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Where Are They Going?

Since airing on the Brannon Howse Program, my sermon entitled Modern Day Downgrade: A Call for Repentance to Southern Baptists and Other Evangelicals, has received literally hundreds upon hundreds of emails from sympathetic listeners. In fact, the lack of negative reactions (at least submitted to me personally) is astounding. The vast, vast majority of feedback Ive received has been encouraging. And most of the feedback has come from either former Southern Baptists or Southern Baptists that are considering taking a leap to another church. The substance of that sermon was simple; Southern Baptists and evangelicalism in America as a whole need to repent of denying the sufficiency of Scripture by our methodology. To flesh this out, I spoke of the doctrinal dumbing-down in Charles Spurgeons day in the so-called Downgrade Controversy. It seemed to resonate with many in the United States, Great Britain, Australia and elsewhere. As Ive communicated with some of these individuals who reached out to me, a certain curiosity seemed to have been partially satisfied. The question, where are they going has been answered. Responses usually began with a statement of support, then a story of their own to share, and typically how they have evacuated their Southern Baptist church (or for some, their evangelical church of a different kind) for precisely the reasons I mentioned within the sermon. And almost without fail, they explained where they went. The following is what I found. Nearly eighty percent of the hundreds of emails I received (over seven hundred, so far) were from Southern Baptists. Another twenty percent or so were from other evangelical churches (other denominations, non-denominations). Approximately 70 percent (506) of them have already left their church, and most others were considering it most being held up by not knowing where else to go. Some who had left were asked to leave for such things as asking the pastor to spend more time in the Bible, questioning man-centered outreach strategies, not getting on board with the leaderships vision, or being told that they were selfish for desiring more prayer or Bible study. A few others felt ostracized for not putting their kids into the childrens program, instead desiring to worship with their family and being told that they were not team players (a common thread in these experiences). Some were church volunteers who felt that numbers being generated concerning salvation through their ministries were being exaggerated or even falsified. Many became dissatisfied with the churchs teaching depth after being exposed to speakers or authors who did dive deeply into the text and couldnt return to what they at one time thought was Biblically sound (in short, they were starved out). Those who have not yet left their church gave the same reasons for their dissatisfaction as those who already have. So where have they gone? Surprisingly, more than 100 of the over 500 responses Ive received in the last two weeks from those who have already left the SBC came from those who have joined (or started attending) one denomination in particular the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. Another 31 who contacted me joined the LCMS from another evangelical church. Granted, this ratio might be skewed because Modern Day Downgrade also played on Chris Rosebroughs program, Fighting for the Faith (Rosebrough has a large Lutheran listening audience and he is a member of an LCMS church).

