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churchThe 46,000 churches of the Southern Baptist Convention are baptizing fewer people this year, and most of our churches are not baptizing any millennials (which means, depending on generational calculations, people between the ages of 14-34, or, teenagers through early thirties). Christianity Today reports:

In last year’s Annual Church Profile, 60 percent of the more than 46,000 churches in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) reported no youth baptisms (ages 12 to 17) in 2012, and 80 percent reported only one or zero baptisms among young adults (ages 18 to 29).

To put it in the starkest of terms, Southern Baptists have a millennial problem. These reports indicate that our churches are aging, and that we are largely ineffective in reaching teenagers and twenty-somethings.

A task force appointed to study the declining baptismal numbers recently offered five reasons for this problem. I affirm their findings and offer a few additional thoughts.

1. To reach millennials, we need to adapt our methods and ministries to new “life stages.” 

A generation ago, people in their early twenties finished college, began their careers and started their families. For this reason, discipleship programs often focused on “college and career” and then “young marrieds.” Today, the gap between ”college” and “young marrieds” has grown. There is a new “life stage” in between these two landmarks, and it doesn’t fit into a traditional “singles” ministry.

I’m a millennial whose oldest son will turn 10 the day after my 33rd birthday. I am in the minority. Many friends my age aren’t married. Most of my married millennial peers are just now starting to have kids, not sending them to fifth grade.

The millennial “life stage” of delayed marriage and childbirth presents a challenge to Southern Baptists because most of our programs are geared toward families, not singles. But the challenge is not insurmountable. We’ve been here before.

Two generations ago, when the “teen” life stage developed, evangelicals sought to reach “youth for Christ.” We baptized thousands upon thousands of young people in the 1950’s and 60’s. As with every movement, there were strengths and weaknesses to our methods (and some now claim this led to the “juvenilization of American Christianity”.) But there’s no doubt the Lord used the efforts of evangelistic evangelicals who had a heart for young people and were willing to do whatever it takes to reach the next generation for Christ.

According to the Annual Church Profile, 20% of Southern Baptist churches are reaching millennials for Jesus. I’ve been to some of these churches, and it’s exciting to see God working among the group that we often consider most difficult to reach. Perhaps we should ask: What are these churches doing? What is their approach? What is their heart? Let’s learn from one another. 

2. To reach millennials, we need to expect socio-economic and ethnic diversity.

The millennials who are disengaging from the church are white. To speak of reaching millennials in the 21st century, we cannot merely envision the young, white professional. The millennial generation is the most diverse in American history, and reaching millennials today will require a mental shift that leads us to expect diversity.

We also need to consider how we can reach those who are not at the socio-economic level of our congregation. To reach people who are less likely to contribute financially is always a challenge. Many churches think their financial issues will be solved if they can only attract “five more tithing families” – in other words, people who are already discipled and in the habit of giving. There are unspoken, but felt feelings of favoritism in many churches, where we tend to celebrate a new family who looks like us and give empty applause for the families or singles of lesser means.

Reaching millennials will mean that we are reaching people who are not like us.

3. Millennials need to own this problem.

There are many millennials in Southern Baptist churches, and yet it’s our generation that is missing in the baptism numbers.

Sure, we can scoff at the outdated methods of our parents and grandparents, chide denominational leaders for catering to people older than us, or act as if everything would change if only we were in leadership. That’s the easy route.

Or instead, we can admit that those of us who belong to Christ in this generation are failing at our task of evangelizing and discipling our peers. We shouldn’t expect a task force to “own this problem” for us. It’s on us. It’s on me.

Southern Baptists have a millennial problem because Southern Baptist millennials have an evangelism problem.

In every generation, the church wonders how to reach young people and adapt to changing cultures. And in every generation, the gospel gets delivered and the church presses on. I want to be part of what God is doing. So I urge fellow millennials to repent of our evangelistic apathy, step up our efforts at personal evangelism, and get our hands dirty serving people in Jesus’ name. God help us.

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86 thoughts on “Southern Baptists’ Millennial Problem”

  1. Denny Burk says:

    Great word, brother!

  2. Emerson says:

    With respect brother, I think both your assessment and the report you linked to miss the fundamental problem completely. The SBC’s biggest problem is functional legalism. As long as top SBC leaders continue to teach that it is “never wise to consume alcohol” and to equate subcultural Southern taboos with biblical mandates, as long as pastors continue to motivate obedience with fear, guilt, and shame rather than gospel identity and God’s grace, as long as consumerism drives local church ministry models, children growing up in the SBC will walk away from the church as soon as they are able, and Southern Baptists will not be able to witness to the kingdom.
    The Millennial problem is a gospel problem. If there is a true recovery of the gospel (and not just a superficial “gospel-centered” rebranding of revivalism), then the form of the church will change so that diversity and “life stage” issues will be worked out. The lack of diversity and the life stage problem you mention is a result of the fact that the gospel does not shape the identity of SBC churches. The deeper narrative of SBC churches is Southern culture.

    The report you linked to makes the same assessment (by the same leaders) Southern Baptists have been making for years followed by the same solution. It’s just wrong, and SBC leaders continue to be blind to the real problem. Southern Baptist culture is completely wrapped up in Christendom, and as Christendom declines rapidly in America, Southern Baptists will continue to decline. Only if there is a recovery of the gospel will Southern Baptist identity be transformed, the church pulled outside the narrative of the American Dream and culture wars, and a true, vibrant, and robust Christian witness be achieved.

    Isn’t this what The Gospel Coalition was started to achieve? It wasn’t aimed at being another platform for committee reports to be made known but to provide gospel-centered resources that counter the legalism that grips and poor theology that characterizes much of evangelicalism.

