Why Are Churches Leaving the SBC?

With a decline in baptisms and membership in Southern Baptist Churches for the third consecutive year, many are asking the question, “Where is everyone going?” Some suggest that the strong leaders of the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s are dying without a strong legacy behind them to take the reigns. Others suggest 20 something’s do not really care and are leaving to pursue something different or nothing at all. Another explanation is that these churches see no need in denominational affiliation and choose to pull out of the SBC in order to become non-denominational.

Over the past few weeks, I have been thinking through some of the issues regarding why pastors might desire to depart from our denomination. After reading about the recent departure from the SBC of Blogger Ben Cole as well as having an extended conversation with a South Carolina pastor about why his church is thinking about leaving the SBC, I began taking notes on exactly what the reasoning for such a departure might be. Here are some of the points this pastor made about why they are seeking to depart from the Southern Baptist Convention:


(1) Cooperative Program Giving One concern we all share is Cooperative Program Giving. When a church gives to the cooperative program, a large portion (some as much as 67%) stays within the state convention to which the money is given. This is a very large portion for a state with hundreds (some even thousands) of churches to keep. This means only 33% is actually being passed on to the SBC. The original idea of CP allocation was to divide the proceeds from churches 50/50 between the SBC and the state conventions, but only two state conventions do at present (the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia). The average split is 64/36. This is an issue within the SBC that certainly needs to be addressed, so that more money gets in the hands of missionaries and church planters. However, one answer to this objection is that churches can designate their gifts and more are opting to do so.

(2) Too Political – Some would argue that our denomination is “too political”. Some would see ours as a denomination of pastors who desire power and glory for themselves rather than for God. Some may accuse us of arguing and fighting over issues that do not matter while there are real people in the world who are hurting and dying without Jesus. The honest response is, yes we are political. I would argue that any organization whether denominational or non-denominational is political. Short of the new heavens and the new earth, wherever two or three are gathered, there will always be political systems of some kind with all their flaws and quirks. Politics is not necessarily a bad thing, but it must be carried out with a purpose that serves and honors God.

(3) “Baptist” as a Stumbling Block – There is no doubt that the name “Baptist” can be a stumbling block. Just like every family tree, there are some rough branches in the Baptist family tree. Throughout the middle to latter part of the 20th Century there was a deep seed of “hell, fire, and brimstone” preaching. This coined a new term called “Bible-Thumping”. In our culture today, the word Baptist is directly tied to this term. The name “Baptist” is also tied to words like “conservative” and “fundamentalist” which have garnered more and more hostility in recent years. As our culture moves more and more leftward, “Baptists” have received increasing criticism because we are seen as out of the mainstream. Frank Page argues that Baptists have been known more in recent years for “what we’re against” than “what we’re for.”

(4) “Program” driven, not “People” Driven – Some would suggest that Baptist churches are heavily program driven and not as people driven as they should be. This may be true in some cases, but in most cases it is false. Programs are put in place in order to reach people for the gospel, disciple them, and make them more like Christ. If a program does not have one of these three goals in mind it has no place in the Great Commission of the Church.

I think many of us can agree that each of these critiques can be true to some degree (some more than others). I do not believe, however, that any of them are grounds for a departure. I personally do not believe that any church should leave the SBC unless necessarily removed due to doctrinal or biblical infidelity.

Here are some reasons why we believe it is inconsistent for some churches to leave the SBC:

(1) Many of the departing churches have been planted by “mother” churches within the SBC, typically in partnership with the State Conventions. This means that real tithe dollars given by Baptist pew-sitters are being used to start churches of like-faith and practice. A decision not to remain in the SBC would be a slap in the face to a “mother” church and the state convention that invested their resources. Some would call this “taking the money and running”.

(2) Many of the pastors contemplating departure received their theological education from one of our six Southern Baptist Seminaries. These men had their ministry training funded by the Cooperative Program (once again, by the tithe dollars of the many faithful Baptists who have given sacrificially so that our denomination might have qualified pastors to lead our churches). The pastor who receives this benefit from Southern Baptist tithe dollars only to later depart has received a cheaper education thanks to Southern Baptists.

