January 15, 2021

A List of Factors Affecting Current Events in the SBC

huntLast night I had the opportunity to talk to a group of about 20 longtime SBCers on recent events in the SBC. These are folks who work with me at a ministry that is partially (6%) funded by Cooperative Program funds, so there is some interest. Many, not all, are older and had a lot of sympathies with the moderates in the conservative resurgence.

I made a list of factors that I saw as significant in bringing the SBC to its current situation. I am just going to list them without extensive commentary. If you aren’t Southern Baptist, feel free to ask a question, and I’ll try to give you a brief answer. If you are Southern Baptist, I’d like to hear your responses.

These are listed in broad chronological form. “Broad” meaning that I’m not good with dates and don’t have a good memory.

1. The rise of a second generation of conservatives in the newly “retaken” SBC.

2. The first “official” perception of a generational divide in the SBC by then Lifeway President Jimmy Draper.

3. The effect of the wired revolution in the SBC: grass roots embracing of the wired world by the younger leaders. Confusion/Rejection of the implications/uses of the wired revolution by the old line SBC.

4. The grass roots experience of the generational divide in local churches, particularly regarding worship and programing.

5. Impact of networked leadership church models outside the official denomination on the younger SBC: Rick Warren, Andy Stanley, Bill Hybels, Bill Hybels, Tim Keller, Mark Driscoll.

6. Election of Frank Page as SBC President. First SBC President outside of and clearly critical of the ruling club.

7. Controversial standards adopted at the IMB: Baptism and Tongues. Grass roots reaction, especially among younger SBC leaders.

8. Resolution on integrity in reporting church membership statistics: a major crirtique of the megachurch model in the SBC and its perceived credibility for leadership.

9. Two years of declining baptisms.

10. Predictions of a declining SBC future: Frank Page and Ed Stetzer

11. The rise of new church planting over older church revitalization as a choice for younger leaders.

12. Baptist Identity movement vs. Gospel centered/Kingdom networked movement. Issue: How do we relate to non-SBCers? Can we learn from their approaches? Can we work together with other Great Commission Christians?

13. Rejection of the culture war emphasis of the official SBC by younger leaders.

14. The current missionary funding crisis and “freeze” in missionary appointments. Perception of the denominational bureaucracy as a problem, not an asset.

15. The development of the Great Commission Resurgence approach by Danny Akin: embracing diversity in the SBC, rejecting the “Great Denomination” model.

16. Johnny Hunt’s support of GCR/younger SBCers and their agenda

17. Official labeling of Calvinists as the enemy by Morris Chapman.

18. Adoption of the GCR study commission at the 09 SBC.


  1. I spent some time separated from the SBC because of the hostility that some of the older leaders had/have toward us younger ones. I was, in point of fact, fired from the church I was serving as youth pastor in because I didn’t fit inside the pastor’s box. As I’ve watched recent conventions from the outside, I must say I had lost hope of the denomination ever getting it and turning itself around. But after the 2009 convention, my hope is revitalized.

    There is a lot of potential in the SBC, especially if more young leaders would suck up their pride and take on the task of working in an established church. While those groups may be resistant to new ideas and new ways of doing things, if a young person came in and didn’t try to change things, and did things in the way those churches did things, it would build a lot of respect and change would eventually come: to the church and to that young leader. I’m willing to set the example if the SBC will tap me.

  2. On 8, as one who helped shape that resolution, I would disagree with your characterization of it as somehow against the mega-church model. There is nothing inherently conflictual between the NT model of regenerate church membership and mega-churches. Jerusalem was a mega-church, was it not?

    On 12, Baptist Identity is based in the Great Commission and focused on the Gospel, at least as these are defined by Scripture and do not function as code words for extrabiblical theological innovations.

  3. As an SBC pastor it has been an interesting ride. I have only been SBC for about 2 years (non denom before that), and the view as I stepped inside has been interesting.

    I have missed the decline of the last few years and have mostly heard the voices calling for accountability and centering on the Gospel rather than the denomination. When we changed our church name to remove the word “Baptist” we had 88% vote in favor and not a hint of concern from our local association.

    So I think that the “old guard” is trying to hang onto their beloved institutions, just like this new generation will in 20 to 30 years. It can be painful but I think it is part of the process. I am confident that the denomination will make it, and that the ship is slowly turning in a better direction.

