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Southern Baptists See Membership Decline for Fifth Straight Year

  • Religion Today
    Religious persecution, missions, Christianity around the world
  • 2012 Jul 08
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Membership numbers for the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) reflect disturbing trends for America's largest Protestant denomination, WORLD News Service reports. Although the SBC saw slight increases in baptisms and the number of congregations in 2011, its overall membership dropped for the fifth straight year, to just under 16 million. Ed Stetzer, vice president for research at LifeWay Christian Resources, says the patterns behind the raw numbers are of even greater concern. Many have noted the long-term decline of America's mainstream denominations, such as the United Methodist Church, but Stetzer argues that the SBC is locked in its own cycle of stagnation. Unless the denomination changes its approach to evangelism and church planting, he says, Baptists should expect the numbers to get even worse. Based on the current trajectory, Stetzer writes, "we are catching up with the Methodists, and will match their decline rate consistently by 2018." Duke Divinity School professor Curtis Freeman counters that the SBC's traditional commitment to evangelism had forestalled the numerical freefall experienced by mainline denominations, but that growth in any church was simply becoming more difficult. "The tide is going a different way," he said. "[America is] increasingly becoming a secular culture, not a Christian culture."