>Southern Baptists, Evangelism, and Money

>In the section “On Faith,” published by the Washington Post, editor David Waters wrote a post entitled “Southern Baptist Decline and God’s Bottom Line” in which he discussed some of the problems facing the Southern Baptist Convention today.

The following is an excerpt from that post:

Times are tough, even in the salvation market. After decades of growth, the nation’s largest group of Protestants, the Southern Baptist Convention, is reporting losses (in church membership and recorded baptisms) for the third year in a row. Baptisms are at a 20-year low, a figure liable to put an eternity-conscious church into a severe depression.

Cutbacks at Southern Baptist seminaries and agencies are even hitting the denomination’s bold, new marketing strategy designed to spread the gospel (and increase the flock) to every soul in North America by 2020. The campaign, called “God’s Plan for Sharing” (Yes, GPS), includes a new image media campaign, “We Are Southern Baptists.”

But some SBC leaders are concerned that the strategy will fail. The 2009 budget includes zero funding for GPS. “You can’t have a vision that doesn’t have a funded budget,” John Avant, former vice president of evangelization at the mission board, told Bob Smietana of The Tennessean.

Where there is no funded vision, the people perish. It’s hard for me to believe there might be a single soul in North America who hasn’t heard about Jesus. But I suppose if a church is going to measures its success by cultural standards — in a market economy, that means statistical gains and losses — then it’s going to look for culturally-appropriate ways to assess its product and improve its market share. But isn’t there a more faithful way to measure the church’s success?

David Waters finished his post by asking the following questions:

“Shouldn’t the church find more faithful ways of measuring its success? Mercy instead of membership? Forgiveness instead of financial contributions? Baptisms lived in the world instead of baptisms recorded in a book? Justice instead of just stats?”

Malcolm B. Yarnell III, director of the Center for Theological Research at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary Fort Worth, Texas, in a guest editorial, responds to Waters’s questions from a Southern Baptist perspective.

Read Yarnell’s response to Waters’s questions by clicking here.

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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