Posted by: Jeff Warren | June 5, 2008

The Great Evangelical Decline

I’ve had hunch for a long time that something’s gone wrong. As a lover of Jesus and His Church I’m in ongoing conversations about the effectiveness of the church in our world today. I’m constantly thinking about how we can optimize our redemptive potential in this generation. Last Sunday I read an article in the Dallas Morning News that shocked my system. Christine Wicker, the author of The Fall of the Evangelical Nation: The Surprising Crisis Inside the Church, wrote an article entitled, The Great Evangelical Decline. After you read this blog, you need to take time to read her article at http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/opinion/points/stories/DN-wicker_01edi.ART1.State.Edition1.46dace2.html

Because she’s a former Southern Baptist she caught my attention. She begins with, “What Baptist leaders have known for years is finally public: The Southern Baptist Convention is a denomination in decline. Half of the SBC’s 43,000 churches will have shut their doors by 2030 if current trends continue. And unless God provides a miracle, the trends will continue. They are longstanding and deeply rooted. The denomination’s growth rate has been declining since the 1950s. The conservative/fundamentalist takeover 30 years ago was supposed to turn the trend around; it didn’t make a bit of difference.”

Those who know me know that I’m a consummate optimist, often to a fault. What’s probably added to my blissful denial of reality has been the wonderful ride that we’ve been on at FBC McKinney over the past 9 years. Two weeks ago I asked a group of leaders if they knew of any church (and particularly any Baptist church) that was blowing the doors off in terms of growth. No one could name one. The mega-church of the eighties and nineties seems to be an ever-decreasing expression of the Kingdom in our culture.

Now, I’m a Christian before I’m a Baptist, but as a Baptist I found Mrs. Wicker’s article startling. While I disagree with much of the article (why the trend has taken place and her suggestions to right the ship), I agree that it’s time for us to wake up. Though I don’t want to admit it, the ship is sinking. As I see it leaders have one option: change or die. Many church leaders have decided to stay the same non-effective course (keep preaching what you’re preaching, only louder). Others have decided that the only option is to bail: “If the ship is sinking, everybody out. Abandon ship!” Others, like me have decided to be a prophetic voice in the midst of radical change from within (and besides, it’s easier to have a voice at the table if you’re still a loving member of the family).

At FBC we’re making some radical changes. In fact, it’s jolting our collective DNA. We’ve determined to do whatever it takes to join Jesus on mission in our world. I’m well aware that the strategies of the past are not working today and that fewer and fewer are hearing our message, regardless of what it is; they’re simply not listening.

Mrs. Wicker ends her article with these ominous words: “Evangelical faith is failing in so many other ways that a growing number of Christians believe a New Reformation is needed. If they are correct, the Southern Baptist Convention is unlikely to lead that reformation. Let’s hope it is at least around to participate.” Count me in. Let’s be among those who, with an ear towards heaven and a resolve to follow Jesus, are courageous enough to ask the hard questions and do whatever it takes to see His Kingdom come (regardless of the cost). A reformation is needed and it will come as God’s Spirit falls upon a prayer-soaked people, clinging to God, with a simple and uncluttered message: “Jesus is Lord.” Let’s continue the conversation…

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Responses

  1. Interesting thoughts… I grew up in a different denomination. In my BFG at FBC about 40% come from different denominations other than S. Baptist. I think what has attracted my husband and I to FBC was the Biblical based truth’s preached, taught and lived, not the denomination itself. I believe this is why other believers with foundational other denominations seek FBC as their home.
    See this link:
    http://www.thevillagechurch.net/firstTime/identity.html
    This is just an example of a door busting with growth- multi site baptist church that has chosen to take baptist out (as referenced on this website link). The site states their baptist, yet puts the SBC at arms lenght in the explanation of why they do not use baptist in their church name. Perhaps for eliminating barriers that others may see from the SBC reputation; perhaps to express that denominations do not bind the work of the Lord. Thank God that HE is not waiting for denominations to get it right as a whole, but works within the groups of believers, whatever the denomination for HIS cause and glory. I do know that FBC McKinney is doing something right!