  4. >…There is nothing inherently conflictual between the NT model of regenerate church membership and mega-churches. Jerusalem was a mega-church, was it not?

    Correct. I edited to a more accurate word. Thank you.

    I don’t believe large churches are necessarily following the megachurch model as practiced in evangelicalism today. Megachurch is a method, not just a matter of numbers.

    I did not imply that Baptist Identity isn’t based on Great Commission. I see it as the exact way of doing the Great Commission that I grew up with in a Baptist Church in West Ky in the 60’s.

  5. Why does the number of baptisms have to be a benchmark? It just makes people a number and not a relationship. The next thing people will be called “giving units”… oh yeah, I heard that one too.


  6. Regarding the resolution on integrity of church reporting; I still here a membership number of 16 million tossed around. Is that accurate?

  7. Ed:

    A better question is this: Is there any point in the SBC or National Association of Evangelicals EVER using these “total” numbers, given that both have a completely unreliable and quite likely corrupt system of counting “members.”

    If you took total people on SBC rolls….yes. That number works. It’s also an accurate number for the population on Mars, and just as accurate.

    Best bet of who shows up in an SBC church once a year? 8 million. Maybe.

    And the NAE’s 35 million? Please.

  8. Michael,
    I could not agree more on the number thing. I take issue with the concept of integrity being attached to such a slippery accounting method.

  9. The resolution was from Tom Ascol, and was simply saying: Practice meaningful church membership. Count members in line with your church constitutions and confessions. And tell the truth. This is because certain large churches have used membership/baptism numbers (transfers, baptizing children, multiple rebaptisms) to create the aura of “evangelism,” when it fact it’s not happening. Then those churches/pastors are able to criticize churches with smaller numbers as being disobedient to God, against revival, dead Calvinists, etc. The resolution isn’t binding in SBC polity, but it sounded a clear note that a majority of the messengers knew what the game was and they were not buying it.

    Church discipline begins with meaningful church membership.

  10. John, to the casual observer, it has been striking how many local churches have dropped the “Baptist” from their names. In the process of moving to a larger facility, one large congregation get a new sign which dropped the term Baptist and adding some fine print, “An SBC Fellowship.”

    My most cynical thought was that these churches were rebranding to attract members who would not consider darkening the alter of a Baptist church. But I must acknowledge the possibility of a deeper motivation here and ask: Is this phenomenon a rejection of recent SBC actions specifically or is it a more general rebalancing of how baptists see themselves.

  11. I have a question: to what degree are racial minorities such as blacks, hispanics and asians represented in the SBC, and are there prominent black, hispanic or asian voices taking sides on these events?

    Are they writing books, being denounced, helping to do some denouncing?

  12. Patrick:

    Given that the denomination was birthed so that slaveholders could be missionaries, and given that many SBCers – but not all thank God- opposed civil rights and integration, that’s quite a question.

    Answer: They are a small part of the “classic” SBC. They are a big part of the “new” SBC. Ethnic congregations are well represented in new church plants and new church growth in urban areas. (Research SBC work in Boston and Chicago. I worked with both and it was overwhelmingly ethnic: Haitian, Viet, Cambodia.)

    Many SBC churches sponsor Hispanic missions. A big growth area. But most of our churches were founded very long ago and are very white. But we’re doing much better.

    I don’t know where they fit into the conventions recent evolution, but the “old guard” is hardly their team.

  13. Patrick:

    Our church here in Florida is a good example of a more diverse SBC congregation: Our senior pastor is from the Philippines, our administrator is African-American, and our membership is a broad blend of African-American, Caribbean, Hispanic, Asian, Indian, (and plan old crackers like me). This church is 26 years old, in the suburbs, and still retains “Baptist” in its name.

    I grew up in an all-white, stare-at-any-non-white-that-walks-in church in the 60’s and 70s, and my current church is very different, but still manages to maintain a solid local/state/national tie to the SBC somehow.

  14. loving this series, michael. makes me wish i was blogging right now.

    it looks bleak for sbc but there are plenty of below-the-radar sbc folk, like myself, who are doing our best to get the job done without taking money any longer from the Cooperative progam. of course, that makes us invisible but it doesnt less the impact of what we are trying to achieve.

    i think sbc and imb and namb need to get used to the idea that many of the key players will be partnering with them but not employed by them.

    keep blogging. its great.

