The Southern Baptist Convention has consistently declined over the last few decades. The Baptist Press reported a couple weeks ago we lost more than 200,000 members in 2014. This is the largest single yearly decline since 1881. What is even more troubling to me is the fact that we baptized 305,301 people last year. From 1998 -2002 we baptized right at or over 400,000 people each year. We, as Southern Baptist, topped the 300,000 baptisms a year threshold in the 1940’s. This means Southern Baptist are now baptizing the same numbers of people we were in the late 1940’s. This is an issue because in the 40’s we had 6 million members and today we have 16 million members. Why is the Southern Baptist Convention baptizing fewer people? In this blog I want to share one thing I believe might contribute some to the decline in Baptisms.
WE STOPPED HAVING REVIVALS.
Now it’s true not every church has stopped having revivals but revivals have become almost taboo throughout the SBC. To drive this point home I am aware of two full-time evangelists in the entire Mississippi Baptist Convention, one music evangelist and one preaching evangelist. There are some part-time evangelists but there are not enough revivals being conducted in Mississippi to sustain many full-time evangelists. The Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists website, shows 146 dues paying members. Let that sink in, a denomination with 16 million members and approximately 46,000 churches has 146 evangelists.
- Some of my best memories are from revival meetings. I look back on many great times and times of spiritual growth during revivals. My hometown church had a great preacher from Oklahoma by the name of Alan Day conduct a couple revival meetings. Dr. Day was an excellent preacher. God used him to instill in me a desire to study the Word. Through the years it was a joy to see Alan at various functions throughout the SBC and reminisce about his times in Purvis. In my late teens, I attended a Sunday School revival conducted by Mr. Sunday School, Bro. Leon Kilbreath. Each night the crowds grew and decisions were made. The last night I remember he taught on how a teacher of the Word had to be consecrated. He urged teachers to quit smoking, dipping and drinking. I enjoyed smokeless tobacco when I was a teenager. I remember during the altar call I walked down the isle and laid a brand new pack of chewing tobacco on the altar. I was committed to giving it up for I was preaching fairly regular at this time. I remember as I backed my car out of the space I put it in park and opened my door. The passenger with me asked where I was going. My response was, “I am going to need that chewing tobacco before I get home.” I am glad God has given me victory over that nasty habit today. I often speak of these revivals with joy. They were some of the best of times in my life. As a pastor, I often discuss the highlights of our church’s history with my members. These highlights were often during times of revival meetings.
- Some of the greatest movements of God I have seen have taken place during revivals. As a pastor my practice has not been to have a revival annually. I have always had revivals when I felt impressed to have a particular preacher conduct our revival meetings. I can honestly say some of the greatest movements of God I have witnessed have taken place during some of these meetings. I have seen dozens, if not hundreds, saved through the years during revivals. I have seen broken relationships and families repaired during revivals. I have witnessed my church come together and work hard for Jesus’ cause during revival times.
WHY HAVE MANY STOPPED HAVING REVIVAL MEETINGS.
- It takes a lot of work to have a successful revival. When I first went into the ministry you could stick a sign up in your church yard reading, “REVIVAL WEEK” and people would come. The reason why is there was not much else to do. In my first church community we had two local television channels and a gas station for our entertainment. People went to church during revival week. Now you have to plan well in advance so a busy congregation can schedule for revival. Constant reminders have to be kept before the people. Time must be spent in prayer for revival meetings. Meals and schedules must be coordinated. Advertisement must be taken care of. A church must commit to giving four nights to the revival meetings but they will have to do so much more to have a successful meeting. Some pastors and churches may forgo revivals because there is a lot of work involved.
- A bad meeting can do as much harm as a good meeting can good. I have had a few bad meetings. I have had revivals where the hard work was done and the crowds were simply low and no visible decisions were made. This is a morale killer. This may surprise many of you but there are some nuts preaching today. One time I was excited to schedule a well known evangelist to preach a revival for me. I booked him well in advance. I had a chance to hear him preach several times leading up to our revival. His preaching had changed. He now was very dogmatic about the End Times and he started preaching on a few pet topics. He preached the Masons were demonic instruments of Satan. He preached politics and how true Christians would vote exactly like he voted. He preached contemporary music was spawned from Lucifer. I had a long conversation with him and asked him to preach the Bible when he was with me. Sure enough, the second day he was with me he unloaded on all his favorite topics. Needless to say I spent months undoing what this nut job tore up in four days. Some pastors have had bad experiences and for this reason don’t schedule revivals.
- Insecurity may be the reason some are not scheduling revivals. I am merely speculating on this point, but it could be some pastors are insecure about allowing well known and highly effective preachers preach to their congregations. Also some may be insecure in that if the church works hard for this one week and gets everyone involved the question might be asked why doesn’t our leadership work this hard every week.
- Theology may be one reason why there are fewer revivals. I am careful about mentioning this last point because I do not want to offend any of our brothers and sisters in the SBC. However, there has been a increase of reform theology in our convention. It is important to note that while I reject this teaching it is orthodox and a perfectly acceptable interpretation of certain passages of Scripture. This theology holds the belief that God has elected some to be saved. These elect will be saved regardless and the non-elect will not be saved regardless. I have many pastor friends who are Calvinist and who feel revival preaching often leads to false professions and the crowding of our church rolls with lost people. For this reason, many of our reformed brothers do not have revivals.
I am a big proponent of revivals. I feel one reason we are seeing fewer baptisms today in our convention is because we are having fewer revivals. Statistics can be used to argue my point. Southern Baptist conducted simultaneous revivals in 1990 – called “Here’s Hope,” in 1995 – called “Here’s Hope ’95,” and 2000 – called “Celebrate Jesus 2000.” In all these years we saw spikes in baptisms and we went over 400,000 baptisms in those years.
I am asking all who read this blog to take a moment to pray that we as Southern Baptist will regain our zeal for evangelism.