SBC Sees Largest One-Year Membership Decline In A Century, Churches Leave Due To Liberal Drift | Eastern North Carolina Now

    Publisher's Note: This post appears here courtesy of the The Daily Wire. The author of this post is Ben Zeisloft.

    Membership in the Southern Baptist Convention witnessed the largest single-year decline in at least a century as the nation reels from the aftermath of lockdown mandates and pastors become concerned about the denomination's theologically liberal drift.

    The nation's largest Protestant denomination saw a decline from 13.7 million members in 2021 to 13.2 million members in 2022, a decrease of more than 3% which continues the trajectory seen over the last three years, according to data released by Lifeway Research, a provider of church business services for the Southern Baptist Convention.

    "Much of the downward movement we are seeing in membership reflects people who stopped participating in an individual congregation years ago and the record keeping is finally catching up," Lifeway Research Executive Director Scott McConnell said in a statement. "Membership totals for a congregation immediately reflect additions as well as subtractions due to death or someone removing themselves from membership. But many congregations are slow to remove others who no longer are participating."

    Even as the number of baptisms and the amount of giving increased from the previous year, the Southern Baptist Convention is now composed of 416 fewer churches between 2021 and 2022. Unlike other more centralized denominations, the Southern Baptist Convention is a voluntary association of autonomous churches which fund seminaries, missionary efforts, and publications as they adhere to the Baptist Faith and Message statement of doctrinal convictions.

    Lockdowns contributed to a broader decline of religiosity in the United States as many congregants never returned to traditional worship services. Church attendance has fallen to 85% of pre-lockdown levels in Protestant denominations even after nearly every church in the country resumed normal operations, according to another study from Lifeway Research.

    Those who continued to profess Christianity became increasingly theologically liberal in their beliefs: a survey from Ligonier Ministries found that the share of self-identified evangelicals who believe "gender identity is a matter of choice" rose from 22% to 37% between 2020 and 2022, while the share who believe "the Bible's condemnation of homosexual behavior doesn't apply today" more than doubled from 11% to 28% over the same time horizon.

    Record decline in Southern Baptist Convention membership occurs as hundreds of pastors throughout the country notice the liberal direction of the denomination. The trend is perhaps most palpable at the institutional level: Southern Baptist Convention President Bart Barber and other leaders have faced criticism for neglecting to rebuke the dozens of churches which have installed female pastors, a practice denounced in the Baptist Faith and Message.

    Officials at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the denomination's public policy arm, meanwhile endorsed a red flag law in Tennessee months after they opposed a bill in Louisiana that would have criminalized abortion for all parties involved, even though Southern Baptists passed a resolution affirming that "the murder of preborn children is a crime against humanity that must be punished equally under the law" the previous summer. Former Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore said three years ago that ministers should persuade church members to accept vaccination and wear face masks.

    The Daily Wire reviewed several emails from concerned former Southern Baptist Convention pastors sent to Mike Law, a minister at Arlington Baptist Church in Virginia, who had contacted thousands of pastors to garner support for his efforts to address the female pastor phenomenon. Many of the churches represented by the pastors have left the denomination in recent months.

    "You can take our church off your mailing list," one pastor replied. "We do not support the socialist movement that has infiltrated the convention and are no longer a member."

    "Our congregation is no longer in the SBC because of their liberal stances on this and their support in fighting an abolition bill in Louisiana," another minister said. "I pray along with you that the SBC leadership would be convicted by your efforts and the many churches like us who are stepping away," added a third pastor.

    "We truly appreciate your efforts to uphold the Bible. I'm just letting you know that our church voted to leave the SBC this past summer," commented a fourth. "We felt that this issue was just one that should have been addressed in 2022. There were other issues, so we chose to become non-denominational and break from the SBC."

    Controversy over the ordination of women in the Southern Baptist Convention emerged last year as Rick Warren, the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in California, selected a husband and wife team to replace him at the megachurch after his retirement, drawing rebukes from veteran conservative ministers. The congregation was disfellowshipped from the denomination earlier this year, a move which Warren will be permitted to appeal next month.
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