    1. Not just another millenial says:

      Emerson, you’re definitely onto something. I’m attending a church currently like that. Perhaps people preaching it think that’s how they “apply” what’s in the bible to the real world… but the issue is there’s so much more than legalism to talk about.. in fact, as Romans talks about culture changing and God staying constant, there is no way we can expect the legalities of this world to follow what God wants– it wasn’t meant to be that way, so a church that forces itself onto the law is, in a millennia’s eyes, often appears hypocritical and backwards. Not to mention, the lack of diversity, the inability to actually show that you love those who have may not understand the world as we do brings distraught to millennials… how can we attend a church who so blindly continues with a culture they have set up themselves–the church culture. Churches, pastors of the church need to stop bashing others and look at their own. I know in other articles on this site, it says one is to stay with the church and to change it, but when leaders of the church are instituting such environments and bashing anyone who goes against them, and the rest of the church blindly accepts, and you claim to be from SB– sorry, you’re making it hard for millennials or anyone to support you.

  3. Arthur Sido says:

    “There are unspoken, but felt feelings of favoritism in many churches, where we tend to celebrate a new family who looks like us and give empty applause for the families or singles of lesser means.”

    This is a huge problem but one that gets little attention. The church by and large is concerned with self-preservation and because of the huge financial obligation that comes with paying for buildings and staff many churches are, whether consciously or not, seeking givers more than disciple makers. A church with a big mortgage and multiple staffers depending on weekly giving cannot help but see people as givers and see other churches as competitors for the scarce resource of consistent “tithers”. Little wonder the church is so disunified.

  4. Larry Boyd says:

    The deeper issue is relationship. Baptism is important and necessary in the life 9 a believer, let’s take a step back though and ask are we following God in the way we are to display and teach relationship with Jesus.
    I agree we need to “roll up our sleeves”, get busy praying, be available to God’s Word, and the leaders He has op UT in place.

  5. Jacob Park says:

    I’m at a SBC church and our ministry is composed mostly of 20 somethings (and 30 somethings) and we keep growing… Our problem is reaching and keeping Gen Xers.

  6. Dean P says:

    Yeah I think Emerson has nailed the real problem that no one else in the SBC is willing to see and acknowledge. It’s one of the big reasons I left the SBC for reformed Neo-Calvinism and Presbyterianism. Not that that particular tradition doesn’t have it’s own forms of institutional legalism, they do but theirs tends to be more deeper and theological and not so shallow and surfacy i.e.: drinking, dancing etc. My point is these are the snakes that keep biting that no one in the SBC is willing to see at least not until they notice the gangrene.

  7. Adam Blosser says:

    Ouch. Thanks for this good word.

  8. Andrew Orlovsky says:

    I agree with Emerson, but its important that us Calvinist beer drinkers must not become arrogant. I’ve heard the PCA is losing members too.

  9. Duane Warren says:

    A Millennial problem? If we are going to admit there is a problem….then lets dive all the way in and proclaim the whole problem. Most of the structured denominations that are today the visible church are apostate assemblies infested with dark heresy. These religious institutions are decomposing corpses that make up the bulk of what the world sees today as church. Look….none of us is blind…..the world is turning away from the church in great numbers, unimpressed and wanting nothing to do with the foolishness on display. The world sees hypocrisy, greed, and unending confusion from church leaders who cling to incongruous doctrinal views that do more to separate than join the body.

    The lost world makes it a point to avoid the proverbial “church experience” because demonic wolves seek to capture and control all who enter the door, using abusive practices derived from twisted doctrine. Although the world’s view of the “invisible church” is unknown and therefore mysterious, their view of the “visible church is known and reason enough to stay away from this person named Jesus Christ. Satan has succeeded in destroying the witness of true Christians because the world lumps all believers into one pile without the benefit of discerning true believers from false. The Bible talks about this scenario in Matthew 13:24-30 whereby God has, is, and will allow the false to abide with the true until such time He separates the wheat and tares from one another.

    I believe your true heart is to reach all of the “lost” in the world. But… friend… starts in your own house first.

  10. Caleb says:

    This is an insightful comment. The SBC’s investment in Christendom is a mistake. As are many of the political and cultural positions that it has baptized. Just look at point 1 here – the people in this ‘life stage’ are constantly mocked or criticized as irresponsible, selfish, narcissistic, etc. by SBC leaders who simply do not understand the cultural/economic realities of young people in those age groups.

  11. Duane Warren says:

    A completely inappropriate response from your heart….from your heart my friend. You are speaking to a brother in Christ. This isn’t some twisted denominational game with everyone keeping some sort of disgusting score card. Carnal…..sad.

  12. This is not just a Southern Baptist problem. It’s a denominational shift in our culture. I am 23 and I am having more and more conversations about the cons of denominations and the stigma that they bring with them. Some of the most influential local churches are not SBC but they are still preaching the Gospel. At the same time we are losing the theological reinforcement of denominations because everything is starting to become a wash. What do all of you think?

  13. AJ says:

    Emerson is onto something here. The issue is not “the programs are wrong, let’s get better programs.” I left the SBC for a different denomination a few years ago because of what I saw as a growing problem of legalism in the churches I encountered. Enjoying a beer every now and then with unbelieving friends and family members is a fantastic opportunity for outreach and discussion, yet it would disqualify me from any form of leadership in most SBC churches.

  14. Caleb says:

    My comment was supposed to be a reply to Emerson.

  15. Caleb says:


    The neo-reformed Calvinists like to tell everyone that their legalism is ‘deeper…and not so shallow and surfacy’ because they like to think of themselves as thoughtful people. But in most cases, this is at best half true.

  16. Jim Hewitt says:

    I tend to agree with Emerson above. I also find it difficult to own the problem (#3), when the leadership du jour of the SBC remains largely old, white man. Until the higher up’s in the convention reflect and understand the needs of millennials, we are going to see people leave and work independently or with different networks. A second problem is that those in leadership that aren’t old, white men; tend to have large churches, large influence, or know someone who is in the old white man, or large church category. As the church moves to meet the needs of millennials, the shift away from large congregations will happen (IMO). At that point, who again is representing the young pastor, ministering to 50 or 100? I perceive it isn’t the guy with a 3000 member church.

