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By Baptist Press

The Southern Baptist Convention expanded by more than 270 churches in 2017. More people showed up for weekly worship services, and congregations gave more generously in a strengthening economy. However, reported baptisms and membership declined as fewer churches participated in the SBC’s Annual Church Profile (ACP).

Longstanding patterns continued to dominate the ACP, which is compiled by LifeWay Christian Resources in cooperation with Baptist state conventions.

-The number of churches cooperating with the Southern Baptist Convention grew for the 19th consecutive year, reaching 47,544. That’s a 16.3% increase in churches since 1997.

-Membership fell for the 11th consecutive year, to 15 million. Since 2006, Southern Baptist congregations have lost about 1.3 million members.

-Baptisms also declined, as they have for eight of the past 10 years. Congregations reported baptizing 254,122 people—26.5% fewer than in 2007. The latest ratio was one baptism for every 59 church members.

“It’s heartbreaking to be baptizing fewer people for Christ, even though Southern Baptists have nearly 2,900 more churches than we had a decade ago,” said LifeWay President Thom S. Rainer.

“Yet a quarter million baptisms is not an insignificant number. We praise God for every individual who has come to Christ and followed him in baptism. It is my prayer that God would embolden Southern Baptists to share the gospel with their friends and neighbors.”

Fewer churches reporting

The ACP numbers don’t tell the full story of baptisms or other measurables among Southern Baptist churches. Despite the best efforts of associations and state conventions across the country, 26% of churches did not participate, said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. The percentage of SBC churches that participated by reporting at least one item was 74%, down from 80% in 2013 and 77% in each of the last three years. (In Illinois, 95% of IBSA churches submitted an ACP for 2017.)

For that reason, reported totals do not include all of the activity within Southern Baptist life, though the summary does include adjustments in some categories for non-reporting congregations. This summer, LifeWay Research plans to release statistical analysis of the current state of the SBC that includes estimates of the congregations that did not report.

Despite the lower participation rate, the ACP report shows increases in some areas:

-Average attendance at weekly worship services climbed 2.3% to 5.3 million, an increase of nearly 120,000.

-States outside the South reported some of the strongest signs of growth. California now has 47 more congregations and Michigan has 24 more congregations than the previous year. Those figures include churches along with church-type missions—congregations that are not fully independent or self-sustaining.

-Non-Southern states are now home to 21.3% of Southern Baptist churches and 32.2% of church-type missions.

-Reported baptisms nearly doubled in Colorado and rose 31% in Iowa, 17.6% in Alaska, and 13.4% in New Mexico. In North and South Dakota, weekly worship attendance grew by 20.8% while baptisms climbed 34.8%.

Overall, Southern Baptist churches reported 4,376 church-type missions last year, down 2.6% from 2016. The count of churches and missions combined is 51,920 congregations.

Giving & mission expenditures

Southern Baptists saw an increase in overall giving of almost $267 million. Total and undesignated church receipts reported through the ACP increased 3.3% and 2.3% respectively.

Reported mission expenditures fell by about $4 million in 2017. However, the numbers are not directly comparable since there were changes in how many and which state conventions collected this statistic.

Congregations reported total mission expenditures of just under $1.19 billion.

Individual congregations voluntarily report their ACP data to their local Baptist associations and/or their state conventions. National statistics are compiled and released when all cooperating state conventions have reported.

– From Baptist Press

Who cares?

Lisa Misner —  June 19, 2018

By Nate Adams 

Nate Adams IBSA exterior

Nate Adams

Though I grew up the son of a pastor and denominational worker, I was in my mid-30’s before I first attended a national Southern Baptist Convention. When the convention came to Indianapolis one year, a friend invited my dad and me to drive over and experience it with him. Though I was a Sunday School teacher and deacon in my church, I have to admit that my first thoughts at his invitation were, “Who cares? Who would want to take the time and spend the money attending what sounds like a large church business meeting?”

In fact, even after attending that first meeting, I came home thinking, “Well, that was kind of interesting, especially the big LifeWay bookstore and the exhibit area. But I don’t think it’s relevant enough to me or my church to go again.”

And so I didn’t, until the North American Mission Board invited me to join the staff there. That was 1997, in Dallas, and when I returned there this year it was for my 22nd consecutive SBC.

I think it’s probably healthy for me to remember that, as an Illinois Baptist layman, I didn’t find the annual SBC meeting particularly relevant, or at least worth the time and expense, until I joined the staff of the NAMB and now IBSA. But that’s when the phrase “who cares” stopped being a question for me, and started being the answer to a different question.

