Ladies and African People usually tend to go away the S …… | Information reporting
The Southern Baptist Convention has seen a number of prominent departures in the past few months.
In December, several high-profile African American pastors left the country after denouncing a statement issued by the presidents of the SBC seminar declaring critical racial theory to be inconsistent with denominational teachings. Then Beth Moore – the most prominent female voice in the Southern Baptist Convention – said last month that she too had left the convention and would no longer post on Lifeway.
These public withdrawals come as the Southern Baptist Convention continues to report a steep decline in membership. In 2006, SBC records had a total of 16.3 million members. Data released in 2020 shows membership has dropped to 14.5 million, with a 2 percent decrease between 2019 and 2020 alone.
The influential members who make the headlines aren't the only ones leaving and can be a bigger concern for the pews of the average southern Baptist church. Is America's largest Protestant denomination finding it harder than in the past to retain women, people of color, and younger members?
Data from the General Social Survey, in which respondents are asked about the denomination they grew up in and their current denomination affiliation, offer a subtle and nuanced portrait of a denomination that has difficulties in determining its membership regardless of gender, race or religion Gender maintain age. However, some of these factors seem to make some more likely to leave the SBC.
Between 1985 and 1995 women left the Southern Baptist Convention slightly more often than men. This gender gap essentially disappeared in the following waves of the survey, but the decline in attachment in both men and women remains to be accounted for.
By the late 1980s, 75 percent of the men and 70 percent of the women who grew up Southern Baptists remained Southern Baptists. In the most recent waves of data, retention had dropped to 57 percent for both men and women. (So the overall decline in men is actually about 5 percentage points larger.)
The pattern for breed is slightly different from that for gender. In the earliest data available, there was no real gap between white and non-white Southern Baptists. But then, in the late 1990s, a void began to form that continued for the next decade.
Non-white Southern Baptists recorded no decline in retention rates during this period, while fewer white Southern Baptists remained in the denomination. However, in the last decade the non-white defection began to increase and now there is no longer any discernible difference in defection due to breed.
Note that between 2006 and 2010, about 30 percent of the non-white Baptists of the South left the convention, but according to the latest data a decade later, it is nearly half. This is despite the fact that the SBC has reported that the number of black churches has increased. It is not possible to link this surge in defects to a single source, but the changing political climate can be a culprit.
In terms of age, there was earlier evidence of a retention gap in the Southern Baptist Convention, but it appears to have been resolving in recent years.
In the mid-1980s to 2000, younger Southern Baptists were more likely to leave the convention than those over 40. However, data from 2000 and later suggest that this age gap has disappeared. This is because the outflow of older Baptists from the South has accelerated more rapidly recently, bringing this age group in line with that of the under 40s.
Asking who is leaving the SBC also begs the question of where they end up when they leave. Studying their new religious affiliations provides an interesting window on how American Christianity has changed over the past three decades.
First, notice that overall retention among Southern Baptists has decreased from 77 percent prior to 1995 to 69 percent in the most recent data. Where are these defectors going? About 11 percent of Southern Baptists growing up became non-denominational members in the 1980s and 1990s, but that has increased to nearly 19 percent in recent years.
If you add those who remained Southern Baptists with those who moved to a non-denominational church, that percentage has not changed in the past 33 years. In essence, the people remain in the same general religious tradition, only larger proportions switch to a non-denominational community.
For Southern Baptists, there is good news and bad news from these results. It does not appear that deviations from the convention are particularly based on gender, race or age. Instead, the overarching indications suggest a decline in all groups over the past 30 years, and there seem to be no systematic factors driving these changes – at least not yet in the data.
However, there is no evidence that the proportion of Southern Baptists abandoning the faith has changed at all since the mid-1980s. Instead, many change their affiliations. So it is not evangelicalism that is rejected, but denominational evangelicalism that may be more difficult to reverse.