    Just some random thoughts. :)
    Have a blessed day!

  17. Nick says:

    This isn’t an SBC problem, it’s a church problem. I belong to a PCA church with few millennials. I also teach and lead a young adult ministry at a camp affiliated with the UMC. Both denominations have struggled to attract young adults. Point #3 resonates with me the most. We need to do a better job of engaging our fellow young adults.

  18. David says:

    Have you any specifics you’d point out to help?

  19. Branson says:

    If I may, as a millennial, there are several things that stand out:

    1,) Millennials don’t need their “felt needs” met.

    2.) We need faithful Gospel ministry.

    3.) We don’t need outreach as much as we need community.

    4.) We want to see real people living out their faith.

    5.) We dislike the trappings of organized religious culture. Big buildings, churches spending millions on mortgages, large staff and salaries, it all paints a picture of a corporate power structure.

    6.) We want to see radical Christians in radical community being radically generous.

    We think Christianity is all about political power, oppressing gays, and supporting Tea Party viewpoints. Ditch the mortgages, the bigger – temple – is – better mentality, and the culture wars.

    That doesn’t mean lose your doctrine. It means living a life that is clearly different in love towards one another.

  20. Chris says:

    This is definitely more than just an SBC problem. I just finished up a year internship at a church that does a great job of “reaching” millennials, specifically teens. However, my observation is that many had a superficial understanding of Christianity. I’ve read Bergler’s book, the one that the CT article linked about was adapted from, and I think he is made some important points. The results of the 50s and 60s are only just now upon us, and churches are taking big hits. I think it is going to take a huge shift in the church to make changes, and I fear that some churches won’t make the cut. I’m not implying that the SBC won’t survive the turbulence of this time, but there are churches out there baptizing millennials. The one issue across the board that needs to be placed front and center is true, challenging discipleship. This is where the 60s failed. Until we can disciple mature, millennial Christians, we can never succeed.

  21. Jen says:

    My reply on Facebook from my millenial POV:

    I doubt the early folks in this faith harped on this stuff (I assume based on the Bible alone as this isn’t an area I’ve studied).

    Of course it’s assumed that most of the people who were at the foundation of Christianity were very young. The disciples, for example. So, the young probably weren’t viewed as a segregated demographic that old people to woo and host but rather were a backbone of the faith. So, that might be a part of it that we’re largely missing nowadays.

    Also, while there is no marketing plan to diversify the church, the Bible does harp on love a lot.

    If the church does what we’re called to do, I don’t think it’d alienate millennials or anyone else for that matter.

    Of course marketing research can bring young adults in. Who doesn’t like pizza, coffee houses, and hipster fashionabilities?

    But, I think it’s more God pleasing to demonstrate love, disciple, preach truth, not be afraid of challenges to base-less traditions, and allow young adults to truly make up the body.

  22. Patrick Johnson says:

    I truly believe the issues go far deeper than lack of intentional diversity and adaptation. There are fundamental problems that have been fostered for generations. Turning the tide, I believe, will require a work of God. Men will have to be dedicated to core issues, faithful to biblical methodology, and committed to prayer. I do not think it can happen overnight, but perhaps in a decade or two, there could be change. As a man who was born in the mid 70’s & spent 15 years as a false convert, in the home of a SBC music minister, I watched my own generation become dissatisfied & yawn at the church. Now, as a pastor, hindsight is 20/20 & it is clear that the problems are from the top down & extend to the homes of church families.

    There are pastors who have no business in a pulpit & who use more non-biblical “Christian” jargon than they do scripture, in hopes that the aisle stays warm with people making decisions. There are even more people who serve as Sunday School teachers who have no idea what the gospel is and are giving false hope & unbiblical counsel to those who are the most impressionable. Then there is the lack of involvement by parents. Gone are the days of catechism or family bible study. Gone are the calls for men to lead their homes, spiritually. No, everything is left to the pastor and VBS leaders.

    Several years ago, I witnessed a Christian try to give a gospel tract to a man who had been a deacon in the [deacon led] church where I had grown up. He declined the tract, saying he was already a Christian & a deacon at such-and-such church, to which the Christian woman said, “O great, we’re out here today trying to share the gospel. Can you tell me what the gospel is [so that I can share it with others]?” The man replied, “It’s Him.” She asked again, “But how can I be saved.” He said, “It’s all about Him.” After a few more awkward moments the man practically fled up the street. The sad thing is, this man probably had the best reputation of living uprightly out of any of the deacons in that church.

    Churchmen today are, predominantly, ignorant of the gospel, ignorant of the bible, ignorant of doctrine, and ignorant of God. Children leave when they grow up because they are false-converts of a shallow & false view of the gospel, which serves as their booster-shot against the true gospel. People do not know anything about God and are merely taught to act like a Christian & “join the club” so that you can add “member” to your resume of self-righteousness.

    A large number of churches don’t even have an official statement of faith, and if they do then nobody knows what it says. I believe the problem “may have” started in the seminaries, by actually trying to become more relevant, than faithful to the word of God. Just as one minister said, “The gospel does not adapt to culture, it is counter-cultural.”

    Some former SBC members in my generation embraced the doctrine of perseverance or eternal security, but have never been told anything about the doctrine of assurance or challenged to examine themselves to see if they’re in the faith. Many will, sadly, go to Hell because they they’ve already prayed the prayer and are guaranteed Heaven, no matter how sinful they become.

    Our churches have become experts on how to adapt to culture, or get people to make decisions, but we have forgotten how to make disciples. Getting a church to believe it is doctrinally weak and spiritually unhealthy is not easy, but it is the first step to change.

  23. Ben says:

    I mostly agree with Emerson,

    I am a faithful member of an SBC church but it is disheartening to constantly hear Southern, Tea Party mores equated with a biblical worldview. We act like we have a copyright on the true gospel when in reality we occupy a tiny provincial corner of a massively diverse global church.

