Reports of Our Death are Greatly Exaggerated

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The 2013 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting kicked up very little Texas dust. Other than a resolution about the gay agenda finding a home in Boys Scouts of America, the biggest news coming out of Houston was the scarcity of Southern Baptists who showed up in Houston.

Low messenger registration, along with reports about declining baptisms and church membership, caused the media and doomsday prophets to place their news releases on the SBC in the obituary section. While I am as concerned as anyone about the unwillingness of many of our churches to fill out an Annual Church Profile and some of the woeful statistics that were reported, I don’t believe the SBC is in need of an epitaph.

To borrow a line from Mark Twain, I think the reports of our death have been greatly exaggerated. What is my cause for optimism?

Declining baptisms and falling church membership are by no means a reason for celebration but the fact that more than 300,000 believers were baptized in our churches is causing much rejoicing among the angels in heaven (Luke 15:7).

A Lottie Moon Christmas Offering of more than $149 million for overseas missions is not the best missions offering Southern Baptists have ever given, but it is the third best. And $149 million is a lot of money!

Our overseas mission force has tragically shrunk to less than 5,000. Still, more than 4,500 Southern Baptist missionaries are taking the gospel to more than 180 nations. And those missionaries reported more than 23,000 new churches and more than 300,000 baptisms overseas. (Click here to check out the report from the International Mission Board.)

The majority of our churches are plateaued or declining but we still have more than 45,000 churches and are planting approximately 1,000 new churches every year. When accounting for churches that closed and new churches that were planted or affiliated, the overall number of SBC churches grew this past year. (Click here to check out the North American Mission Board’s report.)

For all of the shocking statements about Southern Baptists no longer being “relevant” and the lists of things we must do to “stop the bleeding,” I am simply not convinced that it’s time to begin casting for “The Last of the Baptists.” Rather, I believe that, as long as there are among us those who “contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3), Baptists will be around to “hear the trumpet call of God” (1 Thess. 4:16).

Until then, will we be able to boast of being the “largest Protestant denomination” or continue to have the “largest missionary sending agency in the history of Christianity?” While we are grateful for the ways God has chosen to use and bless Southern Baptists as a people, we are also mindful of Scripture’s admonition to “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Cor. 1:31).

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4 Comments

  1. Justin Wachin
    Posted June 18, 2013 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    I couldn’t spend much time on the SBC convention. I was too busy preparing follow up from a great week of Vacation Bible School. Considering how difficult it is to find a seat in our crowded church on a Sunday morning, I would say that word of our Convention’s decline hasn’t made its way to western Kentucky.

    I’m sure Houston was great. I’m having too much fun being part of a growing church to take time off for a convention.

    • Posted June 18, 2013 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

      Hope VBS goes well! Ministry, mission trips, and the cost of travel to Houston surely kept a lot of folks home this year.

  2. Larry Rowell
    Posted July 10, 2013 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    Great opinion piece, Dr. Chitwood. We may be down but we are certainly not out. I received a letter from KBC recently thanking the church I pastor, Beech Grove Baptist in Campbellsville, for giving 10.6 percent of undesignated offerings to the Cooperative Program. If all churches would do that, God would call more missionaries to the field. May the Lord continue to bless Kentucky Baptists and Southern Baptists as we stand for truth.

    • Posted July 10, 2013 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

      Thank you Brother Larry. Yes, if others begin to follow the lead of Beech Grove BC we will be able to double our oveseas mission force overnight. May your tribe increase!