Sunday, May 30, 2010


Recently released LifeWay Research data projects a decrease of approximately 50% in Southern Baptist membership by 2050 if the current 50-year trend continues. The numbers also show that recent membership "growth" numbers have sunk into the negative.

A factor which may be contributing to the latest apparent decline is a resolution adopted at last year's SBC convention encouraging member churches of the denomination to "clean up" their membership rolls by removing names of inactive or non-participating members and those who have moved on to other churches or denominations, so that the rolls reflect a composition of individuals who actually participate in the life of the church. Thus, the latest negative figures may simply be a correction in data that may have already been a reality in terms of actual bodies in the pews. Even so, the trend appears to show that the numbers are not increasing, and may be dropping.

Denominational numbering, while arguably necessary, can be problematic. For example, events such as "high attendance Sunday" can be reduced to a particular congregation's ability to attract people through the front door on a particular Sunday rather than focus on making disciples over the long term on a day-to-day basis. And while downward-attendance trends that last for years may signify an issue of concern, a temporary reduction in attendance over a period of several months because the pastor is preaching some hard truths (albeit "in love"; Eph 4: 15) may in reality signify a church that is being restored to spiritual health.

Good preaching can result in an increase or a decrease in numbers over the short term, depending on the maturity and spiritual perception of the audience. The apostle John describes, in chapter 6 of his gospel, a sermon Jesus preached to an immature multitude that was so difficult "...from that time many of His disciples went back, and walked no more with Him. (v. 66)" Of the twelve who remained was one who would eventually betray Him.

The correct response to the numbers news would seem to be for each congregation to evaluate whether they are faithfully proclaiming the truth of the gospel in love and whether each member of the local body is doing their part to edify the church and make disciples. The response should not be to repeat mistakes of the past in which an emphasis on numbers distracted some shepherds to the point of de-emphasizing doctrine and sound teaching for the sake of an entertainment-focused service designed solely to attract more people.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Truth Entrusted

A LifeWay research study conducted in August 2009 indicates that 65% of "Millennials"--young adults born between 1980 and 1991--identify themselves as Christians.

But while 2 out of 3 profess to be Christians, approximately the same number of this particular group of young adults, who were under 30 at the time of the survey, indicated they rarely or never read the Bible. Since the survey was conducted on people within the US, the availability of the Scriptures cannot be seen as a factor in the lack of attention the Sacred Text receives from this age group.

In this, it would appear that Nathaniel Hawthorne's caricature of the imposter posing as Bunyan's Evangelist is gaining increasing results today. In The Celestial Railroad he dispenses pasteboard squares as substitutes for the antique parchment roll that had been borne by Christian in Bunyan's classic, The Pilgrim's Progress. Whatever substitute those who neglect God's word find today, the results appear evident in other survey responses.

For example, on two issues which go to the heart of essential Christianity, survey responses reveal a significant disparity in the 65% who claim Christianity and those who are even able to comprehend what basic Christianity affirms. 53% do not believe the Bible is God's word or is 100% accurate. 50% do not accept that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation. Of those who do believe it, only 31% strongly agree. And, in perhaps the most shocking display of ignorance of the truth, 50% say they don't believe Jesus was without sin. These facts: that the Bible is the inerrant, infallible and entirely truthful word of God, that Jesus is the only way to eternal salvation, and that He qualifies to atone for our sin by virtue of His perfectly righteous life lived entirely without sin, are foundational Christian truths which the believer must accept. They are not the only doctrines the follower of Christ must affirm, but they are not negotiable.

The doctrinal wandering in the generation which is just now moving into adult roles of leadership and authority is symptomatic of a drift that has been underway for some time in the wider population of professing Christians in America. Too many in the Church have relegated doctrine and theology to a diminished role for too long and the consequences of this lack of clarity are becoming more obvious. We need to take seriously Paul's admonition to the younger Timothy in 2 Tim 2: 2:

And the things which thou hast heard from me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men,who shall be able to teach others also.

It's generational.