    To remedy our issues all I constantly hear from those around me is, “we need to be more relevant.” But being relevant is exactly what got us into this problem. The SBC exploded in the 1950’s because our values matched perfectly with American culture at the time. Now the culture has moved on and we are reaping the demographic whirlwind.

    Additionally, an issue I’ve experienced with SBC and many evangelical churches is that there is no “otherness” quality. No mystery and beauty. People today are constantly surrounded by technology and constantly being advertised to. What do they get when they come to church- more flashy technology and more advertising in sterile pre-planned environments. I can turn on my computer if I want to be dazzled by spectacular graphics or download a podcast if I want top notch preaching. Churches don’t seem to understand this.

    That being said, Trevin is right. It is up to millenials to get off our butts and get to work.

    May God have mercy on us all.

  24. Dean P says:

    Andrew I didn’t mean to come across arrogant but that was the case for me. And yes the PCA is loosing people too, but I would say mainly for what I like to call TR legalism.

  25. Mike says:

    First, I think there are a number of great insights here from Trevin. A great, challenging read.
    Second, are the SBC’s and TGC’s voices one and the same? What is this doing on the TGC website? I can’t imagine that if Alistair Begg’s independent congregation, Parkside Church, were experiencing the same difficulties, that it would get the same airtime from TGC.

    1. Trevin Wax says:

      Mike, to clarify, TGC is the place where my blog is hosted, but this is still “Kingdom People” and my personal blog. I belong to a Southern Baptist church and sometimes blog about issues related to our Convention. People from other denominations often find similar issues to be true in their experience, and therefore, I hope the SBC-focused posts have insights available to evangelicals from all over the spectrum.

  26. Andrew Orlovsky says:

    No problem Dean, I’m in the same position as you. I just left an Arminian megachurch (not SBC though) for a new reformed church plant. While we are doing well and have many millennial members, most of us came from generic Evangelical churches and wanted something deeper, but we are still struggling to reach non-belivers. I know what you’re talking about with TR legalism as well, One time I visited an evening service at a very traditional reformed church and starting asking people if they saw the Steelers game that afternoon. I couldn’t believe the looks they gave me.

  27. Colin says:

    Nailed it.

  28. Becca says:

    I’m not southern baptist, and I never was. However, I can speak from experience as a millennial who was baptized into a more conservative church as a teenager, and left it as an adult.

    Honestly, I think poor millennial attendance and baptism is a symptom of a larger problem within churches affiliated with TGC–not a problem in and of itself. You say that churches need to be more accepting of racial diversity, but most church leadership is still white men. 7 out of 10 millennials are gay affirming, and many of us have a more egalitarian view of women in church leadership. Are southern baptist churches willing to baptize members who hold these views? If not, then millennials will continue to leave SB churches, and they should.

    This is not to say that millennials are not attending church at all, but that we are choosing to attend different churches. Saying that this phenomenon is because churches do not have enough young adult outreach programs or because millennials are not “owning the problem” is like trying to sell a substandard product with better advertising. It may temporarily increase sales, but it won’t make people more satisfied with the product.

  29. Missy says:

    I really don’t know what to say but acknowledge there is a problem.. See I am a mom of some “millennial” age kids… although I don’t think they are in that group they are in a group yet to be defined. All I can say, being a pastor’s kid and in church since the age of 2 weeks, also attending Bible college… The real issue is being who you are in Christ in church and at home. That speaks volumes to any kid. The leadership at the church needs to be the same at home and at church. This is coming from a girl who saw two different people .. one at church the other at home that hit me. See I am not the typical PK I didn’t rebel although I had reasons to. I found my faith in God for me and I am thankful for it. That is what I challenge my kids to do. We saw our mission field as our kids first They all accepted Christ young and I do want to make sure they follow Christ into adulthood and find out their faith for themselves not because they went to church all their lives. The real issue is being true to the Word and the Word needs preached and taught. Programs, activities and even missions doesn’t mean much if the Word is not preached and taught. The issue with this age group is the lies of what Love means. When you say God loves you and wants the best for you…. they have no idea what that really means. When you say God is the father and HE loves you… they don’t get it because the world has destroyed love, has cheapened it and for many they don’t even know what healthy love is from a parent or anyone else. We are scared to talk about hell, judgement that is to come for fear we “scared them into it” We are scared to use terms like ask Jesus in your heart We are running scared of society and their views of “us”. If you live out your life in love and real grace yes you will demonstrate some “light” but if you never talk about hell and the real gospel you have failed. If you don’t challenge your kids to not only love God but fear Him, all about heaven and hell, be transparent at home and at church you have lost them. Not only do parents need to be that way but we need other adults to be that way with them. They need to not only see their parents live out their faith but that other adults do also. They can trust what you say about God because they can trust you are who you say you are. Want the young people to take faith seriously? You take it seriously and preach and teach the Word, be the same at home and the same at church or public. As a 42 year old “gen xer” I taught my kids about God and how to think…. most parents don’t because they don’t know themselves. This generation was lost before it was born with those a bit older than me…… but that doesn’t mean we can’t overcome. Want revival, pray with each other in public, watch your actions and words, study the Word in public, be real about your life and relationships and who God is and what real love is.

  30. Cindy Neal says:

    Patrick Johnson, you nailed it.

  31. Susannah Derouin says:

    I was visiting one of my family member’s church and Pastor Melissa who fits in the Millennial Range gave her testimony during the Sunday morning service. She was raised in a SBC church and told us about the hypocrisy of her fundamental Baptist church. She said one Sunday night the pastor gave a sermon on how you should not date someone who is a different skin color. She also relayed messages given against dancing, drinking and dating. She ended up at a very liberal Church of God college. She was so disenfranchised by the legalism that she has swung completely in the opposite direction. Her “sermon” was all about how God is love and all are welcome to him because love wins. She recommended books by Brian McLaren, Tony Campolo, Phyllis Tickle and other emergent leaders. My husband and I were saddened that she didn’t talk about sermons that she learned in her youth about holiness, love for the absolute truth of the Word of God, and living out a life pleasing to the Lord and then taking that information and spreading the gospel. Now she is spreading heresy…I grew up in a more legalistic style church and most of my youth group friends do not attend churches that preach the gospel. They are at churches that follow the likes of McLaren. We have to do a better job of discipling our families….Sadly most families are too “busy”

  32. JohnM says:

    Where are the 20/30 somethings going? Other kinds of churches? Other religions? Back to sleep on Sunday morning? It’s a serious question because I thing the answer will (at least begin to) tell us something about where the problem really lies and how we should respond to it. Anybody?

