Denomination’s decline is hot topic at Southern Baptist Convention

Meredith Flynn —  June 18, 2013
Southern Baptist Convention President Fred Luter was re-elected to a second term during the denomination's annual meeting in Houston last week. Luter is the SBC's first African American president.

Southern Baptist Convention President Fred Luter was re-elected to a second term during the denomination’s annual meeting in Houston last week. Luter is the SBC’s first African American president.

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

Southern Baptists arrived at the 2013 Annual Meeting in Houston expecting lively conversations about Calvinism and the Boy Scouts. But those issues took a back seat to a report released by LifeWay Christian Resources just before the convention, showing declines in baptisms, average attendance and membership in SBC churches across the country.

Concerns about the report and the denomination’s future were compounded by a low number of registered messengers in Houston – just 5,103 by the time the final total was tallied.

Just before the convention convened, LifeWay released the 2012 Annual Church Profile, which showed declines in baptisms, church membership, average attendance and total giving.

Almost every leader that stepped to a microphone or sat in on a panel discussion in Houston offered input on how to reverse decline in the Southern Baptist Convention. But their solutions didn’t necessarily offer hope that the downturned numbers will rebound. Rather, they encouraged Southern Baptists to look at the effectiveness of their own local churches.

“This is not a convention problem; this is a local church problem,” said David Platt, pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, at a luncheon for young leaders. “To bring it a little closer to home, this is a pastor problem.”

Are we making disciples, are we multiplying the Gospel, Platt asked. “I want to lead out in this by example.”

Fred Luter’s president’s message rang out across the convention hall with a similar theme: Lord, send a revival, and let it begin with me! And, let us be unified.

“Lord, revive us and make us one like the early believers in Acts 2 where the Scripture says that the believers and Jesus Christ were all together in one accord, in one place,” preached Luter, who was re-elected in Houston to a second term as SBC president.

“Let me say that again, that the believers were all together in one accord, in one place and as a consequence, because they were all together in one accord, in one place, the Bible says they turned the world upside down.”

Do Baptists have the opportunity to change the world, even a world that may not recognize them for the cultural force they once were? In his report, SBC Executive Committee President Frank Page offered an optimistic outlook:

“Some have said that doing denominational work and being a part of a denomination in the 21st century is like the Titanic, it’s headed for disaster. And the best you can do is rearrange the deck chairs,” Page said.

“I choose to believe that kind of analogy is not appropriate. I believe that we together can see victory moving forward and applying Christ-like selflessness, can see days of cooperation and days of victory ahead.”

Read all of the Illinois Baptist’s 2013 SBC Annual Meeting coverage in the current issue, online at ibonline.IBSA.org.

Other news:

Lottie Moon offering tops $149M
Southern Baptists did get a piece of very good denominational news: They gave the third-largest ever Lottie Moon Christmas Offering in 2012, sending more than $149 million to support International Mission Board (IMB) missionaries serving across the globe. The offering, more than $2.4 million more than the previous year, “is a reminder that missions is the stack pole around which Southern Baptists place their hearts, afire for the Gospel,” said IMB President Tom Elliff. Read more at BPNews.net.

Atheist group plans 1-800 hotline
Recovering from Religion, an atheist group in the U.S. and Britain, plans to launch a telephone hotline to offer advice and answers to spiritual doubters, CNN reports. In response to criticism that the 24-hour hotline is devised as a way to convert people to atheism, Recovering from Religion executive director Sarah Morehead said, “Most of the people who contact us are working their way towards disbelief, so of course we are very equipped to handle that. That is not the goal, though, or the job of the facilitators.” Read the full story on CNN’s Belief blog.

Majority says gay marriage ‘inevitable’
A Pew Research survey released this month found 72% of Americans say it’s “inevitable” that same-sex marriage will be legally recognized, compared to 59% who thought so in 2004. Of those in the nearly three-fourths majority, 85% are same-sex marriage supporters, and 59% oppose it. Read more at PewForum.org.

Book explores faith on the field

“Intentional Walk”, a new book by sports writer Rob Rains, explores the Christian faith of several members of the St. Louis Cardinals, including manager Mike Matheny and stars Adam Wainwright, Carlos Beltran and David Freese. The book, subtitled “An inside look at the faith that drives the St. Louis Cardinals,” chronicles the 2012 season. “These players realize how lucky and fortunate they are to play for the Cardinals and to play Major League Baseball in general,” Rains said, “but they also realize how lucky they are to have such a strong faith in God. Read the full story at BPSports.net.

Meredith Flynn

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Meredith is managing editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper.