Evangelicals often point to their denominations' explosive growth in the last half of the twentieth century as evidence that they were preaching the word of God correctly (as if sized mattered). They scolded shrinking mainline denominations and "liberal theologies" for dampening church growth and evangelistic zeal. In the SBC, fundamentalists justified their take-over in the 1980s by saying that moderates were guilty of being so liberal (an unfair label, since Southern Baptist moderates tend to be conservative by mainline standards) that they risked stunting the growth of the Convention (an unfair charge, because it had grown under moderate leadership).
So, the fundamentalists took over by out-organizing moderates and by rallying without rancor around single, consensus candidates; they took over, promising revival and expansion. And so, it's fair to ask whether they have delivered on their intentions to avoid mainline shrinkage. According to the Associated Baptist Press, evangelism statistics have declined since the fundamentalists took over. The SBC President expressed concern to ABP:
If Southern Baptists can't turn around the baptism decline after more than a year of "extraordinary effort," [President Bobby Welch] said, "we are going to have to face some reality out here in the convention. When we get to the end of that year, if something significant hasn't happened in baptisms, we'll have to look ourselves in the face and say, 'Something is wrong.'Something is wrong, indeed. I watched the 10 P.M. news tonight for coverage of today's evangelistic effort. The story I saw covered President Welch and his team going door-to-door in the suburbs around Opryland. That is not insignificant, I think, because the past growth of the SBC is almost exclusively a matter of its organizational mobility and flexibility in the face of the vast migration from cities to suburbs during the 20th century. Their expansiveness had more to do with human leadership genius than with matters of faith. Welch's appearance in the suburbs to proselytize reflects that genius.
But the same flexibility that gave leaders the foresight to move to the suburbs and build huge mega-churches according to population migrations is itself waning as people seek to move back to urban neighborhoods. The demand for residences is slowly shifting toward the cities, and yet, the SBC continues to primarily target a suburban market that is currently oversaturated and overevangelized.
Something is wrong, alright. I wish a couple of SBC messengers had come to my door this morning so that I could talk to them about it, but I'm pretty sure that the SBC gave up on cities a long time ago.