    P.S. – I find it a little hard to believe it’s really all about beer.

  33. Austin says:

    This article is a panic button with no substantive solutions. We can dissect and challenge the millennial generation all we want, but until we have something more than a fancy Sunday service where we can count baptisms to offer, people are not going to care. It’s time to realize that our Churches are uninteresting. We’ve somehow made the Good News uninteresting. And sure… millennial need to own this problem, sounds logical. But how exactly are we supposed to do that when no one has shown us more than the programatic microcosms inside our own church universes?

    The church doesn’t have an evangelism problem. It has a discipleship problem. For too long we’ve been building our churches around temples and not tables. We created a consumer culture which can be boiled down to showing up and paying your taxes (spiritual feudalism) instead of a producer culture where Christians are empowered to go out and use their creative energy to build God’s kingdom.

    Why are millennials not coming to church? Because they are tired of church. They don’t need a program. They don’t need a great worship band. They need a family.

    I’m down for getting fired up about evangelizing to millennial, but I’m not down for reducing it to alarmist blog posts. Show us how to disciple people. Show us how to love our neighbor before we feel forced to evangelize to them. Show us how to live into the way of Jesus.

  34. Austin says:

    Beer is pretty damn good though.

  35. Emerson for President of the Southern Baptist Convention

    Who is Emerson? Is he Southern Baptist? Regardless, I’d still vote for him. He nailed it.

  36. Emerson says:

    In response to the comments made to this blog and to my earlier comment, I want to make a few points of clarification.

    1) This post is about the SBC and the recent data showing that the majority of SBC churches have very few, if any, baptisms of those in the millennial generation. Comments that highlight a similar trend in other denominations may be making a valid point (I don’t know the data), but it is somewhat off topic. The “problem” Trevin Wax drew from the data is that SBC churches need to understand the reasons for these numbers and address them.

    2) My comment pushed back on the basic premise of the post. The problem with the SBC is not the data (though it is disturbing and sad). Nor is the problem the methods, expectations concerning diversity, or the millennial generation itself. I argued that the problem is legalism (particularly among the top leadership, including those on the committee that made this report) and a failure to build church identity and practice on the gospel.
    Some responses to this blog make the same mistakes as the report cited in the post and Trevin’s three additions. The answer here is not methods, relevance, energy, being more interesting, style, or organizing the church around what millennials want.

    3) A careful read of my comment will recognize that I did not suggest that the problem with the SBC is its position on alcohol, as if changing that will somehow make SBC churches attractive. This completely misunderstands the concern. My comment suggests that the predominate position on alcohol held by seminary presidents, articulated in numerous state and national convention resolutions, and perpetuated through blog posts, pulpits, and chapel messages at seminaries is one symptom of the real problem. It is one symptom of the disease of legalism that shapes a whole culture that runs counter to the freedom, humility, and perseverance in suffering and marginalization that the gospel produces in Christians and churches.

  37. Missy says:

    I will not and never promote drinking of alcohol why because some guy tells me not to? No .. Heck no I think and believe on my own and my experience… I am ONE of multiple cousins on both sides that is not addicted to drugs or alcohol or even done that for a social or “freedom” to believe thing. You think what you will but if you cause my kids to stumble with your personal beliefs I will have a problem with your thinking. No Freedoms in Christ excuse you for making someone else to stumble. Be careful here my friend, it is not because of some preacher do i believe what i believe it is because I choose to stand in the Gap .. God called me to stand in the Gap… The alcoholic doesn’t have trouble with the last drink but with the first and you do not know who will go down the addicted road so it is not a “freedom” that all should partake. It isn’t about what you can do… but what you should do.

  38. Mark Bowles says:

    Emerson, you’re killin it! You cut to the heart of issues at hand and don’t care about negative “political” repercussions when giving your analysis. Do you have a blog?

  39. Jim Hewitt says:


    how far do you take you line of reasoning? If a woman wearing jeans causes my kids to stumble in their thought life, is that my sin? This post seems off topic to me, but exactly how liable am I for the sin you, or your children choose to commit? I think your post illustrates, to some degree; what many outside the church see as wrong with the church. You own your personal convictions, which is perfectly fine; but then choose to apply those convictions on others instead of recognizing that we can have different thoughts and still both be biblical. As far as I know, the bible does not condemn beer or wine. Hence, taking a position that seems extra biblical to me. Who gets to decide which extra biblical rules I have to follow other than the Holy Spirit? This is exactly the type of problem millennials (and me, more of a genX’er I guess) have with many in the church.

    Have a blessed day!

  40. Nathan says:

    If I could replace this article with your comment instead I would. Absolutely spot-on.

  41. Mike says:

    Right on.

  42. JohnM says:

    For the sake of defining the real problem, can you name some other symptoms? Some people commenting here affirm your statement, indicating they understand, or believe they understand, just what you mean. Others might not be so sure. I might have my idea of what constitutes legalism and it might not be what you mean.

    I’m not particularly defense here, I am – 1. Quite familiar with the SBC from past experience, but 2. Not a member of an SBC church for about seven years 3. Never a seminary president not the head of anything in the SBC

    Tell me more about the legalism you see in the SBC.

  43. Missy says:

    I am sorry you think I am that legalistic, when I thought I clearly explained my God led convictions and why. Yes I do expect anyone that knows me and how I feel to not persuade my children otherwise, that is not legalistic either. That is respect.