That different question became, simply, “Who decides?” Who decides who our missionaries are, and how our cooperative missions money is spent? Who decides how our national entities are led, and how we will speak to our culture? Who gets to decide Southern Baptist doctrinal positions, and how tomorrow’s pastors are trained?

What I’ve learned over the years is that the person who gets to weigh in on all those important questions and decisions is the person who cares. It’s the person who cares enough to attend the meetings, and to understand and participate in the process. The person who shrugs and asks, “Who cares?” doesn’t. The person who cares does.

Of course, not every person who cares gets his or her way in the process. There were several times during this year’s meeting in Dallas when I couldn’t believe what was being said by a messenger from the floor, or when I even disagreed with what was being said from the platform. At least one of the votes disappointed me.

But now that all is said and done, I look back on the annual meeting of messengers to the 2018 Southern Baptist Convention, and realize that, once again, spirited discussion among Spirit-led believers has resulted in both specific decisions and general direction that are trustworthy, and good stewardship of our shared beliefs and resources, and accountable to the churches.

Somehow the miracle of voluntary, grassroots cooperation by diverse, autonomous churches working together through respectful, democratic processes – led us once again to a place of blessing. And that blessing is the opportunity to do far more together than any individual church can do alone.

To be candid, I occasionally go back to the question form of “Who cares?” and wonder how relevant some of what happens at the national SBC level really is to the life of the average Illinois Baptist church. I’m sure some people ask that same question of their state convention or even local associational meetings. But things are decided at all those meetings that impact the mission of God through all our churches and missionaries.

While I can, I want to be in on those decisions, as one of the people who cares.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.

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Politics-packed speech met with outcry online

Dallas | Despite debate surrounding Vice President Mike Pence’s address at the Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas, the convention hall was packed Wednesday morning when he took the stage. Pence called the SBC “one of the greatest forces for good anywhere in America.” After a few more words of praise for Southern Baptists, he shared his brief testimony of coming to faith in Christ 40 years ago.

From there, his speech became more political, noting the Trump administration’s accomplishments during two years in office, including recent peace talks with North Korea. Pence received multiple standing ovations and even a few shouts of “four more years.”

On his and President Trump’s behalf, Pence asked Baptists to “continue in your calling with renewed energy. Stand and go and speak. Stand in the gap. Because in these too-divided times, I believe that your voice, your compassion, your values, and your ministries are more needed than ever before.”

As he neared the end of his speech, he requested messengers pray, noting it wasn’t politically motivated. “And on this one, I want to be clear, I’m not talking about praying for an agenda or for a cause. I rather like what President Lincoln said in his time when he was asked if he thought God was on the side of the Union Army. Our 16th President simply replied, ‘My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side.’” Pence’s request was met with loud applause.

Read the transcript of his address at ChristianPost.com.

During and after Pence’s speech, many Baptists expressed dismay with the content and tone of his message.

“Have mercy on us,” tweeted Paul Cooper, pastor of Marshall Baptist Church in Marshall, Ill. “#SBC18AM just became a political rally. Not the place for election speeches. Nothing wrong with campaigning- but not here.”

Newly elected SBC President J.D. Greear posted after Pence’s address, “I know that sent a terribly mixed signal. We are grateful for civic leaders who want to speak to our Convention—but make no mistake about it, our identity is in the gospel and our unity is in the Great Commission. Commissioned missionaries, not political platforms, are what we do.”

Chuck Kelley, president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary tweeted from a different perspective. “Vice President Mike Pence speaking to SBC! Why do things like this matter? It is good for people in power to know us. We may need them at some point. Also, we need to affirm evangelicals in politics. It is a tough calling.”

On Tuesday, a messenger brought a motion to replace Pence’s address with a time of prayer and reflection. The motion failed, but two other motions made on the floor asked SBC leaders to avoid inviting political figures to address future annual meetings.

Before his address, Pence’s visit continued to be a source of debate online, in hallway discussions, and at meetings scheduled around the Convention. There was a loosely organized effort on Twitter to invite messengers to gather on the other end of the convention hall during the vice president’s address for a time of prayer.

Prayer group

A small group met to pray during Vice President Mike Pence’s address in Dallas. Twitter photo

A photo posted on Twitter by SBC Voices shows about a dozen people at the prayer meeting.

Those opposed to Pence’s appearance said it could give the appearance that the Convention was endorsing one political party over another, would be disrespectful to minorities who feel the current administration doesn’t represent them, and could put international Baptist workers at risk.

However, in the packed convention hall, many messengers gave Pence repeated standing ovations for his campaign-like message.

