Posts Tagged ‘Southern Baptism Convention’

Churches are Changing

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

In this line of work, one hears often of the strength of Christianity in the Bible Belt, a Christianity largely centered around the Southern Baptist Convention, the second largest denomination in the United States.  Even that group however is far from immune to the changes reshaping the religious landscape.  A recent article noted …

Annual baptisms in South­ern Baptist churches have declined by 100,000 in the past 12 years and last year dropped to the lowest number in 64 years.

With a total membership of 15,872,404, the SBC marked the sixth straight year of statistical decline. It remains the nation’s second-largest faith group, behind Roman Catholics. Membership dropped by 105,000—two-thirds of a percent. Weekly worship attendance, meanwhile, fell below 6 million to 5,966,735, down 3 percent.

Long regarded a sign of denominational vitality, SBC baptisms leveled off after an all-time record 445,725 in 1972. They have declined six out of the last ten years to the lowest number since 1948, the year Southern Baptists first exceeded the 300,000-baptism benchmark with 310,266.

What gives?

What gives is that we find ourselves in the midst of a sea change, a dramatic and arguably permanent shift in how churches function within the broader cultural context.  No denomination will find itself immune.

The challenge is that such shifts will tend to encourage a retrenchment back into a “what was” versus a more uncertain and perilous leaning into what could be.  Fear creates strangeness.  And both sides of that argument share a fear in these uncertain times, a shared fear I imagine around an impending sense of loss of the living water of the Word. With traditional involvement in churches declining, maybe even on the verge of collapse, it is easy and understandable for us to feel that fear.  But ends and beginnings are often one and the same.

The furthest point of creation as Emanuel Swedenborg noted is, after all, a seed.   The whole process – the goal – is headed “for a seed that has a new power to reproduce.” (Divine Providence 3)

“Seeds are produced anew from year to year, and new productions of them never cease. They have not ceased from the creation of the world to this day, nor will they cease to eternity.”  (Divine Love and Wisdom, 318)

None of that makes the times we are entering easy.  But such thoughts give us a peaceful sense of what might lie beyond the horizon of our finite sight.