  44. Susannah Derouin says:

    I have a theory…I believe that it starts with the breakdown in the home…Parents are not teaching Deut 6:7-8…they are not teaching love the Lord your God with all your heart and teach your kids about God wherever you are and whatever it is you are doing. Parents have taught moralism…Be good…which is very self serving to parents because they don’t want to look bad in front of their other friends. Then parents tell their kids to be good and not sin and love others…then they get divorced. You have to look at 50% or more parents who are in “evangelical” churches who are leaving their spouse. Then the parents feel guilty and indulge their kids with everything under the sun. Usually in the form of sports which of course the games are on Sundays…The children are taught that everything revolves around them…There is no time for shepherding, teaching them to pray, memorizing the Word, reading the Bible…Insert the 20/30 something age group who think that it is all about them and their comfort. They have been catered to their entire life. They want what they want in church and will go to whatever place gives them the best experience…for those kids who want to be “moral” they will keep going to church and for those who are sick of being “good” will not darken the doors of a church again. God started with Adam and Eve instituting the family unit. The family falls apart…the church falls apart. (IMO)

  45. Susannah Derouin says:

    You do realize there is only ONE race…Human race…Black, White, Asian, Indian…it doesn’t matter what color of skin you have…We all started with Adam…It shouldn’t matter if the pastor is white as long as they are speaking the truth about the gospel.

  46. Jim Hewitt says:


    I think you are possibly responding to me? I would find it very interesting if you would answer the questions I asked because I am very curious. It is perfectly fine to have your own convictions obviously, but what you said was that you have issues with other people exercising their convictions in your presence. How far do you take that line of reasoning? I don’t know that its an easy answer, but telling everyone that they have to respect your convictions while you do not respect theirs seems disingenuous if that is what you are saying. I would agree that if someone drinks or (insert freedom here) in front of someone who they know is offended by it, it would be a sin. If that’s what you meant, I think that we agree; otherwise I am interested to know what you think.

    I have a son who is multi-racial, and served on the staff of a church that was located in a non-white community. I can only tell you this: it matters. I don’t believe I would feel comfortable in a church that was all-white if I was not white (I am not comfortable in them NOW and I am white). Unfortunately, we believe; at least in America, that leadership shows what we value. Churches that claim to be friendly and open to all racial groups, yet have no integration on their staff don’t have authenticity in their community. Is it right or wrong? I don’t claim to know, however i do know that from what I hear anecdotally from where I have served, is that it matters. The problem with the SBC isn’t just that most of the churches are led by old white men, and the leadership is old white men, its also the history of the denomination that leads (fairly or unfairly) to the conclusion that SBC churches aren’t diverse. Since I have had my son, I try to think more along the lines of how he will see things, not how I see them; and I know that any church I am going to be a part of, either pastoring or being a member of; will have a wide array of people if only so that he is comfortable.


  47. Tyler says:

    As a young millennial who just finished college and for whom marriage is a very distant speck on the horizon I can give you first-hand knowledge of exactly why people my age are leaving the church.

    First of all, take some comfort in knowing that it isn’t your fault! It isn’t because there is some new “life stage” that is developing in our culture, and you’ve failed to tailor programs to that specific type of person. It isn’t because you are somehow lacking in sensitivity to the socio-economic and ethnic diversity of young adults. It isn’t because the millennials of the church are failing to step up and evangelize their peers.

    Here is what the problem is. This is the first generation that has really grown up with the Internet. We are the first generation in human history to have been surrounded from birth by inexpensive, instantaneous, uncensored access to the glorious full extent of human knowledge. All generations question what they are taught, but this is the first time that we have had somewhere to go for answers outside of our parents or pastors. And we are finding far better, far more satisfying answers in science and the free exchange of ideas that is available in such an environment. Looking back, be assured that you did the very best you could with what you had, but it is time to open your eyes and realize just how wrong you are about everything. If you do that, you will realize that the church’s leaking of young people is not a crisis, but an exciting new step in human progress.

    1. Jody says:

      At last someone gets it!! This is exactly what is happening. Totally agree with you Tyler!

  48. Ben says:

    Susannah, with all due respect this attitude is part of the problem. Your statement is laden with a number of problematic assumptions. 1) Often in the SBC world, what is seen as a gospel principle is in fact an interpretation bound to the 20th Century white South. By having diverse leadership, we are all better able to account for our cultural blind spots. 2) Different skin colors represent different experiences and cultural perspectives, this is key. The SBC is in desperate need of these different experiences, views, and leadership styles if we are to have any impact at all in the future. “Colorblindness” is in fact a form of racial prejudice, in that it continues to allow entrenched majority tradition and opinion nearly unopposed reign. Thus, if we truly want to grow and have a future impact, we need to intentionally seek out minority leadership and give them a seat at the table.

  49. Jen says:

    Awesome insights, Austin.

  50. Brandon says:


  51. Jim Hewitt says:

    agree, great comment.

  52. JohnM says:

    Tyler, are you serious or sarcastic here? No criticism from me if the latter, I’m just wondering.

  53. susannah says:

    Do you believe there are different races of people? This is different than cultural or heritage differences…im curious because it makes a big difference.

  54. I am in an SBC church. I am 74 years old. Legalism will kill any fellowship. The remedy is GRACE pure and simple.
    I find that our church has lost focus. True, it supports all the correct political positions and there is an alter call at the end of every service and we are heavy into missions. With all that we are declining.

    But we get a weekly dose of behavior modification from the pulpit. The church is struggling, we have a “transitional pastor” who is there to “guide us” and to prepare us for the next pastoral call. The effect is to move towards a stronger SBC approach. We got a dose of anti-Catholicism, rejection of Mary worship, last week. Not that what was said was untrue, it was unnecessary.
    When our churches believe that Christ can change lives, and that He is active and alive in us, only then will we see renewal. Handing down a belief system, political agenda, right living, moral expectation all are empty endeavors.
    No matter who we are trying to reach, young or old, we must point to, witness to and experience for ourselves the power of God in our lives. There is something real about the Christian experience that goes beyond everything else.
    Scripture says, “Christ in you the hope of Glory.” Have we stopped believing that?

