Why are Southern Baptist Churches Hemorrhaging?

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Guest blogger Jared Moore is the pastor of New Salem Baptist Church in Hustonville, KY. He is the author of 10 Sacred Cows in Christianity That Need to be Tipped and The Harry Potter Bible Study. You can stalk find him on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.


Why are Southern Baptist churches hemorrhaging? Let’s begin by asking a couple of pertinent questions.

Should Southern Baptist churches seek to be entertaining? Should churches add entertainment to their worship services as a form of pragmatism in the name of attracting lost souls? I imagine many Evangelicals would shout an emphatic “yes!” But, from Scripture, there is no evidence that Christians should market the church.

We are to preach the gospel!

Christians may ask, “Why not both? Entertainment and Worship?” The reality is that no where in Scripture is corporate worship’s primary goal to draw lost people to the King of kings and Lord of lords. The Scriptures emphasize the faithful proclamation of the gospel which God empowers to save souls through His Holy Spirit. Churches today within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) have lost the Scriptural commitment to God’s glory alone.

In response to the laziness of Southern Baptists and the non-existent fervor for soul-winning in SBC churches, pastors have resorted to using unbiblical methods to get lost people in the doors of the church for worship. Pastors, God’s shepherds, have sought to adjust worship within the Body of Christ to appeal to those who are members of Satan’s kingdom.

I understand the heart behind this pursuit, but the sincerity of heart is ultimately irrelevant, for what churches have really done is exalted the opinions of God’s enemies–members of Satan’s kingdom–above the very commandments of a holy God. The end result is a hemorrhaging self-inflicted hole in our foot. Worship is intended for God’s saints.

Can a lost person even worship God? The answer is No.

Then, isn’t it utterly ridiculous to try and make worship appeal to them? For, in vain they worship a holy God who demands repentance before worship is accepted. Twenty years from now, as the culture changes, so will the pragmatic church. For the sake of numbers now, we have grown up entire generations on entertainment in the church – and they expect nothing less. What they grow up accustomed to, they will always expect. If you “save” them using entertainment, then they will continually expect entertainment to be part of the church. Thus, the moment entertainment became part of Southern Baptist Churches, we shot ourselves in the foot, and now, we are hemorrhaging.

Preachers today are expected to somehow keep the attention of their hearers. Many Christians in our pews evaluate how good a preacher is based on how well he can keep their attention. It’s amazing how entertainment added to the message depreciates the responsibility of the hearer to simply listen because God’s word is being proclaimed. The prophets and apostles had the ears of the people due to their authority from God.

Today, the Word of God carries the same authority… and when men faithfully preach the text the Word automatically demands that hearers listen, for God is audibly speaking. It is an utter shame, a wretched, pitiful sight for the church to expect theatrics to accompany the plain preaching of God’s Word. If God or the prophets or the apostles were standing, proclaiming God’s Word to them, would they expect the same? Of course they would! For, they do this now with the very words of God being preached to them.

Neither Jesus Christ, nor Paul, nor Peter could pastor many of our churches today, for they would not be entertaining enough!

Finally, the generation who seeks a drop of entertainment in the message, will raise a generation who seeks a cup, followed by a generation who seeks a bucket, etc. The reason for this progression is that the culture has eisogetically read its thirst for entertainment into the text. And as the culture’s desire for entertainment increases, the church’s pursuit of entertainment will increase to satisfy this thirst.

The sad reality is that the more a culture thirsts for entertainment, the less it thirsts for God. God is more valuable and enjoyable than entertainment. Christians cannot feed those who worship entertainment more entertainment in hope they will repent of their idolatry and run to Christ for salvation. It’s the equivalent of saying, “So, you worship entertainment? Well, Jesus is entertaining too.” That’s not repentance; it’s using Jesus to get what you want.

Repentance is denying yourself and following Jesus. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24). Jesus was not very pragmatic…

My prayer is that this trend will stop soon enough before our entire denomination is bled dry, or before the leg is severed in order to save the rest of the body.

What are your thoughts?

