I met Professor Leonard a few years ago, during a research conference organised by the Baptist Faculty of Theology at Bucharest University (he is a friend of the Dean of this faculty, Prof. Dr. Otniel Bunaciu, the President of the Romanian Baptist Union) and I was impressed by his scholarship and Christian realism.
Bill Leonard has published recently on ABP about the current identity crisis of the Southern Baptist. To be fair, I doubt SBC leaders will listen to this analysis, as one of the comments to that article indicates. It takes a lot of humility to listen to your critics, a virtue that is great demand among SBC leadership.
Here are, according to Leonard, the signs of this identity crisis (I am afraid there is a lot of resemblance with the current crisis of the Romanian Baptist community; this is the main reason I try to point out to this text).
- Statistical declines or plateaus in the number of annual baptisms reported by SBC member churches.
- Declining contributions to denominational programs and agencies.
- A continuing increase in the age of the average SBC church member (now calculated to be in the mid- to-late 50s).
- Studies indicating that the majority of SBC churches are declining or stagnant in membership and baptisms. One recent study suggests that only 11 percent of SBC churches are growing through evangelization of unchurched persons rather than simply transfer of members from other churches.
- A growing number of churches that have dropped or minimized the name “Baptist” in their promotional materials or overall identity.
- A tendency of many churches to shop around for educational and promotional literature beyond the traditional denominational materials and publications.
- A steady decline in the number of churches that utilize traditional methods of evangelism — revivals, professional evangelists, direct evangelistic techniques — as means of reaching the unchurched.
- An expanding localism by which members strongly identify with their specific congregation but are less identified with more extended denominational alliances. Their Baptist identity, if it exists at all, is connected to a local church rather than an extended denominational history or identity. When transferring membership, they are apt to look for a particular type of congregation before they consider its denominational label.