Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Decline of Southern Baptist Baptisms and Rural Life

There was interesting article up at the Associated Baptist Press by George Bullard All denominations should care baptisms are down among Southern Baptists . Let me add that Catholics might want to take a look at this also.

As Bullard points out one reason for concern is that Southern Baptist are not exactly sitting on their duffs in getting converts. Yet we still see this decline. There are many reasons for this but let me hit on an aspect of this that is a issue for all. That is the decline of rural American .

The backbone of the Southern Baptist Church has often been it's presence in rural communities. The problem partly is rural America is in a bunch of trouble. The once proud football team is struggling. There is not enough  kids to get a band together. The Walmart has left and people are forced to travel 30 miles to the the Super Walmart . It has been replaced by a rather sub par Freds or Dollar General that now are doing a booming business . Community festivals and events that once were packed are on their last legs.

The issue is that many people have abandoned their rural communities for the city. A huge part of this exodus were the areas best and brightest and best wage earners. They were the folks that often made things happen in business, civic , church , and cultural life.

In the Deep South the Southern Baptist Church was  often at the center of spiritual and social life in the community. It had competitors in its doctrinal orbit but the Southern Baptist Church was supreme. Part of this was funding . It could often fund  very competent minister , a competent director of music ,  and most importantly it had a Youth Group that did things.

The problem is for Southern Baptist once the kids move to the city their competition becomes more intense even within their doctrinal orbit. The issue of why perhaps Southern Baptist seem to be having a brand loyalty problem when this happens is something I am not competent to address.

Returning to the rural areas despite the exodus we have seen it is not quite a barren wasteland. There are still a great number of " unchurched " . In fact that number has increased in my opinion  .

The problems  see happening to the Baptist Church is happening the to UMC , the Presbyterian Church , and even my Catholic parish in my hometown.

The problems are complex. With various secular and civic outlets in rural life breaking down spreading the Word takes a hit . It is hard to spread the Gospel if opportunities to know your neighbor break down.

However I see the biggest problem as a general malaise that sinks into Church life . The town is not doing well which means business is not doing well . This leads to problems with funding schools which leads to further problems in attracting industry. It seems a vicious cycle.  The Church is very infected by this on a local level sadly . There are again many un churched  in the area but the critical lay leadership that gives the energy to reach them seem to be lacking. It seems we are just paddling in midstream not going anywhere hoping for some miracle to happen.

There are many reason for denominational decline that we see in the United States. I just hope that any plan to reverse this does not rely totally on an urban blueprint  and thus forget the rural Churches a. There are still some significant numbers out here that really add up. How to meet the challenges of rural life needs to be part of any endeavor to stop the decline .

I am not saying this dynamic is the only reason for the decline in Southern Baptist Baptisms but I think it plays a part and plays a part in other Faith communities problems

George Bullard
George Bullard
George Bullard

5 comments:

SJ Reidhead said...

There's a very good reason the SBC is in trouble, not only in rural America, but in cities. If the trend continues, it is a rapidly shrinking denomination, due, primarily because of the unholy mix of extreme Calvinism, a dash of Mormon theology, a denial of the Holy Trinity, and a system which refuses (most of the time) to even acknowledge the pedophilia problem within the church. The divorce rate is skyrocketing. The current trend to strip women of all rights, even those given by Christ is alarming. There are some SBC theologians who think that the only way a woman can find salvation is via childbirth. There are Baptist churches were a woman may not take communion until the male head of the household says she can. Some Baptist theologians are now teaching that the Holy Trinity is that God = Male head of household, Christ = female - subservient to the male/God, and forget about the Holy Spirit. There are some SBC churches were men, as head of the household are given the power to forgive the sins of their wives and children. There are SBC theological students who want to know what happens to a woman if she never marries. Can she receive salvation because she does not have a husband to go to God and ask forgiveness for her.

It's all documented.

You know the only reason I'm not Catholic is because of the woman priest thing. If women were to be ordained, I'd be the 1st in line to convert. But - in the Catholic Church as is the Anglican Communion (not the breakaway Anglican churches here - which aren't recognized by the Anglican Communion) because of the role of Mary, women are held in a special position. Basically, women rule. Not so in the SBC. The change began in the late 1970s.

You might find this link fascinating; http://www.wadeburleson.org/2014/05/wake-up-southern-baptists-baltimores.html

SJR

Rick67 said...

Thoughtful reflections. And as you point out, this is *not* about the SBC. Rather the SBC's struggles point to something else that affects all religious groups.

For years I've been interested in the urban-rural divide (as you probably know from my former blog Live the Trinity). I don't know the answer to the questions you raise.

Anonymous said...

Great article and very solid comments. Another trend is that many SBC pastors have been let go and they wander the nation depressed and unemployed due to a lack of leadership at the top of the denomination.

jmw59

SJ Reidhead said...

I base what I know on a former Baptist minister my sister & I had when we lived in Atlanta. Very nice man. Went on to be president of a major seminary, but was fired because he refused to go along with the new theology and new rules for being a Baptist. There are a heck of a lot out there like him. When you know someone's theology & what they believe, it makes a problem easier to understand. Strangely enough, when a Presbyterian church is 'independent' they are doing the same type of neo-Calvinism that that currently rules the SBC. When a Baptist church is "independent" there's a good chance it is going back to their rules/theology of mid 1970s. Problem is, there are times when "independent" is seriously scary - cult scary.

SJR

Rick67 said...

Evangelicals are beginning to wake up to the fact that the future does not lie with trying to maintain this rural pattern, we need to engage our *cities* not just for the sake of our institutional structures, but for the sake of the gospel of Christ. Just got back from conference in Atlanta (on internationals ministry, which is my focus) and they pushed the "love cities" angle pretty hard. And they're right.