Southern Baptist leaders found a modicum of solace amidst national uncertainty for a number of years from a LifeWay Research chart illustrating Southern Baptist Convention membership since 1950.
In 2008, I wrote that Southern Baptists shouldn’t build their denominational confidence on this chart, because the growth of the Convention seen in the 1950s slowed as it approached the new millennium.
In 2009, Cliff Tharp, the late, well-known LifeWay statistician, noted: “We have been slowing in our growth and have now passed into decline. We are right at the top of the arc and beginning to go down. But changes we make now can change that trend significantly. These stats are not new, but it has never caught anyone’s attention until now.”
The just-released 2014 Annual Church Profile report shows the pattern continuing on track with the trend line first gaining national prominence in 2008. Membership, baptisms and weekly worship attendance continue to decline.
Don’t be shocked
Sometimes I miss the days when people debated if we were about to head into decline. But this shouldn’t shock us. Like Cliff said: It’s just math. And, Cliff warned us, we needed to make changes.
Yet, in 2008 there was a flurry of articles and debates about these numbers. National leaders spoke of this as a blip. It wasn’t then — I think everyone now agrees — and it isn’t now.
The Southern Baptist Convention is declining and, if the trend continues, the decline will accelerate.
Because, while some statistics show us that membership has increased since 1950, others show us we have increased at slower rates for decades, eventually dipping into decline, which is where we are today.
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SOURCE: Baptist Press