  55. Susannah Derouin says:

    Ben and Jim…I agree that we churches should be made up of many different heritages and ethnic backgrounds. Here is where we differ…It is not our experiences that is the key…We all have the same problem. We are all sinners short of the glory of God. The message that we need is that Jesus died on the cross and rose again and without his blood shed on the cross God would declare me guilty of my own sin and I would be separated from Him forever. I do go to a church with multi-ethnicity and heritages( in the north and not SBC) In Revelation 5:9 it says that people from every tribe and tongue and nation will be praising God. We should be doing it here on earth now…The millennials that come to our church are there because they are hearing the Word of truth each Sunday. It doesn’t matter if you are 20 or 80, black or white…We all need salvation…

  56. Tyler says:

    JohnM, 100% serious. I see articles like this pop up all the time on my Facebook feed, trying to analyze why so many young people are leaving their faith and what can be done about it. They are almost always incorrect, so I thought I should just weigh in and share exactly why I and so many like me are leaving.

  57. Dalen Garris says:

    We always hear about the mistakes everybody else is making and then we scurry around touting the lasted fad, Christian self-help book, or new idea we heard on the Internet as a fresh new way to figure out a new way to meet the challenge. Standard Baptist stuff.
    But every powerful move of God was not ignited by folks figuring out a new plan to make it work. In every case for 2,000 years, the only thing that births a move of God is prayer. But we have forgotten the art of desperate prayer. It is too hard for us to sacrifice 2 or 3 hours a day in desperate, contending battle in the labor room of travail. Instead, we offer up polished, polite prayers that come from our intellect, not our broken hearts, and once we have registered our prayers on God’s inbox, we are then free to institute some new program. Assign some new fancy words to describe the different elements that we can discern and give it a psychological or sociological twist and Voila! We have solved the problem!
    But your churches are still dead, souls are looking elsewhere to feed their souls, and the only excitement that ever gets generated is from soft rock Gospel songs.
    Yes, it is true that methods do change, but you can change all the methods you want and never see a move of the Holy Spirit if you never institute the fundamentals that lie at the core of every move of God. It is not church or generational attitudes, new music, or new programs that bring revival. It is deep, broken-hearted, desperate prayer to an Almighty God for Him to fix what is broken in the Church, and that is founded on pure white righteousness. Righteousness establishes the promises of God, and mercy opens the door for God to have mercy on us. This is how it is done; not with the socio- psycho-babble of some new way that you guys figured out, but by seeking the “old paths” to walk in, the basic fundamentals of faith.
    I have been in the midst of two great moves of God – one in the 70’s where we won close to 100,000 souls in one church alone, and what I am experiencing in Africa today. The same old principles still work. And while we in America are trying to figure it out, over in Africa, we are just simply doing it. God truly chooses the foolish things of the world to confound the wise.

  58. JohnM says:

    Thanks for the clarification. However,I started to reply with some incredulity, then thought: “Nah, he’s lampooning the way some young adults think.” I hope you’ll take the following as intended seriously, but in good humor.

    1. I’m amazed you would think not until the advent of the internet did young adults discover they could go somewhere for answers “outside…parents or pastors.” Sorry, but you’re not the first generation to leave the village.
    2. You’re part of the first generation to grow up with the internet, but not the first generation to have the internet. It is available to everyone, and many of us have been accessing it before you could spell it :)
    3. The internet facilitates access to information, and I love it, but the internet does not create the information. Information was always there for those who wanted to find it, and we did. Those many who don’t care won’t find it even on the internet, whatever their generation.
    4. Let me know in 10; 20; and 30 years (of course the odds of finding me will become increasing slim) if those answers you’re finding in your youth, in science and the free exchange of ideas, are still satisfying in view of the life you’ve actually experienced.
    5. For you to know, with the certainty expressed that your parents generation is wrong about…..everything, I think it was, would require you to know everything yourself . Frankly, I don’ t think you do.
    6. Finally, I can’t resist, shame on me – Millennials are the new Boomers. As you are now so once were we; as we are now you soon (oh so soon!) will be. :)

  59. Tyler says:

    JohnM, you are right, my generation is by no means the first to leave the village, and by no means the only one to utilize the internet. The information and opposing viewpoints have always existed, but I guess my intended emphasis was that never before has it been easier to access them. The doubter or the curious are now separated from alternative viewpoints by a few keystrokes, rather than a few hours of browsing library shelves.

    As for my accusations of “being wrong about everything” I humbly retract that statement and hope you will forgive my hyperbole. After all, Jesus himself made use of it, didn’t he? :P

  60. Rob says:

    So sad to continue to read great ideas about rearranging the deck chairs on our sinking ship. The real problem is the problem that has been around ever since the church was formed. We don’t have a church problem – we have a Jesus problem. If we allowed Jesus into our church and into our services, we would not be having this debate. Young people want to “know” Jesus. They don’t settle for knowing “about” Him. If they see no power, no love, no works – they will only see rules and religion.
    The church grew in Jesus’ day because of power, love, works, and extraordinary love. Wherever Jesus is, His people will follow. I fear we have so focused on doctrine, rules, religion, and denomination – that Jesus has been relegated to the back row (if he has stuck around at all).
    Young people need Jesus just like the rest of us. They want to see Him, feel His presence, and experience the thrill of a daily, deliberate walk with the Shepherd. How can we deliver this if we are not experiencing this ourselves. Yes, we read occasionally, and pray. We study the Scriptures, and we plan programs and wonderful messages. But, do we walk with Him? Do we “know” Him? Do we truly allow Him to lead our thoughts and our daily activities – or do we live as Pharisees, proud and settling for our religious traditions and thoughts/programs – all the while scratching our heads and wondering why young people aren’t interested in our menu options?

