Southern Baptists evict church, debate decline


Southern Baptists opened their annual meeting yesterday with calls to turn around plummeting baptism rates, even as researchers warned that the nation’s largest Protestant body could lose half its size by midcentury.

With one eye focused on a new vision for the future, the denomination nonetheless kept one eye on past battles, voting overwhelmingly to break ties with a gay-friendly church in Fort Worth, Texas. The decision to expel Broadway Baptist Church came with no discussion from the more than 8,000 Baptists attending the meeting.

Earlier coverage:

Cathy Lynn Grossman USAToday, reports on the Southern Baptist Convention, 2009 annual meeting this week. The SBC will try to address the declining growth and graying of its membership:

SBC President, Rev. Johnny Hunt, from a Georgia megachurch, is pushing for an “evaluation” of the total structure of the nation’s largest (though dwindling) Protestant denomination. The convention, Hunt says,

… has too often failed to adapt its structure and programs to the changing culture. We are frequently aiming at a culture that went out of existence years ago, failing to understand how mid-20th century methods and strategies are not working in the 21st century.

He wants to streamline and clarify the SBC, he says, to revitalize the true goal — furthering the Jesus’ charge to bring in believers. It’s Article IX of his ten point plan for a Great Commission Resurgence and he’s been calling for signatures on it online for weeks.

Meanwhile, the executive chairman of the SBC executive committee, Rev. Morris Chapman, says he won’t sign. He calls Article IX, already toned down from the original draft calling for a reorganization, is still riddled with “negative characterizations and unsupported judgments.

Statistics show a half century of declining growth that could prompt a protracted decline in overall membership. And the median age is bumping 50, up from 44 in 1984, and two years higher than the national median. If the 50-year trend continues, projected membership of SBC churches would be 8.7 million in 2050, down from 16.2 million last year. Using U.S. Census projected population figures, SBC membership could fall from a peak of 6 percent of the American population in the late 1980s to 2 percent in 2050.

Streaming video of the meeting is here

Frank Lockwood, religion editor for Arkansas Democrat Gazette, at Bible Belt Blogger writes about the convention being picketed by PETA:

Jesus and a ‘Chicken’ Seek Converts to Nonviolent Diet

PETA members—including one dressed as Jesus carrying a sign reading, “For Christ’s Sake, Go Vegetarian,” and another dressed as a chicken with a sign that says, “Jesus Loves Me Too”—will bring a pro-vegetarian message based on biblical teachings of compassion to people attending the Southern Baptist Convention in Louisville on Tuesday. Other members will hold signs reading, “Thou Shalt Not Kill. Go Vegetarian” and “Blessed Are the Merciful. Go Vegetarian.” They will also hand out leaflets that relate vegetarian living to Christian teachings.

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