Nonetheless, this statistic doesnt seem to be terribly unbalanced, as there were more than a few native Montanans I met at the 2013 Reformation Montana Conference who had left Baptist churches for the LCMS. Almost an equally high number of respondents have left the SBC for confessional Presbyterian churches of various kinds. About 90 have tried to start their own fellowship, and then comes the most troubling statistic: the majority of others have left church altogether. Many are meeting in their home (some with a few others of like-mind), absent of the distinctives of a Bibical, New Testament Church. In short, they have given up. I did my best to encourage these individuals to be under the authority of a local church and to find a people with whom they could fellowship. Others, Ive given insight on the Biblical means and methods to plant a church. Nonetheless, the question has been answered. Where are they going? Theyre finding confessional churches that take the Bible seriously or theyre becoming disheartened and giving up altogether. This is pertinent information. The Christian Post has released information just this week in an article detailing the decline of the SBC.1 Yet again the denomination has declined in membership, attendance, baptism and overall giving. The numbers were compiled by Lifeway Christian Research and tallied from the Annual Church Profile reports filled out by local churches. The SBCs North American Mission Board (NAMB) has put great emphasis on church planting, which increased the number of Southern Baptist Churches by .6 percent. The total number of Southern Baptists decreased nation-wide, however, by .7 percent. In other words, new churches cant even make up for the number of those leaving the Convention. I think there are three basic categories of those who have left Southern Baptist Churches. The third category I wont spend much time explaining, which is the lost. Of 16 million Southern Baptists, we can find 6 million (slightly less after this weeks figures were released). Some of those fit within the next two categories, those who have left but keep their names on the books and because we are reluctant to practice discipline, remain on the books until another church sends a letter of membership transfer (which is not protocol in many churches, meaning theyll forever remain on the books). But with Decisional Regeneration and the abuses of Sinners Prayer methodology running rampant, it would be a tough case to make that many of these missing 10 million arent spiritually lost. Secondly, the youth: The question is, where are they going? Often the answer assumes a great apostasy, or spiritual falling-away. And certainly that is the case with our children. Although demographic and statistical renderings sometimes disagree (some giving numbers higher than 80 percent, others less), the majority of our children leave the church upon adulthood and only some return at a later stage of life. The birth rate in the United States in the mid-nineties was about 14 percent.2 This means that about 224 thousand Southern Baptist young adults should be making the transition from high school to college (or college to career) each year. Plainly put, if Southern Baptists werent losing our children, the Convention should be increasing by 201 thousand per year (our current
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birthrate of 12.6 percent) merely by procreation. If we kept just half of our children within the church and gained not a single new member we would keep our membership numbers the same. Instead, we are losing over 100,000 Southern Baptists a year. The jury is still out on where these youth are going, but we cant argue theyre filtering into other denominations in quantities anywhere close to the size of their exodus. We cant be surprised at the statistical warning bells from George Barna and others about our youth leaving the church. Since the influx of the modern church growth movement and its emphasis upon agesegregated youth ministry, we have ensured through many of our youth ministry strategies that young people are intentionally separated from the greater body. When its time for them to merge, they give a simple, no thanks. Attractional activities that diminish the teaching of solid doctrine or Biblical apologetics makes students practically incapable of answering the tough questions and inevitable challenges that come from academics. Combined with the fact that theyre already disjointed from the body due to the segregation weve imposed upon them, theres no shortage of reasons for them to split. Third, the frustrated: But what about those that dont simply drop out? Where are they going? Are they entering liberal churches like many suggest? I highly doubt it. If the SBC is running people out for their stance on social issues (which is a loss well have to take if we insist on being Biblical), the real question is why these individuals didnt leave for that reason a long time ago. The SBC contrary to some has not become more conservative. Our policy stances havent changed. Surely egalitarians or others would have found an escape hatch years ago. If the response Ive received from Modern Day Downgrade are any indication, theyve left for churches with a reputation of handling the Word of God a little more seriously. This might be a real jolt for those who think of all Southern Baptist ex-pats as being lost in a sea of postmodernism or swindled by theological liberalism. Many have left the SBC because they just dont feel the Bible is taken seriously in their church. Lets face it much (not all, obviously) of the Southern Baptist Convention has adopted the brand of seeker-friendly strategy that intentionally puts doctrine on back-burner to grow the church. It appears that strategy has backfired. As mentioned above, Ive had extensive conversations recently with Southern Baptists who have joined LCMS or Presbyterian congregations. Being a Baptist, my first question is about infant baptism. How could they stomach infant baptism given their previous doctrinal convictions particularly when they claim to have left the SBC because of doctrinal convictions. Most struggle with that issue. And yet their answer always seems to be the same, which is that theyre happy to find a church where catechism is common place, doctrine taught and the Scripture revered, even if they disagree on secondary matters. For some of them, their opinion on infant baptism evolves over time and they adopt the belief. For others, theyre content to be in a church where the Scripture holds a place of prominence even if they disagree on certain matters. Its not a slight difference of teaching that seems to bother them, but indifference concerning teaching that bothers them. And then there are those who have dropped out altogether, either subsisting on home devotion or occasional Bible studies with other believers. Before we castigate them for forsaking the church, most

just dont know where they can go. Its these souls in particular we should sympathize with. Theyve reached the level of man-centeredness they believe they can tolerate. Their concerns have gone unanswered. When vocalized, their concerns have been attacked or dismissed. Southern Baptists in churches where the sufficiency of Scripture is upheld should reach out to these individuals and let them know there are exceptions to what theyve found to be the rule. Im not a statistician. Furthermore, I dont have access to the denominational growth statistics of the LCMS or other denominations. And yet, I cant help but believe that these churches have enjoyed a healthy percentage of new membership from former Southern Baptists and other evangelicals. As a Southern Baptist, I cant help but ask the question, is it possible that our doctrine-diminishing church growth strategies have actually declined our membership? At the end of the day, submitting to questions of such unabashed pragmatism fall short of a Biblical mindset. The question is not whether or not our strategies our working, but if theyre Scriptural. And yet, irony demands an answer to the aforementioned question.