  15. #17 really surprised me when I heard it in Louisville. I mean, for all of our talk about the need for unity you finally have a unified effort (Great Commission Resurgence) that is supported by Johnny Hunt and Al Mohler (to give two examples) and instead of that fact and the hopeful future that that fact points to being celebrated as a major step forward, the bogey man of “Calvinism” was brought up.

    I’m not saying that Chapman was out of line for opposing the GCR. That’s his right. One of my best friends sat beside me and voted against it. I voted for it. I’m just saying that raising the issue of Calvinism in such close proximity to his opposition to the GCR smacked of desperation.

    I have great respect for Chapman, but that was a serious misstep on his part. When he did that, my cell phone immediately rang with two calls from non-Calvinist SBC guys saying they thought it was out of line.

  16. You’ve listed a couple of things here that caught the eye of this SCBC university grad and entering seminary student. I went to school partly on the Cooperative Program’s dime.

    7. This was huge when I was in college. Huge. Let me say again, huge. This disappointed so many students and faculty members at my alma mater. This made many young people second guess their decision to become missionaries. A lot of them found ways other than the IMB to get out the far reaches of the world.

    13. I think most of the young SBCers are tired of the culture war. It didn’t do us any good when we were in middle school and high school. It didn’t disciple us, encourage us, or teach us anything.

    17. I think that label was a grave error. I’m not sure if Dr. Chapman understands just who he is seeking to alienate. Some of the brightest minds (young and old) can be described as Calvinists. They are educators, pastors, and missionaries who have a great love and passion for the gospel. Without getting into a debate, these are not men who deny “whosoever will.”

    Michael, I’d love to see you comment more about the SBC. Where do you think we’re headed in these polarizing issues like Dr. Chapman’s attack on Calvinism and the matter of tongues and baptism in the IMB?

  17. Michael –

    Back in your article from last week where you summarised the recent SBC convention, you stated that the clear and simple instructions for the SBC are: ‘Get to the task of world missions, not the task of building a denominational culture.’

    While I completely agree that Jesus isn’t bothered about us building denominational structures, I wonder if there is a need for a solid, Biblical understanding of both the kingdom rule of God and the nature of the church? I just can’t see the church accomplishing mission very effectively without a solid foundation in these two areas.

    Any thoughts?

  18. Donalbain says

    What does it mean that the SBC has been “retaken”? Bare in mind that I am a UK based atheist, so no NOTHING about this subject!

  19. aaron arledge says

    #3 is what I believe has the most impact. Young people are on the internet and news and discussions are instant. This causes a transparency like never before. A handful of people will not be able to control everything like in the past.
    I have to admit I know very little about Chapman and his role. I heard a couple conservative seminary professors hoping he would resign about 4 years ago. Is his position really a life long appointment? Someone educate me.

  20. I’d like to apologize to readers for the irrelevant comments by two commenters on here this afternoon. I chose to not turn on moderation when I left for the day, and you had to read several posts that I would not have allowed. All have been deleted. One is on the verge of permanent ban if he can’t figure out what a comment thread is for. If you don’t like my blog, don’t tell me how to run it. Go elsewhere and stop reading please.

  21. iMonk, I also have ties to West Kentucky SBC through my extended family.

    I’m concerned about the growing influence of Sovereign Grace Ministries with C J Mahaney and Josh Harris–as well as the the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. I was in Covenant Life Church with CJ and Josh for over 20 years–and when I left looked at Baptist churches and found their influence through and through.

  22. iMonk –

    What do you think the impact of #7 is in a little more breadth? (Like maybe a paragraph.)

    I’m a part of an ecumenical charismatic community and so am deeply interested in this particular issue.

  23. Myrddin: There are a lot of Baptists who are Charismatic in sympathy. Tongues as a private prayer language is not an issue in 95% of the SBC. The Prez of the IMB speaks in tongues, so the rule was hypocritical to say the least. The Baptism issue needed to be clarified, but if it means we reject believer’s baptism in non SBC churches, then it’s too close to Landmarkism, which again, 95% of SBCers reject.

    acme: What specific concerns?

  24. I’m sorry–I just reread my post and can see how confusing it is.

    I’m concerned that SGM is influencing the Southern Baptists, through cozy get-togethers at the Louisville seminary, through shared platforms, through SGM books and materials, and through donations.

