As the 2011 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting convenes this week in Phoenix, Arizona, news reports are out describing how the SBC continues its gradual decline in just about every ministry statistic.
The picture at left of what has become of the FBC Jax high school ministry is a perfect picture of this. Just a few years ago a choir and orchestra of 250 + is now down to maybe 50.
In the SBC Baptisms are down 5% over last year, giving to missions is down, and the number of missionaries sent has decreased.
It is not all bad news. After all, the number of churches is up, and FBC Jax has new pews and carpet and a new stage, and FBC Dallas is collecting millions to build a brand new Crystal Campus and a computerized waterfall to "architecturally" lead people to Jesus while they pray over their vial of holy ground dirt for God to bless their new campus. I'm not making that up, either.
In this age of church marketing consultants and generosity consultants, we have to ask: where are the results for all the money spent? Why are our pews emptying? Why do fewer people want to come to Southern Baptist churches?
Wade Burleson has written about five factors he sees leading to the rapid SBC slide into irrelevance, including the heightened demand of doctrinal conformity on secondary issues and the demonization of those who disagree with baptist leaders.
Megachurch pastors often blame shrinkage in their congregation on God, saying it is a "cleansing" of the church, unfaithful Christians who are leaving because they just aren't committed enough to the Lord. Others say it is the stingy people in the pew who don't fork over enough money for the professional men to spread the gospel.
Christians are seeing their churches - and not just of the mega variety - become businesses run by CEO's and their marketing consultants, with budgets focusing on salaries of professional religious men and buildings. They are seeing their pastors misuse the bible to beat up the sheep and absolutely demand 10% minimum of their household income to feed the administration-bloated budget. Instead of cutting salaries and becoming more financially transparent, they hire "generosity consultants" to squeeze the incremental nickels from the noses in the pew, and to teach their staff how to go after "high capacity people" to fund the "business".
People are taking SBC pastors less seriously these days, as the line blurs between the teachings, tactics, and lifestyles of health and wealth televangelists and SBC mega church pastors. They want their seminary PhD's and MDivs to mean something, yet they don't hold each other to basic standards of professional accountability. Liars are still ordained and in the pulpits, and there is no system to track and discipline pedophiles in their midst and care for the victims - but they take strong actions against churches who might hire a female pastor. And they can pass resolutions against the evils of blogging and unjust criticism.
I say the cleansing might not be God clearing out the unfaithful from the pew - they are fine as they realize they don't need a seminarian to save them from their ignorance and they find other ways to worship with believers - but it might be the unfaithful "God-appointed agents" about to be cleansed from the pulpit as the SBC decline continues.