The 'death spiral' of decline looms for Southern Baptist churches – can it be stopped?

PixabayAccording to new research, Southern Baptist churches that decline to less than 100 members are 'likely to die within just a few years'.

Southern Baptist Churches in America are facing a crisis of growth, with 65 per cent of them plateauing or diminishing in numbers, and many risk entering a 'death spiral' of decline.

The research comes from LifeWay President and CEO Thom S. Rainer, and challenges a graver statistic that suggests that as many as eight in ten Southern Baptist churches are in decline. Rainer's findings provide a more comprehensive picture of the nature of church decline.

'The evangelistic deterioration within churches across North America has been a reality for several decades. This is not new information,' Rainer said, according to the Baptist Press, 'but we wanted to find out the degree of the deterioration.'

For 65 per cent of churches, congregations are either stalling in growth or depleting in numbers. Even the statistic of the 35 per cent that are 'growing' is misleading.

'Growing churches are primarily growing through transfer growth,' he said, meaning congregants who left one church for another, not new converts. 'If we look at which churches are actually healthy from an evangelistic perspective, it's only about 6 or 7 out of 100.'

Rainer also warns of a 'death spiral' looming for congregations with smaller numbers. Perpetual decline is often inevitable for churches with less than 100 members.

'Over 61 percent of churches average fewer than 100 in worship attendance. But, two out of three of these churches are declining,' Rainer explained.

'Once a church declines below 100 in worship attendance, it is likely to die within just a few years. The life expectancy for many of these churches is ten years or less.'

In response, Rainer has launched new resources to help combat the trend, centered on encouraging Christians to share the gospel through their daily conversations. These include the website, created in partnership with the North American Mission Board.

The site encourages churches to measure how many 'Gospel conversations' they have in 2018.

'We know conversion is only by the Holy Spirit, but we also know that God begins most of these conversions with Gospel conversations,' he said. On a similar theme, the e-book Rainer on Evangelism has also been launched.

'It is our prayer that the research, the website and the e-book will spark millions of Gospel conversations that God will use to bring about the conversion of men and women, boys and girls,' Rainer said.

Rainer said that in his experience the key to church growth 'wasn't money or the latest fad. It was just obedience'. launches today.

Assessing Church attendance trends in the US, a recent study by Barna lists the most churched and un-churched, or 'post-Christian' cities in the US.