~Jared

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Joel Rainey September 27, 2013 at 2:19 pm

Hmmmmm.  I get where Jared is going, I think.  Certainly, substance is the MUCH higher value than delivery.  At the same time, being winsome, eloquent, and even “entertaining” need not be mutually exclusive from being sound, and for that matter, I’m not sure the glory of God and a passion for the attraction of souls to Him needs to be mutually exclusive either.  I think all of us need to be constantly working on our communication abilities, in the same vein that Wesley used to recite his sermons to his housemaid, giving her permission to stop him anytime she didn’t understand something, or wanted to suggest a better way to communicate a principle.  Spurgeon took advantage of every modern communication methodology available to him in the 19th century.  Billy Graham likewise, took advantage of modern media, and adjusted his “delivery” in order to effectively communicate the unchanging Gospel through that medium.  I don’t think any of us would identify those men as compromisers of truth.
Another issue I’d have is with this statement:  “The reality is that no where in Scripture is corporate worship’s primary goal to draw lost people to the King of kings and Lord of lords.”  As I read the New Testament, and particularly the book of Acts, I don’t see these two ends nearly as binary as my brother Jared seems to see them.  Certainly the glory of God is preimminent in the life of the church from the ascension of Jesus to the tongues miracle in Jerusalem that resulted in 3000 conversions to the persecution of Saul that led to thousands fleeing to Judea and Samaria to the two businessmen from Cyprus and Cyrene (whose names we never know) who took that message to Antioch and won many to Christ–finally resulting in Jerusalem saying “Wow, that’s a lot of Gentiles!  We better get up there and straighten those people out!”  In each of these situations, the glory of God was seen most clearly in the conversion of people to follow Jesus.  Conversely, the councils taking place had to do largely with churches working through an overly-binary view of worship and evangelism.
Sorry to be the fly in the ointment this afternoon.  🙂  I appreciate Jared’s desires here, as well as his concern for the consequences of relying on entertainment as a way of attracting people.  I believe those are real.  I just don’t think the answer is to posit a bifurcation between faithfulness and relevancy, which is what I think I’m reading here.  I am happy to be corrected if I’m wrong.

2 Jared Moore September 27, 2013 at 3:51 pm

Joel Rainey Thanks for the comment brother. Could you define “relevancy” a little more? Tell what it is and what is isn’t.

3 Mark Lamprecht September 27, 2013 at 4:22 pm

Joel Rainey In your second point, if I am reading you right, I think you are confusing two settings. Jared wrote about the focus of corporate worship, yet the evangelistic examples you gave took place outside corporate worship. Is there an example in Scripture of corporate worship being planned around and centered on the lost?
I think these are good issues to discuss. I’m a little under the weather right now though to focus much.

4 Tom G September 27, 2013 at 5:31 pm

Hey! Hey!
What an important
topic. 
The Church in Galatia
had a problem.
6 I marvel that
you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to
a different gospel, 7 which is not another; but there are some who trouble
you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we, or an
angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to
you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again, if
anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be
accursed. 10 For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please
men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant
of Christ.  (Galatians 1:6-10)
 The Church in
Laodicea had a problem.    
 “Because
thou say, ‘I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing;’ and
knowest not that thou are the wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and
naked; I counsel thee to buy from me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest
be rich; and white raiment , that thou mayest clothed, and that the shame of
thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou
mayest see.”  (Revelation 3:17-18)
“I know thy
works, that thou are neither cold nor hot. I would thou wert cold or hot. So,
then because thou are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spue thee out
of my mouth.” (Revelation 3:15–16)
Many, perhaps even
most of the Southern Baptist Churches of 21st century have a problem.
The watered down
churches produce watered down Christians, that produce watered down seminaries,
that produce watered down pastors, that produce even more watered down
Christians.  It seems that the most exciting message in the world is not
exciting enough. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of God unto salvation
(see Romans 1:16).  Wow! Wow! Wow! But that is not exciting
enough.  We need programs, we need entertainment. We need to keep the
“lukewarmers” in order to keep the plates full. After all we have
salaries to pay and budgets to meet. 
Even the churches that
still proclaim the gospel often condense it to just 20 minutes per week. 
Again we need to keep the vital “lukewarmers”, and they won’t
tolerate more, nor will they tolerate “old fashioned” hard
hitting hymns of faith, righteousness, repentance and the
offensive cross.  They prefer upbeat “contemporary” non sin
convicting jingles.  With little fire left, it is simply being
pragmatic to give them what they want.  Thus the hemorrhaging in Southern
Baptist churches. 
The time of the weak
kneed “statusquoers” is past. A time for the remnant to
stand is here.
 The true
heart of Spurgeon:
“If there be
any one point in which the Christian church ought to keep its fervor at a white
heat, it is concerning missions. If there be anything about which we cannot
tolerate lukewarmness, it is the matter of sending the gospel to a dying
world.” -Charles H. Spurgeon
“If sinners will be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our bodies. And
if they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees, imploring
them to stay. If Hell must be filled, at least let it be filled in the teeth of
our exertions, and let not one go there unwarned and unprayed for.” -Charles H.
Spurgeon
There is a prayer I mean to continue to offer until it is answered, that God
would pour out on this church a missionary spirit. I want to see our young
men devoting themselves to the work, some that will not be afraid to
venture and preach Jesus Christ in the regions beyond. -Charles H.
Spurgeon
 While I
probably don’t embrace as many of the deep points of TULIP theology, or the
degree of regeneration expected in the repentant sinner as Joseph Urban; his
article on “The Offense of the Cross” is on topic, and a must read.
Since he says it better than I, his message can be found at: http://www.puregospeltruth.com/the-offense-of-the-cross—a-rebuke-to-the-modern-gospel-of-watered-down-half-truths.html
Tom Garito

