It happened in Europe.
It happened in Australia.
It is happening in America.
Recently the Southern Baptist Convention (the largest evangelical denomination in America) released membership data that isn’t encouraging. A trend of decline has developed and it isn’t only being seen in the SBC. Ed Stetzer has the data and is an honest insider with great analysis.
Normally with reports such as these or as we anecdotally realize that local churches are struggling we are quick to blame outside influences.
Prayer removed from the public sphere.
Declining morality of young people.
Non-traditional marriages and families.
Playing the victim card may have made for a great sound byte or rallied people to a voting booth, but it has turned evangelical leaders into one dimensional caricatures. The encouraging thing is that a new generation of leaders is emerging who seem to be less interested in placing blame and more interested in moving forward. Leaders like Stetzer, but also Alan Hirsch, Dave Ferguson, Gabe Lyons, among others are looking for ways to lead the church forward.
At the heart of much of this change is to push the church towards engagement and missional practices.
There are still very influential evangelicals who are working from the bygone play book of cable news and political involvement. This will be obvious in the coming months as the GOP candidates jockey for the evangelical voting “bloc”.
Despite this it seems evident that these practices are not gaining the desired effect. I am hopeful about the missional shift and have seen it work in several different contexts because it mobilizes the local church instead of turning it into an enclave.
The local church may continue to see it’s influence decline, but I would rather engage than blame.