    My concerns with my former “family of churches” influencing other churches include

    – the authoritarian polity–where congregations have no voice in budget or decisions, no recourse if there is a conflict with a pastor, no say at all. This has led to many serious abuses–a number are identified on [Mod edit]

    – the emphasis on male leadership so that women may not even teach the two-year-olds or a women’s Bible Study, let alone lead worship or preach.

  25. Imonk,

    I think the charismatic divergence will be one of the big issues coming down the pike for SBC churches. I know a lot of small wooley-bug type country baptist churches around here where just about anything is allowed to go on as long as it is “led by the Spirit”, but those same churches will not hesistate to stop the service and actually ask someone to leave who starts speaking in tongues.

    I’m certainly no prophet but I have said many times, we, SBC, will continue to hemorage members from both ends of the spectrum. We will lose members to the growing non-denom charistmatic movt. and we will lose members to mainline denoms or even the RC’s due to our lax of worship and sloppy discipleship.

    My SBC take is that we are in a funk. We are sort of luke-warm, too sloppy for some, not wild and hairy enough for others.

  26. Donalbain says

    So, no clue on what “retaken” means for the outsider?

  27. The SBC was controlled by moderate/liberals for most of the 60’s and 70’s. They did the right thing on race, but theologically gutted several of the seminaries. The conservatives began a takeover in 1979 and completed in in the early 80’s. (SBC polity allows the President to appoint a certain number or institutional trustees every year. So if you elect your man at the national meeting, you will get approximately what your team wants.) After the takeover was complete, however, the conservative movement began to fracture and denom decline has set in.

    That takeover is called the “Conservative Resurgence” in the SBC.

  28. iMonk,
    I hope mine was not one of the “irrelevant” comments but I see my post was removed. Since you said to fire away questions if we aren’t SBC, my questions I thought were relevant in that they pertain to SBC but all denominations in general. It bothers me more and more often that we have to segment ourselves and put titles and names on buildings that pigeon-hole us into a particular set of sub-beliefs beyond Biblical and apostolic teachings. I am not SBC nor member of any denomination, but their concerns are mine, in as much as they are concerned about how we teach others about Jesus, and how we make disciples. I would love to hear from you individually when you have the time. This is the only blod I follow routinely and love reading your comments, even when I disagree.

  29. I grew up in the SBC, but left because of the unjust and unrelenting focus on culture wars. As the earlier poster said, all of the talk about those issues failed to disciple me, encourage me or teach me anything. As I grew in my Christian walk, I had to break away from the whole denomination, because it was toxic.

  30. I guess I was the other “irrelevant” comment since mine was also removed. What I have always appreciated about the internetmonk blog has been its overall candidness, spot-on descriptions, and across-the-spectrum-of-the-church character.

    I don’t know why my comment incurred your displeasure, Michael. I wasn’t trying to tell you how to run your blog. I was simply making a comment. I apologize for any disturbance of the peace, unforeseen by me, that it caused.

    I am non-confrontational. I was not spoiling for a fight. As much as lieth in me, I try to live peaceably with all men.

  31. Someone mentioned about SBC membership numbers being overinflated but I have to inform you that mainline membership numbers are probably much more inflated than SBC numbers. More than half of those who are baptized never attend church. And half of those who do attend attend maybe once or twice per year (Christmas & Easter). I would say that SBC numbers are not as bad as most mainline protest numbers.

  32. I have attended an SBC church for 11 years. I am actively involved in my local Association and have been Moderator as well as other posts. Although I am not married to the SBC I remain faithful while I am in it, just as I am to my local church. I criticize while at the same time try to effect fruitful change. My observations of so many christians is a total lack of knowledge of church history. There are reasons that denominations formed and that they exist. Baptists were a persecuted group and were regularly jailed & killed for not baptizing their infant children. The whole notion of freedom of worship, separation of church and state, teaching all children to be able to read, etc… all originated from Baptists. Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans, Presbyterians, etc… all had Baptists arrested, jailed, removed their children from them, and even had them killed. Henry Dunster, the 1st president of Harvard College, was fired for his belief in “believers baptism”. He was removed from the home that he himself built. I guess I am answering #12 in a roundbout way. While I am gracious to all who proclaim Jesus as Savior and Lord, I am also ready and willing, if they will, to point out where I disagree with them and why. There is nothing wrong with correcting one another as long as it is done in a spirit of Love, and historically, that Spirit has not been extended to Baptists. More Baptists were jailed in Salem than were “witches”. If not for Roger Williams and Rhode Island who knows what may have transpired.

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