5 Pastor Rick September 27, 2013 at 6:10 pm

FROM RICK WARREN
Thanks for asking for thought, Jared.
In the past 10 years, no SBC church has baptized as many new
converts as Saddleback (27,000+), put more people into weekly Bible study (32,200
in 7,018 groups), empowered more people into bi-vocational ministry (over 19,600)
and sent more members overseas to share the Gospel (21,418) in 196 nations
(through our P.E.A.C.E.) 
People have a lot of theories about making disciples, but for
33 years, we’ve used an extremely simple process based on the Jesus model of
moving people from “come and see” (John
1:39) to “come and die” (Matthew
16:24).  We bring them into membership,
build them up to maturity,  empower them
for their ministry, and send them out on mission.  We’ve developed 5 Bible-based tools that have
proven effective in 196 nations, in rural, urban, and suburban churches.  Those who mistakenly assert that  “The disciplemaking process Saddleback uses
won’t work elsewhere” only reveal their ignorance.  If a principle is biblical, it is also
transcultural, and we have tens of thousands of examples from around the world.
18 years ago I wrote these words in The Purpose Driven Church:
“Unbelievers CANNOT worship God! But they can watch worship, and worship becomes a
witness when we actually follow Paul’s commands in 1 Corinthians 14 that we
must be willing to make our worship understandable anytime unbelievers are present at worship.“  Being polite and sensitive to non-believing
visitors
Read  Chapter 12 “How Jesus attracted Multitudes” and
Chapter 13 “Worship Can Be A Witness: 12
Convictions” in Purpose Driven Church. 
When we minister the way Jesus did, we see the results Jesus saw.
We willingly share what we’ve learned with anyone who has
ears to hear.  But we’ve found that many
would rather argue, complain, and criticize than learn the methodologies of the
Early Church that caused it to exponentially grow in the first 3 centuries of
Christianity. We will train anyone, anytime. You can write for information  at .      Rick

6 BobCleveland September 27, 2013 at 6:44 pm

I am going to keep saying it until folks who can change things start saying it, too. The failure is to make disciples. 

It’s GOD who sends people to our churches; at least it should be, but perhaps a circus does the same. But I am quite sure He won’t keep doing that if, collectively, we’re failing at the Great Commission.
Which is to MAKE DISCIPLES.

7 Tom G September 27, 2013 at 11:13 pm

“And
the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and
minds through Christ Jesus.”  Phil. 4:7  Is this the P.E.A.C.E. of the Rick Warren P.E.A.C.E.
Plan?What kind of P.E.A.C.E. was Jesus
talking about in John 14:27?   “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give
unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled,
neither let it be afraid.”
True
peace can only be obtained by sinful man when his sins are washed clean by the
blood of Jesus Christ.This peace is
imparted to man from God by grace through faith in his son’s finished atoning work
on Calvary’s cross. Have you made your
peace with God?
By “joining men of good-will”, regardless of their religious
beliefs or non beliefs throughout the world to do good works will not get you
to that true peace which we all so desperately need. “Neither is there salvation in any
other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we
must be saved.”When you tell the “men
of goodwill” this name only can provide real peace, will there be P.E.A.C.E. I encourage you to watch “Church of Tares”.It can be seen free at: http://www.carylmatrisciana.com/site/index.php?option=com_acymailing&ctrl=archive&task=view&listid=1-mailinglist&mailid=89-church-of-tares-purpose-driven-seeker-sensitive-church-growth-a-new-world-order-free-video

