jennie Stillman felt a divine calling to preach the gospel abroad. So the Southern Baptist couple left Texas with their three young daughters 25 years ago and became missionaries in Southeast Asia.

Now, the Stillmans are responding to a new call: early retirement. They are among hundreds of Southern Baptist missionaries working abroad who are being summoned home in a move to slash costs, after years of spending to support missionary work around the world led to budget problems.

The International Mission Board, an entity of the Southern Baptist Convention with 4,800 missionaries and 450 support staff, plans to cut 600 to 800 people from its workforce, a 15% reduction. It is starting by offering voluntary early retirement to veteran missionaries.

Since 2010, the organization has spent $210 million more than it has taken in, officials said. Last year, it had a $21 million shortfall.

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