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Culture and church membership losses

By Rev. Mark H. Creech

According to recent media reports, the Southern Baptist Convention experienced its ninth straight year of decline.

Denominational statistics reveal that membership in the largest Protestant denomination is currently 15.3 million, down from 15.5 million in 2014, signifying a loss of more than 200,000 members. Baptisms were also down by more than 10,000 in 2015.

These statistics are consistent with the research reported last year by the Pew Research Center, which stated the percentage of American adults over 18 who self-identify as Christian dropped by 8 points, 78.4% to 70.6%, from 2000 to 2014. During the same period, there was a concurrent rise in the percentage of adults who no longer associate with any religious faith by nearly 7 points, from 16.1% to 22.8%.

Ronnie Floyd, president of the Southern Baptist Convention and senior pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas, responded to the denomination’s losses by saying, “The key question for Southern Baptists is: Are we pushing back on lostness in America? I think we know the answer is no. We are losing our nation spiritually. It comes back to my theme for the last two years: The greatest need in America is the next Spiritual Awakening.”

Floyd further contended that the report shows “our deep need for spiritual revival in our churches, but also reminds me of the imperative need to prioritize evangelism in our churches and convention.”

I agree with Floyd that America needs another Great Awakening. I have been praying for it. Furthermore, I agree with the necessity of revival in our churches, and the requisite for a renewed commitment to evangelism. But sometimes I wonder if my Southern Baptists brethren (of which I am a long-standing member) understand the way cultural Christianity has worked to undergird these efforts in the past.

There is no question cultural Christianity has been losing ground and influence. We’ve become more secularistic as a nation. Cultural Christianity is something our churches have taken for granted. And whether we knew it or not, it provided reinforcing networks that assisted us in our outreach to the unsaved. The government, public education, the arts, the media, the press, and corporate businesses were mostly friendly to the positive impact of religious influences, particularly Christianity. Today, however, they work to stifle it.

These circumstances present us with an opportunity, I believe, to learn something about the broader meaning of the Gospel. The Gospel of Christ is not merely, trust Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins, receive the gift of eternal life, and grow in holiness. Truly, this is the heart of the message, but the Gospel is not one dimensional. The good news of the Gospel is about God’s redemption for all of life. In other words, proclaiming the whole Gospel also includes working for the transformation of society.

I suggest this double dimension aspect of the Gospel is what Jesus was teaching when he said, Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and the…

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