May God give
us grace to see.
Tom Garito

8 Mark Lamprecht September 27, 2013 at 11:22 pm

Pastor Rick Thanks for stopping by and leaving a helpful comment. I agree that it is easier to criticize than to do – even while trying to set a plan in place. I love that mindset and have been learning how to encourage, assist and empower others rather than knock them down. (Though sometimes we all need a splash of cold water to wake us up.)
I think everyone agrees there is a disciple making process, but we either disagree what that process is or we simply aren’t sure what it is. I’m open to hearing about the process as we are implementing church-wide discipleship in my local body right now.
I’m reading two books about evangelism right now. I’ve used 1 Cor. 14 recently to point out that worship is for believers, but it also shows – as you pointed out, Rick – that the church need be sensitive in case unbelievers are present. The only discomfort for the unbeliever should be the conviction of their sin (including that of unbelief) which would probably make them uncomfortable even though everyone welcomes them. 
A fascinating fact of the early church is they grew exponentially with a fraction of the technology we have today to reach the world. A lot of that grow came from the laity who were probably discipled well and followed the evangelistic examples of their leaders. They seemed to know better how to deny themselves. 
Thanks for the encouraging comment, Pastor Rick.

9 Ronfhale September 27, 2013 at 11:31 pm

Pastor Rick,
Thanks for sharing!  You have been a great inspiration to me and many through the years.  Thanks for teaching us so much about reaching the lost and fishing in the pagan pool!  You and Kay have been in my prayers in these recent weeks and months.  Blessings!
Jared, sometimes I wonder if you see anything good in our SBC.

10 Mark Lamprecht September 27, 2013 at 11:35 pm

Tom G I’ll let this comment stand, but I’ve removed the other. I’ve decided this will not be a place to attack Rick Warren. He and I have our disagreements both theologically and methodologically. I’d rather stick to the topic of this post and see how we can sharpen each other.

11 Jared Moore September 27, 2013 at 11:47 pm

Ronfhale “sometimes I wonder if you see anything good in our SBC.” -That’s an exaggeration Ron. There’s numerous good things about the SBC. That’s why I’m Southern Baptist. I’ve written articles discussing numerous good things. But, there are things we need to work on as well.

12 Mark Lamprecht September 27, 2013 at 11:48 pm

Ronfhale Thanks for commenting, Ron. As far as I can tell, Jared does see good in the SBC which is why he is still in it. He is addressing problems he believes exist hoping to help the SBC. He doesn’t always say things the way others might say them, but he is doing so because he cares. 
How would you come along side Jared and help him based on your tenure in pastoral ministry? What you have to say may be helpful in building him up and trying to understand each other better.

13 Jared Moore September 28, 2013 at 1:58 am

Pastor Rick Rick, thanks for the comment. Could you briefly describe the methodologies of Christ and the early church concerning discipleship?

14 Michael Kampff September 28, 2013 at 5:32 pm

This is a topic I’ve struggled with a lot. I’m glad to have read this post, as it’s motivated serious consideration as I’ve written the comment below. I feel it’s been valuable to me just to work through this. I have to admit, I initially identified with the post and have felt that way for many years, even though I have attended mostly SBC churches, but have realized through writing this that what I believe is actually more flexible.
I’m simply going to share my perspective for whatever it’s worth. I love you all as brothers in Christ and trust that you’re all doing what you feel led by the Lord to do. I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything, and realize I’m trying to chime in to a room of giants, but I feel compelled to share my perspective. I’ll keep my comments focused on the premise of the post.
“Should Southern Baptist churches seek to be entertaining? Should churches add entertainment to their worship services as a form of pragmatism in the name of attracting lost souls?”
– No church should seek to be entertaining for the sake of being entertaining. However, it seems that what you’re calling “entertainment” is really just the use of modern technology for the sake of worship. The use of a guitar, drums, bass, microphones is similar, in my eyes, to an artist using a paintbrush – if the product (music, artwork, etc) is intended to glorify Him, I can’t find anything wrong in that.
– Worship is about the ideas and the heart, not the method that’s fostering our thoughts and adoration. The method is pretty unimportant, as long as it’s done solely in the name of glorifying Him.
– Many different approaches have potential to glorify Him. What’s right for one person, may not be right for another, and still multiple approaches may glorify our Lord.
– Worship is worship, whether it’s hymns or rock or rap in style, as long as the heart is fixed on the glory of God, His grace and mercy. Aligning the worship style to the style of the people you’re serving is not “exalting the opinions of God’s enemies”. If the by-product is that lost souls are attracted to the venue because they feel the music resonates with them in some way, what’s wrong with that?
– Why do you assume these tools (what you call “entertainment”) is used specifically to attract lost souls? If believers enjoy worshiping our Lord and God through a certain form of art, that’s good in and of itself. If lost souls find that interesting, why is that a bad thing?
– I can’t think of a verse that tells us to worship in any prescribed way.
– The only thing that truly stirs a believer to really worship is their love for the Lord. Music doesn’t stir that up – only a person’s heart can produce adoration. Some people just clap along, others sing, and other’s raise their hands. Every person has their own comfort level in public, but the point is it doesn’t matter – only the person’s heart matters, and only God knows our hearts.
“Finally, the generation who seeks a drop of entertainment in the message, will raise a generation who seeks a cup, followed by a generation who seeks a bucket, etc. ”
– I think this is a false assumption. We all know that generations can swing wildly against prior generations in behavior and attitudes, and are not necessarily inclined toward more of the same.
It’s a shame that people are so focused on how people are introduced to Christ. If a person reaches repentance, why do we have to criticize how that person got there?
I’ll stop there. Peace in Christ,