This is not to say that there are never legitimate reasons to leave a denomination, state convention, or network, regardless of the benefits you have received from them in the past. Certainly issues of doctrinal infidelity would be reasons to cease to cooperate with a denomination or convention. In the SBC, the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 is a good confession that sets out minimal doctrinal guidelines around which churches can cooperate together. If the convention moves away from this, then a church might want to leave. Most churches are not leaving over issues of doctrine; rather they are leaving over issues of pragmatic effectiveness. Certainly churches are free to cooperate denominationally as long as they feel that this united effort increases effectiveness in church planting and missions. If they believe that cooperation has become ineffective, then they might consider leaving. What might be considered a little disingenuous is using the effectiveness of denominationalism to get your church started and then leaving once you are established.

The real question we need to ask is what can we do as a convention to ensure that more pastors and churches remain in the SBC and cooperate together to reach the nations? What can the convention do to demonstrate to those contemplating a departure that cooperation is the most effective way to do church planting, missions, and other tasks God has called us to do? Only that demonstration will cause churches to stay. Here are some suggestions:

(1) Admit our Failures: As Southern Baptists, we have neither the best history nor the worst. We have not always done things most correctly or effectively. We must admit, however, that we have done many things well. The name “Baptist” may invoke negative connotations, but the next generation of Baptist leaders has the opportunity to put a new taste in people’s mouths. By admitting our failures, we show humility and allow people to see real pastors who want to serve a real Jesus.

(2) Work Together to Fix Problems: As Southern Baptists, we need to work together to look at the problems within our denomination, come up with solutions, and work to fix the issues that are hindering us from being more effective for the Kingdom.

(3) Establish Good Doctrine: We must remain faithful to the Word of God. The Bible must be our guide and we must not stray from it. This starts when every pastor has a firm grip on what is being taught within his congregation. We are grateful for the work of the Conservative Resurgence to recover doctrinal fidelity and pray that it’s outworking would be seen in all our agencies and churches.

(4) Provide Discussion: We must always have an avenue for discussion on issues that arise. Having open lines of communication within our denomination will allow us to be more effective together. We must always be developing new ways to articulate issues and/or creative ideas that are biblically sound and effective for the work of the Kingdom.

(5) Celebrate Churches that are Attempting Gospel Ministry: While there is a great tradition that has been passed down in our denomination, we must always remember that all cultures are not like ours. We must always be about the advance of the Gospel. Churches have the right to try things that are not sinful or contradictory to scripture in order to reach the lost for Christ. We must look to different generations and cultures to see what is effective in reaching people and doing church. As Ed Stetzer has lamented, we often criticize North American pastors for doing the same things we teach our international missionaries to do, contextualization. This means being culturally relevant in order to win some to Christ.

This post is intended to provoke discussion on why some churches want to leave the SBC and hopefully speak to reasons they should stay. We at Baptist 21 intend to do a series of blogs soon mapping out our thoughts on greater cooperation among younger Southern Baptists. Our hope is that none would leave, and all would learn from each other and cooperate together to reach the world for King Jesus.


Recommended Reading:

J.D. Greear – “Being Young and Southern Baptist?”

Recommended Sermon:

Dr. Stetzer’s from 2007 SBC: “Come Over and Help Us”

Comments 0

  1. When a now retired Senator from Georgia was ask why he left the Democratic Party for the Republican Party he replied… “I did not leave the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party left me!”

    Many who have left the SBC feel the same way; the SBC left them! I know I do… With the IMB excluding everyone except Landmark-ers and the Bishop of the Florida Baptist Convention free to declare “Edicts” binding upon all those who wish to be a part of the SBC in the state of Florida… well… the SBC left me!

    Grace Always,

  2. Man, this blog is right on. I recently had this conversation with someone and your top 4 reasons are the very “issues” that were brought up. I have appreciated your blog as of recently and I agree with this thought provoking article. Thanks for bringing it to light!

  3. Jonakin,

    Here is the post on my Blog that will explain thing…

    Enemy of the State

    (I made the following as a comment on my Blog but have decided it needed to be a full post concerning the dangerous direction of the Florida Baptist Convention – Greg Alford)

    When John Sullivan had the audacity to tell the Florida Baptist Convention that he was going to impose a ban on anyone serving in the convention who did not hold to a total abstinence from alcohol conviction and that he “was not taking a poll” on the issue… a new day had dawned in the Florida Baptist Convention.

    The Neo-Fundamentalist of Jacksonville (especially John Sullivan), like the Church of Roman in times past, have shown themselves the enemy of our Historic Baptist Principles of Church Autonomy, Cooperation, and Religious Liberty as expressed in articles VI, XIV, and XVII of our Baptist Faith and Message 2000.