 

 

 

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Dallas | J.D. Greear says his election does not indicate a generational shift in the Southern Baptist Convention. But the photos of Greear, 45, with his opponent Ken Hemphill and outgoing SBC President Steven Gaines, both in their 60s, might attest otherwise.

“What I don’t think this [election] represents is a passing of the baton where the older generation fades off into the sunset and the new, young generation is in charge,” Greear said after his landslide win. “We walk forward together,” he said a conciliatory tone.

Two years after he won the approval of many by stepping aside in a tight race with Gaines saying he wanted to avoid division in the denomination, Greear won this election by a 2-1 margin, taking 69% of the vote. With this overwhelming tally, Greear became the youngest president of the denomination in its 173-year history.

In the election, little mention was made of Greear’s reformed theology. In fact, much was made of his North Carolina church’s record of evangelism and sending missionaries to the field through SBC channels. His nomination speech seemed to take pains to assure those who might be concerned about a shift away from evangelism by the election of a Calvinist. Greear expressed his commitment to evangelistic renewal in the denomination in a subsequent press conference.

Greear takes office facing a challenging slate of issues not evident when he announced his candidacy five months ago. In addition to the continuing decline in baptisms and per capita Cooperative Program giving to missions by SBC church members, Greear faces the issues of unreported sexual abuse and moral failure by SBC leaders, the role of women in Southern Baptist leadership, the future of the Executive Committee, International Mission Board, and now troubled Southwestern Seminary.

In reporting Greear’s election, Christianity Today called the SBC presidency a “symbolic, visionary role.” Today, that description could not be more wrong. Greear will not only be the new face of SBC, he will be the first of his generation to assume the role at a most critical juncture in SBC history. Greear told his church that his service wouldn’t require any more of his time than his usual travel schedule as a nationally recognized and much sought-after speaker. It will be interesting to ask him in a year if that assessment was correct.

Digging out of this mess will take more time and effort than anyone imagined. And it will require true leadership.

-Eric Reed

 

JD Greear_web

North Carolina pastor J.D. Greear answers questions at a press conference following his election as president of the Southern Baptist Convention. BP photo

Dallas | On a contentious first day, messengers to the 2018 Southern Baptist Convention debated whether Vice President Mike Pence should address the Convention, heard a call for the removal of Southwestern Seminary trustees, debated nominations for SBC trustee boards, and disagreed about a variety of other issues.

But they also came together to elect officers, including J.D. Greear, who was elected SBC president in a landslide victory. The pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham received 68.62% of the vote to Ken Hemphill’s 31.19%. The election of Greear, 45, could be perceived as a turn toward a younger generation of Baptist leaders, and the Reformed theology many of them embrace. Greear, however, expressed a different view at a press conference following the election.

“What I don’t think this [election] represents is a passing of the baton where the older generation fades off into the sunset and the new, young generation is in charge,” he said. “We walk forward together.”

Related: The Christian Post reports on J.D. Greear’s 6 priorities for the SBC

Voters in Dallas also approved 16 resolutions and commissioned 79 International Mission Board missionaries to the nations, but only after the major issue of the day—Pence’s planned address Wednesday—had been discussed numerous times on the convention floor.

Garrett Kell a messenger from Del Ray Baptist Church in Alexandria, Va., brought a motion to replace Pence’s address with a time of prayer and reflection. The motion failed, but two other motions made on the floor asked SBC leaders to avoid inviting political figures to address future annual meetings. And Pence’s visit continued to be a source of debate online, in hallway discussions, and at meetings scheduled around the Convention.

Multiple motions also were made to dismiss trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, who terminated President Emeritus Paige Patterson following weeks of controversy over his comments about women and domestic abuse, and his handling of sexual assault allegations at the two SBC seminaries he has led as president. The Committee on Order of Business announced the removal of the trustees would be put to a messenger vote at 2:45 p.m. Wednesday.

Other SBC officers elected include: AB Vines, pastor of New Seasons Church in San Diego, first vice president; Felix Cabrera, pastor of Iglesia Bautista Central Oklahoma City, second vice president; John Yeats, executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention, recording secretary; and Don Currence, minister of music at First Baptist Church of Ozark, Mo., registration secretary.

Tuesday evening concluded with an International Mission Board sending celebration and a message from evangelist Ravi Zacharias. “It’s a miracle in our times when the finger of God is in all of history,” he preached. “When God moves the masses…when he says, ‘Child of mine you don’t have to go 10,000 miles anymore. They are outside your door.’”

