One of the big stories out of this week’s Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Houston is that the denomination is facing a decline. Statistics, which tend to be the measure of all things in Baptist life, show that membership has declined by 0.98% and Baptisms had their second lowest year in the last fifty.
On the surface these are concerning statistics. However, there are other statistics, equally concerning, that generate far less hand-wringing. Al Jackson pointed out two years ago that of the 16 million Southern Baptists on church membership rolls, some 10 million of them are nowhere to be found on any given Sunday.
Under such circumstances, is a reduction in members and baptisms really bad news? If such things represent people not being reached for Christ, certainly but if they represent a reduction of members in name only, then I’d call it progress, not decline. In fact, it’s possible that real progress would look like a membership decline several percentage points larger which would indicate the recovery of meaningful church membership in the denomination. That would be progress indeed.