    VI. The Church
    A New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel…

    XIV. Cooperation
    Christ’s people should, as occasion requires, organize such associations and conventions as may best secure cooperation for the great objects of the Kingdom of God. Such organizations have no authority over one another or over the churches. They are voluntary and advisory bodies designed to elicit, combine, and direct the energies of our people in the most effective manner…

    XVII. Religious Liberty
    God alone is Lord of the conscience, and He has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are contrary to His Word or not contained in it…

    If the Pope had issued this decree concerning the Catholic Church I might not find it so utterly absurd… But it was not issued by the Pope of Rome, it was issued by a Baptist who, by the Florida Churches submission to his decree, has been given the unfettered authority of a Baptist Bishop… When it comes down to it there is not much difference in a Catholic Pope and a Baptist Bishop.

    I for one will not kiss the ring of either…

    Grace Always,

  4. greg, I’m still confused. Did John Sullivan unilaterally make this decision? How could he have the authority to do that? Or, was there a vote of some kind?

  5. He made this unilateral declaration of what he was going to do… then of course he had had it promptly approved by the governing board… all nice and legal.

    Does that somehow make what he (or the board) did right in your eyes?

    And as I warned everyone… that was only the beginning… They have since (under the leadership of John Sullivan) gone own to pass a new bylaw that says if you do not send in your ACP then you are considered “out of fellowship” and thereby loose all privileges to send messengers to the State or National convention… thereby excluding you from the SBC.

    Just when did a Baptist State Convention acquire such authority over the Baptist Churches of that state as to dictate to them that they could not observe communion with “real” wine, as did all our Baptist forefathers before the invent of Welch’s Grape Juice? Just when did a Baptist State Convention acquire such authority over the Baptist Churches of that state as to dictate to them that they must do X,Y, or Z or else they are going to be excluded?

    Do you start to see now that some are leaving because in some states it has been made clear that they are not welcome any more? When select leaders feel that they are free to impose their personal convictions upon all Baptist… well… then if you know anything about Baptist, you know that many will vote with their feet.

    Grace Always,

  6. greg, I was honestly just asking questions and not commenting on the rightness or wrongness of what happened. I wasnt familiar with it.

    I would answer some of your questions. The Florida baptist convention has no bearing on your churches participation at the national convention. They have no authority to keep you out whether you report acp or not. If you send the minimum amount of money required to sbc causes whether thru the state or not you can send messengers.

    Also, they have no right to impose on you how an autonomous local church observes the supper. You are free to observe it as you like before the Lord.

  7. Thanks Brother… I was not trying to be confrontational… Sorry if I came across that way. I am just a little upset by the heavy handed tactics of some in the Florida Baptist Convention.

    Yes, I guess a church that is highly motivated and committed to the SBC can give directly… However, we are finding that many Baptist are just fed up with the whole mess and have decided to invest their lives and time elsewhere…

    I was under the impression (perhaps wrongly) that messengers to the National Convention were tied directly to CP giving only? Are you saying that we can send our entire CP offering directly to Southern Seminary (or any other SBC Entity) and still be entitled to our messengers to the National Convention?

    And yes, we are free to observe the Lords Supper as we feel led by the Scriptures… only now in so doing we are no longer welcome in the Florida Baptist Convention. And if it comes down to following the “commandments of men” or the Scriptures… Well… I think you know which one most Baptist are going to choose.

    Baptist have always been like cats; you put a plate of milk down and call them and they will come… but you try and drive them (in any direction) and they just scatter.

    Grace Always,

  8. Greg,

    No you could not designate all to Southern, but you could give nothing to Florida and send on the minimum amount (I forget what it is off top of my head) straight to the EC in Nashville and have missionaries. My only point was that the Florida Baptist Convention holds no claim on your status w/ the SBC. You say many are fed up with the whole mess and decided to invest elsewhere. Has your church withdrawn officially from SBC?

    Also, you are free to observe the Supper as you feel led by the Scriptures and still be in good standing with the Florida Baptist Convention. The only thing you can’t do apparently is serve on a board.

    Also, I wonder if you could clarify what you said about the IMB policies. I may not be up on Landmarkism. Could you explain to me how these policies reflect that theology?

    Thanks for your time in sharing why folks are leaving the convention.

