Why the SBC numerical decline is not as bad as some say

In the past two years we have seen a slight decline in membership numbers for the Southern Baptist Convention as a whole. There have been some who have pointed to this fact as a demonstration of our ineffectiveness in reaching our culture. One or two others have suggested its simply a result of changing demographics - implying there's really nothing to be worried about. (Ironically, the 'no worries' people seem to also be the people who are pretty much comfortable with the SBC as it currently exists.)

For the record, I'm of those who believe that declining numbers likely indicate there's a problem that needs to be addressed. Declining baptisms worries me more than declining membership, but I think both indicate we may not be as effective as we need to be.

I would offer up one example, however, that may point to why declining membership numbers may not tell the whole story.

When I arrived at this church as pastor, I received a couple different membership lists. They were 90% alike, but each one seemed to have a few people that the others didn't have. Within the first few months I was here, I combined the lists, went through with a few church members to remove anyone that had passed away, and so came up with what I believe to be a pretty accurate membership list. 79 members were on that list. We've had two join since that time so we're currently at 81 members.

Then I received our annual church profile for 2008. It listed our membership from 2007 as being 151! I have no idea where that number came from, I assume in the past the number may have been correct and it just kept getting carried over without ever being updated.

When I sent in our accurate numbers in 2008, it appeard that our membership had declined by 47%, or 72 members in just one year. It takes a lot of churches growing by 2 or 3 or even 10 members to make up for a kind of decline like that.

With the resolution on regenerate church membership that passed in 2007, plus the growing influence of 9Marks, and a refocus on what church and church membership should look like, I really wouldn't be surpised if there were a good number of churches who have done something similar to what happened here at our church. If just 100 churches made this kind of effort to return to accuracy, and our church is typical, that would alone account for a decline of over 7,000 members.

We all know that the numbers of people truly involved in our churches is far lower than the 16 million we claim. The ultimate result of that, if we are serious about honestly and transparently reporting our numbers, is a necessary reduction in membership numbers. I say our membership numbers must decline. And while we return to accurate numbers reporting, lets be honest with ourselves that we are not reaching the people in our culture the way we may have in the past. Declining baptism numbers tell that story better than membership numbers.
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