Southern Religion

WWJD for a declining denomination?

Posted by SteveDeVane at 7:38 PM

A Southern Baptist researcher asks the right questions, but not enough of them.

Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, looks at the “ongoing decline” in Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) membership. He says a loss of 68,350 members in 2009 and statistics from other recent years shows that SBC membership has peaked, and suggests that Southern Baptists react with questions like the one posed in Charles Sheldon‘s novel “In His Steps:”

What Would Jesus Do?

Stetzer, who previously showed the downward trend of SBC membership, says, “We are a denomination in decline. Some don’t like to admit it. But, the decline of SBC membership is not a matter of debate. It is a matter of math.”

Worse, Southern Baptists already face a shrinking demographic pool from which to draw. Furthermore, the SBC’s membership numbers are clearly inflated.

Stetzer rhetorically suggests four ways the SBC can fail to handle the decline:

  • Option #1: Act as if nothing negative is really happening.
  • Option #2: Acknowledge that the decline is real and blame some “other” segment of the convention for the decline. “It’s those contemporary pastors who have colluded with worldliness.” Or “It’s those old dusty pastors who have confused tradition with the power of the gospel.”
  • Option #3: Blame lost people for being lost. Perhaps complaining about the state of the country will make lost people want to be saved.
  • Option #4: Wish for something else. We can dream of a different future or pine away for a preferred past but without action in the present context of our churches, nothing with change.

Then Stetzer suggests a fifth option, which he says is the only way to impact the world: “a serious self-examination as to whether how we make disciples is rooted in Scripture and delivering the gospel effectively to our mission field. We can scarcely hope to impact the world if we do not approach the gospel and kingdom of God in the same way that Christ did.”

Stetzer goes on to list four questions Southern Baptists should ask themselves.

  • Do we value the kingdom as He did?
  • Do we love sinners as He loved them?
  • Do we serve as He served?
  • Do we remind our neighbors of Jesus and tell them of His gospel?

Good questions, to which well-known SBC realities suggest that we add:

To reverse the slide, the SBC must broadly consider what ails it. Not frame WWJD narrowly in an attempt to reduce the number of hard questions.


May 19, 2010 - Posted by | SBC


  1. I agree wholeheartedly, 1000+%. Here’s one scenerio that I’ve seen in our churchs. Younger people with families can’t resist the intrenched, organised older and “related” members of a church – so they LEAVE. A good pastor that’s hired and grows the church to where they are losing the majority vote for type of music, activities etc. is Fired and the members he has brought LEAVE. This scenerio is well known among small “family” churchs who hire people with no formal training and who charge nothing to preach. There IS a solution.

    Comment by jack | May 19, 2010

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