In 1897 Ransom Eli Olds founded the Olds Motor Vehicle Co and Oldsmobile soon became an iconic American car. In 1908 it became a staple of General Motors. During the 1980′s GM was selling over a million Old’s every year. Then Americans began favoring smaller more efficient cars. The classic Oldsmobile was no longer desirable to the public. Rather than make a fuel efficient compact Old’s, GM chose to close the Oldsmobile brand. The last Old’s was made in April 2004.
History has a way of teaching us about the once great names and products that fell out of favor with the public. Occasionally the product’s quality or cost changed, other times the needs and desires of the public changed. Either way history is clear, if you do not adapt your product to changes in public perception, you won’t be around long. While this is true of every business, it doesn’t translate to the church.
The Southern Baptist Convention was founded in 1845. Within fifty years it was known for it’s strict adherence to Scripture and zeal for world missions. By the 1950′s the SBC was becoming one of the nation’s largest denominations. Turmoil gripped the Convention during the 1960′s-70′s in the form of liberalism. The conservatives won the battle and took control of the convection. They purged the seminaries and cleaned all the entities of traces of liberalism. The SBC enjoyed the reputation of being “the people of the Book.” Their influence and membership grew at an alarming rate, and we all lived happily ever after! (no, just kidding)
The problem really began when “the people of the Book” wanted to continue this growth rate in a nation that increasingly despised their Book. The emphasis began to shift from Bible teaching to finding ways to attract new people in order maintain growth. Like any good business, maintaining market share while gaining new growth was the goal. The SBC reached it’s pinnacle in 2005 with 16.6 mil members. This came with a heavy cost, and it has steadily declined since then.
The net loss of a 1.5 mil members over the last 10 years is not the real problem with the SBC. It is the fact that they lost their name as “the people of the Book.” They remain the largest Protestant denomination in the US, but that’s all they are, a large group. 2/3 of the current 15 mil members haven’t been to church in a year or more. The other 1/3 has a very shallow and limited knowledge of the Scriptures. When demand for the “book” went away, a business decision was made. Rather than go the way of the Oldsmobile they complied with consumer demand and opinion. Essentially becoming “the people of the people” doing whatever draws a crowd and maintains influence. In a day of passing trends, the lost world is in need of a classic, a 2000 year old institution with a timeless Word. ~HWS