Southern Baptists will not both grow and remain a majority white denomination.
Over the last few days (and a little before that) I’ve been looking at my denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention. The series includes reflections on the annual meeting, the future role of local associations, and the need for change in state conventions.
One of the highlights of this year’s Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting was the panel on racial reconciliation. Then-president Ronnie Floyd convened a stellar line-up of pastors and leaders—White, Black, Asian, Latino—to discuss some of the issues that seem to hinder our ability to fellowship freely and fully.
By all accounts it was both important and impacting. It needs to have been.
Simply put: the Southern Baptist Convention is not keeping pace with the increasing ethnic change in America. SBC membership will continue to decline if it is not better equipped and more open to ethnic diversity in membership and leadership, while engaging immigrant and refugee populations with the gospel.
That statement is not intended to diminish all the work that has been taking place. There are some great things happening. Ethnic church planting is a major passion for Kevin Ezell, president of the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board and he will be quick to point out that ethnic churches accounted for approximately half of the churches planted last year in the United States.
However, much of the information gathered on the racial make-up of SBC raises the question: has the denomination been keeping up with the demographic changes that immigrant groups are creating in U.S. society?
The Ethnic Reality SBC
The SBC has always possessed a high proportion of white people—and I mean REALLY high—if you go back only 50 years.
The good news is that Southern Baptists have made progress in terms of minority members and congregations. In a recent year, NAMB reported a 66 percent growth in ethnic churches since 1998, which was fueled in large part by an 82.7 percent jump in African American congregations. Today in the Southern Baptist Convention 10,709 of the 51,441 churches and mission churches hold non-Anglo majority memberships. Of the almost 1,000 churches planted in America two years ago, 58 percent were non-Anglo.
Even though these are good signals, when you consider the growing immigrant community we find a lack of corresponding growth.
As the tapestry of the U.S. population changes, the SBC will continue to decline if it does not become better equipped to engage and reach these new populations. Without a change in strategy, the influence the SBC has with these ethnic and immigrant populations will wane.