    Jon Akin

  9. Jon,

    Almost eight years ago, when I first came to First Baptist Church of Ponce de Leon Florida, I convinced this historic Church (established in 1886) to rejoin the local Baptist association and start giving to the CP once again.

    However, due to the actions of the IMB and the Florida Baptist Convention in the last 18 months, I ask our congregation to suspend all giving to the CP until the new IMB policies on Baptism are dropped and the new bylaws enacted by the Florida Baptist Convention concerning abstinence from alcohol are dropped. I do not expect either of these two conditions to be met in the foreseeable future… so the actions of the IMB and the Florida Baptist Convention have directly led to our church choosing to no longer support the CP.

    Does that mean that we have officially withdrawn from the SBC? I don’t know? I guess we joined the SBC when we joined the local association and started to give our support to the CP… and we have no immediate plans to withdraw from our local association… so you might say we are just hanging around the back door of the SBC for now.

    The new IMB policy on Baptism, which requires all missionary candidates to be baptized in a Baptist Church, is an extra-biblical Landmark doctrine. If a missionary candidate has experienced “Believer Baptism” by emersion in water… be it administered by a Presbyterian, Methodist, or whomever, nothing more is required by our Lord and I will not be a party to any mockery of the Biblical ordinance of Believers Baptism by performing a “Baptist Ritual” upon our missionary candidates.

    The Landmark Baptist believe that they are the only “TRUE Churches” and that all other Protestant churches are “False Churches”, as is the Catholic Church. So to the Landmark Baptist someone belonging to a “False Church” is by necessity a “False Christian”… and if someone is a “False Christian”, having been Baptized in a “False Church”, then they must be properly Baptized in a Baptist Church and by a Baptist Minister before they can join or serve in a Landmark Baptist Church.

    Thanks for raising the issue of why some are leaving the convention… I wonder for every one who decides to leave how many there are who just become “inactive” members in the SBC?

    Grace Always,

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  11. Greg,

    Again thanks for your response. I guess you are implying that you guys would be the latter huh…”inactive members”? 🙂

    I guess the reason I raised the question about your “status” with the SBC is b/c you mentioned earlier that a church that is highly motivated and committed could give directly, and I was wondering if you fell into that camp or not. Are you committed and motivated? You said that many Baptists are just fed up with the whole mess and have decided to invest their lives and time elsewhere. Do you fall into that camp? Have you decided it is best to spend your time elsewhere? I took a look at your blog yesterday, and it seems to me that in terms of writing at least you are still very much invested time-wise with the SBC (though not in terms of agreement obviously), but are frustrated with some of the policies locally (that you can’t serve on a board b/c of your position on alcohol) and nationally (IMB policies).

    I could be wrong but the IMB policy on baptism does take baptisms from non-baptist churches doesn’t it? It has to be a church that believes in eternal security but non-baptist baptisms are allowed. Now, I am not stating whether the policy is extrabiblical or not (or even if I agree with it or not), but all I am saying is that it is not a Landmarkist policy. The IMB never called any of these candidates “false Christians.”

    I am highly motivated and committed to cooperating with the SBC because I believe that together we can do things that we could not do apart: send thousands missionaries, plant hundreds of churches, train thousands of ministers with a quality theological education, etc. That does not mean that I agree with every policy that the convention has, but it does mean that I think it is best to cooperate rather than withdraw.

  12. Ronnie and Jon

    I agree that we can do so much more with cooperation. However, I can understand why some of the younger guys are frustrated with their interaction with some Baptist entities. Many come out of seminary zealous to lead churches, only to be met with resistance from associations or other local Baptist entities.

    In a denomination as large as ours, all the problems will never be solved. However, we can commit to do our part to make the SBC work in harmony in the 21st century and beyond. I like all of the dialogue. These posts may be helpful in this conversation.




  13. Jon and Greg,

    You guys are generating good discussion and I pray that both your attitudes remain humble and gracious as they have been throughout this dialogue. Thanks for displaying Christ-likeness in your conversation.

    I want to add this. I believe, and I could be wrong, that the IMB does in fact allow those who have not been baptized in a baptist church to serve over seas. It is my understanding that every baptism is evaluated on a case by case basis. Therefore, when someone is applying to serve as a missionary with the IMB, the IMB then looks at their baptism to see what the church believed and what the person believed. If it was by immersion, not salvific, and through a church that believed in eternal security, then it is accepted. At least that is my understanding.