15 Tracy Watson September 28, 2013 at 6:19 pm

I have an honest question. What, specifically is meant by the term “entertainment”? Is that what happens when a band plays worship songs? I find it confusing when I hear other pastors use that term because it is extremely subjective. I value worship and the exposition of God’s Word. If that happens in the context of hymn-based music, great. If it happens with electric guitars, drums and back-up singers and radio-friendly worship music, great. Ultimately, my tastes in music are fairly insignificant.

16 BobCleveland September 28, 2013 at 6:25 pm

Mark Lamprecht Joel Rainey I have yet to see anywhere in scripture that lost people are told to go to church.

17 Mark Lamprecht September 30, 2013 at 10:36 am

Tracy Watson Good question. Have to ask https://twitter.com/jaredhmoore

18 Mark Lamprecht September 30, 2013 at 10:38 am

BobCleveland Mark Lamprecht Joel Rainey I agree, Bob.

19 Ben Coleman October 3, 2013 at 10:03 pm

BobCleveland Mark Lamprecht Joel Rainey There are, though, scriptures that  acknowledge that the lost may wander into church, and that what we’re doing shouldn’t leave them wondering what in the world is going on (e.g. I Cor 14:;23).
I wonder sometimes if the primary problem is that we continue to be comfortable with a church culture that places the primary burden of ministry on the pastoral staff, instead of on the congregation, with the pastoral staff equipping them to do that ministry (Eph 4:11,12).  If the primary burden of ministry is on the pastoral staff, then the primary way to minister to the lost is going to be getting them to a place where they can hear or talk to the staff, and the worship service is going to be heavily involved.  That means that new methodologies for reaching the lost are largely going to have to be incorporated into the worship service.  If the primary burden of ministry is instead seen to be on the congregation, then you can try to move those new methodologies into the lives of the congregation (who generally outnumber the staff), in the various ways that they interact with the lost.  And if the congregation really acknowledges that the burden of ministry is on them, then they might be more apt to listen for the equipping that the pastoral staff should be supplying, rather than evaluating whether the sermon or service was entertaining enough.
Of course, you’re not going to move a church culture from the first to the second quickly, and some churches may very well throw out the pastor who tries.  But the second culture strikes me as more Biblical than the first.

20 BobCleveland October 3, 2013 at 10:31 pm

Surely. But the Biblical model is certainly not inviting lost people to come to church. The fact that such a paradigm exists today is a direct reflection on the preaching and teaching of the churches. 
What’s happened is the enlisted men have all stayed in the barracks and left the war to the generals to fight.
Oh .. simply asking lost people to come to church may well result in people at the wedding feast, dressed in the wrong clothes.

21 Ben Coleman October 3, 2013 at 11:14 pm

BobCleveland I *think* you’re replying to my comment.  And I think I covered that in my second paragraph.  But I don’t see pastoral staff as generals, but as sergeants and master sergeants ( albeit without the typical attitude).  Their primary mission is to train the soldiers.  But if our sergeants and master sergeants are imagining themselves generals, and the soldiers are just hanging around the barracks (whether because they’re lazy, or because they’ve never been taught that it’s not normal for soldiers to just hang around the barracks (perhaps because it’s become traditional for soldiers to just hang around the barracks)), it’s not a surprise we’re having trouble.

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