Jonathan Merritt offers advice to the SBC. Some of it might be of interest to Episcopalians.
If you review the resolutions, reports, and microphone grandstands of the SBC’s annual meeting during recent years, you’ll find a lot of energy expended on secondary things. The Associated Pressreported this week on how debates over Calvinism is dividing the Convention. Add to this recent squabbles over the “sinner’s prayer” and other lesser issues, and you have a denomination that spends major energy over minor issues.
The SBC’s resolution history also seems to bear this out. There was the ineffective 1997 boycott on Disney, a resolution to retain the traditional method of calendar dating (B.C. / A.D.) in 2000, and a 2011 resolution disapproving of the revision to the world’s most popular Bible translation (NIV), which requested that LifeWay Christian Stores stop carrying it. (One year later, LifeWay still sells the translation.)
If the Southern Baptist Convention wants to regain the credibility, interest, and relevance it has lost, the denomination must learn to put first things first. Namely, sharing the gospel through missions and showing the gospel through acts of service, compassion, and justice.
Of the 117 resolutions passed
by the denomination at their annual meeting since 2000, a breathtaking 70 of them have been political. This includes a 2003 resolution
endorsing President Bush’s war in Iraq, a 2008 resolution
taking a position in the so-called “War on Christmas,” and a 2009 resolution
titled “On President Barack Hussein Obama.”
The denomination must now decide whether to chart a new path for the sake of its future or maintain its current course. But one thing is certain. When the convention gathers for its annual meeting in another decade, people will still be talking. The question is now, “Will anyone be listening?”
The usual standard for judging size, growth, and decline of a parish in the Episcopal Church is Average Sunday Attendance (ASA). This method is enshrined in our parochial reports which we have to forward to the diocese and to the national church. It’s not without its detractors and the possibility of fudge but no one has offered an adequate alternative. Tom Ehrich points out some of the problems of ASA in an article. He advocates an alternative:
A much better quantitative measure would get at “touches,” that is, how many lives are being touched by contact with the faith community in its various Sunday, weekday, off-site and online ministries and then, for a qualitative measure, asking how those lives are being transformed.
Of course, one ought to demand a qualitative measure for ASA as well. How many lives are being transformed through our worship?
We’re wringing our hands in the Episcopal Church over decline in membership and attendance and many of our detractors argue our decline is directly related to our liberal theology and morality.
Well, apparently statistics to be published next week show a 5.5% decline in baptisms in the Southern Baptist Convention from 2011 to 2012 and a drop in total membership below 16 million (more here). Most Baptist churches still require baptism of new members (whether or not they’ve been baptized before), so this suggests a precipitous drop in numbers. And no one can blame that decline on liberal theology and permissive ethics (except perhaps the Independent Baptists who regard Southern Baptists as apostates).
Maybe we have more in common with Southern Baptists than either they or we could imagine.
For the fifth straight year, total membership in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) declined. Membership fell nearly one percentage point to just less than 16 million members. Baptisms and the number of churches rose slightly—by 0.70 percent and 0.08 percent, respectively. Baptisms hit a 60-year low for the denomination, though still totaled more than 330,000. The denomination planted almost 1,000 new churches, of which 50 percent were non-Anglo; however, the net gain of 37 churches was one of the lowest totals in 40 years.
These trends are not new but should refute the claim that mainline decline is due to liberal theology and progressive social stances. Read the article here.