With the SBC convention this summer came a series of stories … Southern Baptists see 9th year of membership decline, or this story Southern Baptist Convention Membership and Attendance on Decline, but Church Planting on Rise with more details. Over the last year membership is down 1.3%, baptisms 3.3%, average weekly attendance 1.7%, Small Group/Bible Study/Sunday School 3.2 %. The steady drop in both membership and involvement is considered a cause for concern. It is important, however, that we not view this as a Southern Baptist problem. It isn’t a trend limited to a specific denomination. Nor is it possible any longer to dismiss it as a simple consequence of the dilution of theology – affecting primarily “liberal” groups – while those of “us” who take doctrine seriously are holding our own or growing. The Southern Baptist Convention most certainly takes the gospel and the Bible seriously.
One doesn’t have to look very far (especially on the internet) to move from hand-wringing to suggestions to counter the trend. One blogger at Patheos put up a list of suggestions for stopping up the drain: 7 Out-of-the-Box Things Southern Baptists Must Do to Stop the Bleeding and Start Growing Again. You can read what he has to say in the post. I expect that there is wisdom in some of them, while others are Band-Aids on the problem, and may even exacerbate it.
The Pew Research Center has featured results from the Religious Landscape Survey in a couple of stories over the last month that have bearing on these issues. The survey was conducted in 2014 and compared with a similar survey in 2007. As reported in May 2015 (here), over the seven years between these surveys the Christian share of the US population dropped from 78.4% to 70.6% and the Evangelical Protestant share dropped from 26.3% to 25.4%. Those who claim none or unaffiliated (atheist, agnostic, nothing in particular) grew from 16.1% to 22.8% accounting for the lion’s share of the decrease in the Christian population. The results released this year dig into this a bit deeper, Why America’s ‘nones’ left religion behind. The chart to the right comes from this report. Most of the “nones” shed their religious identity in adulthood … 78%, or about 17 to 18% of the US population. Among the common themes:
About half of current religious “nones” who were raised in a religion (49%) indicate that a lack of belief led them to move away from religion. This includes many respondents who mention “science” as the reason they do not believe in religious teachings, including one who said “I’m a scientist now, and I don’t believe in miracles.” Others reference “common sense,” “logic” or a “lack of evidence” – or simply say they do not believe in God.