    I have some friends that served 3 years in Paris, France with the IMB. The wife was not a SBC kid. She was baptized in a non-baptist church, but still her baptism was accepted on the forementioned criteria.

    I am not arguing for or against the policy, simply trying to bring clarity to what the IMB is actually doing. Again, I am no expert and would love to learn more if what I have stated is incorrect.

  14. John,

    Yes, I would have to say that I am Committed to the SBC and that’s why I am Motivated to speak out against what I feel are policies that are hurting the unity and work of the SBC.

    I think the IMB and the Florida Baptist Convention were doing just fine without either of these “New” policies… and I have yet to hear any valid explanation as to why they were needed at this time in the our history. Just what abuses were the crafters of these new policies attempting to address? I think everyone can see what the results of these new policies have been (Churches Leaving the SBC) But what is it that they were trying to accomplish?

    And why should any Church, who after many years of faithful support and cooperation suddenly finding that their members are no longer qualified to serve, desire to continue their support and cooperation. I mean… Really, what did everyone expect would happen? Decisions have consequences… and the consequence of “Narrowing the Parameters of Cooperation” is “Narrower Cooperation”. It’s really not that hard to answer the question of ‘Why Churches are Leaving the SBC?’

    Concerning the New IMB Baptism Policy please see the following…

    “We strongly disagree with the action of the IMB trustees regarding their new requirements for baptism. This new policy has placed the board in the position of dictating to local churches what constitutes a legitimate Christian baptism. With the intense specificity required by the new IMB rules, the churches from which potential Southern Baptist missionaries emerge are now subject to extra-biblical management practices which undermine the authority of the local church. Baptism by immersion in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is the biblical mandate, and all those who give testimony that they have been baptized in this manner need not be forced to be re-baptized in order to obtain an appointment with the IMB. We believe that the BFM articulates a robust doctrine of baptism that is sufficient to help churches make such determinations on their own.”



    Thanks for the warm comments and kind spirit… I think your comments are correct concerning how this new policy is being applied (most of the time), and that just begs the question even more… “Just what were they trying to accomplish with these new policies?” “Just who were they trying to keep out?” Because, apparently there are a lot of good Southern Baptist out there who are looking at these new policies and saying “I think they are trying to keep me out!”

    Grace Always,

  15. “Some would argue that our denomination is ‘too political’”

    “The honest response is, yes we are political.”

    I don’t think that response answers the objection.

    The objection is “too” political, not merely political. I could easily see the objector saying “While I am not so naive as to assume that politics will not be a part of an organization, I do object to the ‘of the charts’ level of politicking that goes on in the SBC.”

    Yes, from a human standpoint, I think I understand why there seems to be so much politics in the SBC. However, here are some thoughts:

    1. While being political is not necessarily dangerous, I do think enjoying winning political battles “too much” is very dangerous. In fact, I think “losing” could be good for one’s sanctification to keep one from savoring the taste of victory.

    2. “One anothering” dominates the New Testament landscape. I have a hard time reconciling that emphasis in Holy Writ with a high degree of politicking.



  16. Here’s a new thought- Let the professors and teachers at the seminaries organise into a professional group so they are not subjected to irrational requirements and fired without cause just before they are ready to retire. Pastors might even become part of this same group to protect their profession from nespotism and other qualifiers that don’t always represent the groups well. Just so the correct person gets beat up- I’m Wolford the father NOT Wolford the pastor. But I am proud of of Wolford the pastor’s convictions. Martin Luther Kings “I Have A Dream ” speech is a masterpiece to me and somthing to be fulfilled.

  17. Greg, when you hold onto moneys for 5300 International missionaries over a dumb rule that applies to a tiny percentage of them, you are being stingy. You are neither bold nor biblical when you hold onto money previously dedicated to missions. I hope that you chose to give that money to some other Great Commission work among UPGs at least nearly as effective as the IMB.
    Did you still give to the LMCO? (I am assuming from your posts that you did not, but I want to be fair in my assertions, so please correct me if I am wrong.)
    It would be a shame if you just paid the light bills with that money.
    I suppose you could be banking it until the IMB meets your standards. I guess that would be better than spending it on your own stuff.
    There are plenty of other mission agencies out there. Perhaps one of them meets your standards. I suggest that you give to that one. That money is poison to your congregation.

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