Will Southern Baptists matter in 20 years?

The Southern Baptist Convention is in crisis. Does that sound like an alarmist statement? I don’t think so.

Bobby Welch has been a tremendous president. He has served as a cheerleader for soul-winning and baptisms. He worked, traveled and preached tirelessly to challenge Southern Baptists to do our best in evangelism. The reports show that baptisms are down for the first reporting year of his presidency. This is not President Welch’s fault. He has been faithful with the call. What we need is a comprehensive national strategy implemented by the churches if we are to get the job done. This must happen soon. The window is closing quickly.

Factoring in inflation and other variables, the Cooperative Program has been declining in real dollars for years. Gradually, participation through our time-honored funding system gets chipped away by societal and direct appeals. Unless there is a resurgence in giving, within 20 years the cash flow will not support our missionaries, seminaries and other ministries. Is it cultural factors, convictions or communications failures that cause churches to invest their funds in other extra-church enterprises? I think all of these are a part of the problem. We have to prove CP is worth the investment. People will respond if we challenge them. The story of CP effectiveness must be told better by all of us.

Strangely, after a 25-year battle for the Bible, we are struggling with our doctrinal identity. Are we evangelicals or Baptists? The answer is, “yes.” In the broader definition we are evangelicals, just as in the broadest definition we are Christians. However, there are doctrines and biblical practices that set us apart as Baptists. We should no more tolerate a teacher in our church espousing apostasy, than should we approve of baptisms that do not meet the New Testament standard. Baptism is to be performed by the proper authority (the church), upon the proper candidate (born again) and in the proper mode (immersion). This should be upheld not only because our forefathers lost their lives for this belief, but because the Bible teaches it. If we begin to blur the lines of what it means to be a Baptist then we will eventually cease to exist as a denomination and become a part of some amalgamated, hodge-podge of non-denominational evangelicals.

SBC messengers meeting in Greensboro, N.C. will vote on a president, a budget and numerous other items. What may not be settled there, but will be settled in the not-too-distant future, is the viability of the Southern Baptist Convention. The question is not about survival, it is about relevance. Will we really matter for the cause of Christ in 10 years, 20?

Enough of the bad news! I am optimistic. Awareness of the need to reach people is at a new level. A new burden for people and their eternal destinies will cause us to share our faith. The discussions about doctrine bring us back to our heritage and identity. The sufficiency of Scripture will allow us to agree upon certain common practices that we can all embrace as Baptists. People will give to a legitimate need. Giving will increase when people are convinced that the money will be wisely used to accomplish the mission and ministry objectives near to their hearts.

I am optimistic because I believe if God’s people will get back to the basics, get together and get before God, we will see greater days ahead.

God bless you, your church and the Southern Baptist Convention.

Executive Director Emeritus
Jim Richards
Southern Baptists of Texas Convention
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