Why are 5 to 8 Million Southern Baptists MIA?

The GCR Task Force included the following FAQ and response on its website:


"Why do we need a Great Commission Resurgence?

The answer is simple: The lostness of the United States and the entire world is staggering. Among the 306 million Americans living within our borders, 254,600,000 are estimated to be lost.  While this is breathtaking in itself, the United States only makes up 4.5% of the world’s population.  Out of 6.8 billion people, 4 billion of them have little to no access to the Gospel.  Right now there are 5,845 people groups who have no access to the Gospel."


It's no wonder that the majority of messengers supported the Great Commission Resurgence at the 2010 SBC Annual Meeting. 


When Dr. Danny Akin, President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, was interviewed by Trevin Wax a year ago, Dr. Akin expressed the following serious concern:


"On any given Sunday, we do not have 16 million Southern Baptists in worship. More likely, we have around 8 million present. And if you use as a criteria for “faithful church attender” someone who comes just once a month, we might have 10.5 to 11 million true Southern Baptists, not 16 million. You put all that in a pot and you can see that we have some serious issues." 


Immediately preceding the above statement in Wax's interview, Dr. Akin remarked:

"We have been very deficient on the doctrine of regenerate church membership. We have baptized far too many at a young tender age when they were not capable of grasping the truth of the gospel."


Missing Southern Baptists?  Are they really to be counted among the unregenerate who need to be saved along with the other 254,600,000 lost souls in America?  While we can't speak for national trends, we do know some of what is happening in OUR community.  Maybe these missing Southern Baptists haven't actually left Christianity, even though some of the SBC leaders can't account for their regular attendance.


Dee and I are familiar with a moderately-sized Southern Baptist church in the area that has experienced a recent decline in membership.  Are the MIAs at that church really unregenerate church members?  Some may be, but we are learning by personal observation and from other reliable sources that some of these members are, in fact, attending various congregations throughout the community, including several non-denominational churches, an AMIA (Anglican Mission in America) church, and even a cleverly disguised Southern Baptist church called The Summit.


To be clear, these ARE NOT unregenerate church members.  They are deeply committed Christians who have become disillusioned by their church. 


One couple, for example, belonged to the church to which we refer for nearly two decades.  In the beginning, they felt very much appreciated by their pastors and fellow members.  During their long tenure, they supported their wonderful church with their time, talent, and treasure.  They raised their children in that fellowship and believed they would be lifelong members.


Then around 5 to 7 years ago something changed…  As the church moved into a growth mode, it seemed the intimacy and sense of community they had felt for a long time dissipated, resulting in their feeling disconnected from the congregation.  Finally, they left in pursuit of another community of believers characterized by the intimacy they missed.


Now this family has joined another fellowship by profession of faith, not letter of transfer.  Does their former congregation even know they have left and become active in another Christian community?  Because no one from their previous church seemed to care that they had been missing from the fellowship for some time, they felt no obligation to let the leadership know that they were worshipping elsewhere.  Out of sight, out of mind… Sadly, some long-time church members can be absent for months or even years and no one seems to notice…


In this situation, Southern Baptist leaders might assume that these MIAs are unregenerate church members.  Could it be that this family is representative of many others who have left various Southern Baptist congregations? There seems to be a realignment taking place in our Christian community, and we wonder whether this is a trend that is happening on a national scale.


We believe those who are supportive of a Great Commission Resurgence should be mindful of the mandate that the Great Commission is two-fold:   making disciples (which includes following through with the ordinance of baptism) and teaching them.


18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.

                                                                    Matthew 28:18-20 (NKJV)


While we are commanded to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth in order to make disciples, we who are Christians, especially the leaders, must not neglect teaching them how to fulfill the Great Commission themselves (each one reach one).  We must ALL be burdened for those who do not know Jesus Christ, not just our leaders.  This is the only way that a Great Commission Resurgence will ever be effective in carrying out God's will.


Why are 5 to 8 Million Southern Baptists MIA? — 5 Comments

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    Perhaps the issue here isn’t so much the number of Southern Baptists but how that number is reported and subsequently used by pastors and denominational leaders. Traditionally, SBC churches report resident and non-resident members. Resident members are those who live within attending distance of the church building. Non-resident members are those who have moved away without moving their letters of membership and those for whom the church no longer has any contact information. Most churches maintain the non-resident roll as archival information and to have it available if a non-resident or inactive member needs the information when they finally do unite with another church by transfer of membership. I’m not saying this is a good way to do it. It’s just the way that a lot of SBC churches do it.

    The problem arises when a pastor or denominational leader touts the total membership number (resident plus non-resident) as the membership number for his church or denomination. He knows the total membership number is misleading. When people ask me as a pastor how many members my church has, they want to know how many attend worship services on Sunday. Usually, that number has little to do with how many resident and non-resident members we have on the membership roll.

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    J Carver,

    Thanks so much for the clarification!

    I have been wondering whether seminary students are counted in two congregations – the one they attended before seminary and the one they are currently attending (assuming the seminary is not close to their home church).

    Just wondering how the numbers are reported. Thanks!

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    J Carver
    It is my understanding that some churches never remove members from their roles, even if members have moved on. Do you think some pastors just like to use large numbers thinking it makes them seem more important,successful,etc. Do they not know that God knows how many members are present? I know one pastor who writes books and the book jacket says he is a pastor of a 20,000member church. Yet, on any given Sunday there are less than 7000 attending.

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    I was a “member” of a large local SBC church for about 5 years, but only attended there for 2. After 2 years, I left and joined a non-SBC church that required only a statement of my faith and that I had previously been baptized by immersion. Since there was no transfer of membership, I remained on the roll of the SBC church for another 3 years, until I finally got tired of receiving financial appeals in the mail, so I called them and told them I had joined a non-SBC church and asked them to remove me from their membership.

    I doubt my experience is all that unique, especially in today’s world where denominational loyalty isn’t as strong a factor in choosing a church as it used to be. So I would not be surprised if a significant number of both resident and non-resident absentee members of SBC churches are now involved in non-SBC churches. Especially since many SBC churches have a strong tendency to assume that if you aren’t SB, you either aren’t a Christian, or you aren’t a very good one.

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    We used to have meeting after meeting discussing ways to figure out how many people were actually attending and/or members and how to get those who attended to join and those who joined to come! This is the main topic of discussion in every managment meeting of every mega. Event after event, and campaign after campaign is designed to deal with this problem. Never trust the numbers they publish. They simply do not know.

    Believe me, some suggestions have even included turn syles at every door! BTW: Are they counting the Baristas as ‘attenders’. Yes, this was asked at one meeting. By an elder, no less.