  2. I was raised Southern Baptist, but, prior to moving to Texas, spent several years in a Calvary Chapel-affiliated church in Southern California – Harvest Christian Fellowship pastored by Greg Laurie. This is a non-denominational church and it is experiencing amazing growth – be there thirty minutes early or you’ll be sitting outside in the amphitheatre sipping latte and watching on the big screen. Hey – wait a minute – that doesn’t sound so bad! This church has left behind many of the trappings of denominations. You don’t “join” this church, you just attend. There are no preprinted offering envelopes, no votes by the church body on anything. There’s just the preaching of the Gospel by maturing Jesus-freaks of the ’70’s. I’m not an expert of the growth of the various Calvary Chapels, but it would be interesting to know how they are all faring. I agree that the label Southern Baptist brings a lot of negative baggage. I have a friend here who told me that I don’t act like a normal Southern Baptist. I’ve been troubled by this because I don’t know if it means it’s not obvious that I’m a Christian or if I don’t fit her particular stereotype of a Southern Baptist. Finally, please know that there are many who share your concerns and support your efforts to lead us in our Christian journey.

  3. I was raised in a non-denominational church in California. Our church was a Baptist church before we hired a new pastor almost some 20 years ago. Dennis Henderson who (small world) now preaches in Sherman, TX at Sherman Bible Church, changed our name, and experienced growth like you wouldn’t believe. He even went so far as to stop the offering plate, put boxes in the back of the church for tithing, and our giving increased! My husband grew up as a Baptist in Texas. After moving to McKinney we attended Stonebriar Community Church (Chuck Swindoll) before deciding that we would commit to FBC McKinney-a nice balance for the two of us. I actually found the way you taught to align more with my upbringing due to your emphasis on application-allowing God’s Word to affect our daily choices and lives in the 21st century. I know one of the ‘hang-ups’ about Baptist churches (I spent my college years in the Bible belt of Mississippi) is the altar call messages -preaching to the lost when those who are sitting in the pews are believers who are dying to know how to live. If you are ever looking for a brain to pick may I suggest Pastor Dennis- http://www.shermanbible.com (though he is gone until the end of June), or his son Denny Henderson, a preacher for the University of Texas in Austin (Hill Country Bible Church UT)- http://www.hcbcut.com- http://www.hcbcut.com/dennysblog/ – two interesting points of view worth listening to!

  4. Look at the front page of the DMN today (6/24/08). The statistics show that the majority of “religious” people believe that many religions can lead to eternal life. What is unclear is whether by religion they are refering to demonination or fundamentally different religions. For instance, a Southern Baptist that believes a Methodist can receive eternal life while practicing their form of Christianity might have answered the poll question with a yes indicating that they believe other religions can lead to eternal life. The poll needed to first define religion versus denomination. What is still concerning, though, is that the general trend in the population seems to be acceptance, not just tolerance, of all faiths. The “exclusivity” claims of Biblically based Christianity are seen as condemning and closed-minded. While we should not be judgmental, and we should tolerate or allow others to practice their faith, we cannot compromise our own beliefs and water down what we believe because it is “politically incorrect”.

    I feel so blessed that First Baptist McKinney keeps the focus on what is core to our faith. It’s not about all the man-made stuff, rituals, and practices….it’s not about denominations….it’s about the core teachings of the Bible. That’s the only way to have a clear and consistent message. While some interpretations of specific verses of scripture may vary, the fundamental/core beliefs of Christianity do not. Thanks for keeping us on the right path, Dr. Warren!

    • Mark,

      I am trying to contact you to ask you a question.

      Can you please e-mail me @ leonard-eng.com at your earliest convenience.

      Thank you,

      Christine Ritner (David’s wife)

  5. Dear Pastor Jeff,

    Thank you for being sensitive to the diminishing church and for openly discussing this problem. I teach on a college campus, where we are losing the battle for the young people of America. We must pray that they realize that God is not boring and outdated–He’s real and He wants to be part of their lives!


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