-Lisa Sergent, with reporting from Baptist Press

Pence to take SBC stage Wednesday
The announcement that Vice President Mike Pence will address the Southern Baptist Convention June 13 met with some pushback from Baptists who say his appearance ties the denomination to a particular political party, and to divisive rhetoric that goes against the mission of the church. But a motion to replace Pence’s address with a time of prayer failed on the convention floor Tuesday.

Related:

  • At a panel discussion in Dallas, former SBC President James Merritt said the #metoo movement is a “wakeup call” for pastors.
  • Christianity Today reports that women—and the church’s response to abuse—are garnering “unprecedented attention” at this year’s annual meeting

Masterpiece baker: ‘My religion can’t be hidden’
Back at work at his Masterpiece Cakeshop, Jack Phillips views his faith in a new light after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled he was within his rights when he refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. Phillips says he’s learned his faith—while deeply personal—can’t be hidden from view.

Ex-LGBTQ Christians rally against bill criminalizing same-sex change
California Assembly Bill 2943, which would ban faith-based efforts to counsel members of the LGBTQ community, will be up for debate before the state’s Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday. If passed, the bill will criminalize “sexual orientation change efforts” by making it illegal to distribute resources, sell books, offer counseling services, or direct someone to a biblically-based model for getting help with gender confusion and homosexuality. Ex-LGBTQ activists and ministry leaders are working to make sure the bill is voted down.

Jockey praises ‘Lord and Savior’ after win
After winning the Belmont Stakes, Mike Smith, the jockey riding Justify in Saturday night’s race, told reporters, “First off, I want to thank my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.” Justify led all the way in New York’s Belmont Stakes on his way to becoming racing’s 13th Triple Crown winner. Smith, 52 and a devout Christian, is the oldest jockey to win the Triple Crown.

Sources: Illinois Baptist, Christian Post, Christianity Today, Colorado Public Radio, CBN (2)

Patterson withdraws from preaching role; messengers poised to discuss women, leadership in SBC

Southern Baptists will convene in Dallas next week, looking to put several divisive months behind them and unite around the purposes they have in common.

Steve Gaines

Memphis pastor Steve Gaines is completing his second one-year term as SBC president.

“The past two months have been tough for our convention,” SBC President Steve Gaines told Baptist Press. He referenced high-profile leadership resignations and terminations, which include Executive Committee President Frank Page and Southwestern Seminary President Paige Patterson.

“This shocked us, but it did not shock the Lord,” Gaines said. “I believe God has allowed all of this to happen to drive us to our knees. He is calling us to repent of any sin in our lives and seek His face in humility and faith. And if we will humble ourselves and pray, I believe God will be glorified in and through us as we gather in Dallas.”

Leadership will be a major theme of the June 12-13 meeting, as Baptists elect a new president to follow Gaines. J.D. Greear and Ken Hemphill are the two candidates who have announced their intentions to run. Their election, which echoes the 2016 race in St. Louis between Greear and Gaines, is set for 1:50 p.m. Tuesday.

Greear and Hemphill

J.D. Greear and Ken Hemphill will be nominated for SBC president when Baptists convene in Dallas next week.

The annual meeting will also include reports from three SBC entities currently led by interim or outgoing presidents. The Executive Committee’s interim president, Augie Boto, will report Tuesday, while International Mission Board President David Platt, who announced earlier this year he will leave the role to return to the pastorate, will bring his report Wednesday morning.

Southwestern’s report will be of particular interest to those watching the proceedings. Jeffrey Bingham was named interim president after trustees removed Patterson, first naming him president emeritus and then terminating his employment because of comments and actions related to the treatment of women. All six Southern Baptist seminaries will present a unified report Wednesday morning.

Patterson was scheduled to preach the convention sermon until he withdrew from the role June 8. In a letter to the “Southern Baptist Family,” Patterson acknowledged his “poor choice of words…in and out of the pulpit,” but defended himself against allegations that he discouraged the reporting of sexual assaults at the two seminaries where he served as president.

In place of Patterson, Pastor Kie Bowman of Hyde Park Baptist and The Quarries Church in Austin, Texas, will preach the convention message Wednesday morning.

The role of women in the SBC figures to be another major theme at the 2018 annual meeting, which marks the 100th anniversary of women serving as voting messengers to the convention. Kathy Litton and Suzie Hawkins have submitted a resolution celebrating the milestone, and Midwestern Seminary President Jason Allen has submitted a resolution on “affirming the dignity of women.”

The Illinois Baptist will be in Dallas reporting from the meeting and the SBC Pastors’ Conference, which begins Sunday, June 10. Follow our coverage here at IB2News, at IllinoisBaptist.org, and on Facebook and Twitter.

-Meredith Flynn