    My friends, the world needs to see Jesus, young people need to see Jesus. He needs to be seen and felt, experienced – not just talked about from the pulpit. Until we live by example; lead by following, and our days are marked with incredible adventures and stories of experiencing the presence and power of the living God – I am afraid we will simply continue to write about congregations leaving, in search of the One thing we have the opportunity to show them.

  61. JohnM says:

    Tyler, I think you do have a point regarding the impact of the internet on a generation. It effects everyone, but no doubt especially those who have no experience of life without it and thus naturally take it for granted as part of the way we live.

  62. Jim Hewitt says:


    I don’t differ with you in thinking that everyone has the same problem. I think the Bible is clear on that. What I would say is that communicating the Gospel to someone so they can internalize it, is easier if we share some sort of common bond. Externally this can manifest itself in color, but I think Ben is right, its truly experience and even language that can be barriers to the communication of the Gospel. This is why effective missionary agencies train indingenous people to go and spread the Gospel in their homeland. This is why I believe Paul went to urban centers and trained local people there, who then went out into the far reaches of the World (another reason being division of labor). It makes sense relationally to see the Gospel brought to people who we have connections with.

    Color is a real barrier, whether we consider it to be or not; to people who come to churches that are mostly white. They may not feel like they are welcome, or fit in, or whatever. Is that wrong? Maybe theoretically it is, but in every day life that’s the way it is. From my experience, multi-ethnic staff & leaders make it more likely that you will have a multi-ethnic congregation. I served on a chuch staff that was 100% Anglo in a location that was 96% hispanic. The church was well over 90% Anglo, and struggling to reach Hispanics. There were many reasons for that. In talking to the people who wouldn’t come to the church, I would typically hear: they don’ understand the struggles of Hispanics; they don’t speak the language (even if ppl spoke Spanish, it wasn’t “their” Spanish); they don’t represent me (no leadership that was Hispanic); etc… I would also say, that if Millennials trend towards “show me what you believe by what you do,” then saying you are for diversity and reaching all people is only truly demonstrated when you have representatives of all people on your leadership team.

    I do not believe that only SBC churches do this poorly. I think it is a pervasive problem in my sphere of church experience. Thankfully there are churches that these trends don’t apply in, but they are few and far between. I am praying for that to be the case, and will do whatever I can so that when my son grows up, maybe color won’t be an issue, at least in the place we should be completely united; the local church.

    Have a blessed day!

  63. christian says:

    As a millenial and a former Neo-Calvinist/Young, Reformed & Restless/TGC reader, I must say this is way off. The reason I left was primarily that the truth wasn’t being taught. And I’m not talking about the gospel, I’m talking about life.

    Pastors and teachers would preach that we are all messed up, but I started to realize it came across the same way as a 3-year-old does when he’s forced to apologize to another 3-year-old. He’s just saying it because it gets him moving on to what he really wants to do.

    There is an arrogance & swagger that’s pervaded the reformed side of things for too long. Doctrine and intelletualism has become a god.

    We millenials want to seek truth and honesty in who we are – f-ups and walking contradictions. People living in paradoxes. People who daily have a tough time believing in God or the inerrancy of Scripture. People who believe and don’t believe at the same time, yet have a commitment to follow Jesus.

    To quote Frank Schaeffer, “it’s not about what church you go to…but about what you are becoming.” That’s me, and that’s many of my millenial folks. We don’t want our brains fed anymore. We don’t need to be motivated to help humanity. Instead we hear all this legalism and law and do what most people do who encounter those…rebel. But where there is freedom of control, there is freedom to act, and we will joyfully do so.

    I understand it. I understand the thinking of the reformed churches. I understand the want and need to control. But it’s not healthy. And it’s stifling.

    Truth can be borne out in life. It doesn’t have to be written on a sacred page. It’s felt in a wife’s touch, a baby’s cry, a smile and a hug from a homeless man you just fed at Potbelly Sandwiches, a tearful thank you from a friend who you just stayed up with all night because he has anxiety issues, being a light to the outcast, being moved by a painting or a song, etc etc etc.

    Bottom line: the reformed movement needs to be more honest. Millenials aren’t stupid and can see right through people. Especially scared ones. They want to get out and change the world as Jesus did through creating, loving, peace-bringing, which is at odds with what I saw and experienced in the reformed churches I was in; they were primarily interest in doctrine and holding right belief. Now I understand right belief is loving others.

  64. cao says:

    Here’s a quick story that shows my main problem (in my experience) with the reformed movement.

    My wife and I had led a smallgroup/biblestudy for 6 years when we had a couple who was hitting a rough patch to put it lightly. Things were getting volatile. Divorce was looming. We called a meeting with some elders at the church to discuss and get encouragement and advice as we were not equipped to handle this kind of thing (or led to believe we weren’t at the time).

    However, at the meeting that issue was never discussed. What was discussed is that they’d found out I had a belief on a fringe doctrine that didn’t jive with the church’s view. For two hours we discussed this and never the hurting, broken, fragile couple in our care.

    Over and over that’s been our experience. We’re more concerned with proper views on doctrine than helping the hurting. I fully expect to open my “Neo-Reformed Study Bible” (fictional, I hope, haha) one day and read the story of the Good Samaritan wherein the Good Samaritan says to the traveller, “I’ll help you, but first tell me, do you ascribe to TULIP? If not, let’s fix that first, then we’ll worry about other things.”

  65. Caleb says:

    They are going to other churches, and religions and they are sleeping in. It depends. I am apparently a “millennial” and I went to another church.

  66. I think the biggest issues pushing out millennials in the SBC are 1) relational shallowness, 2) moralistic legalism, 3) intellectual dishonesty, 4) lack of political integrity, and 5) the lack of wisdom being taught in churches.

    A lot of SBC churches are relationally shallow, meaning that they are warm and friendly to insiders who have been members their whole lives but are closed off to outsiders. That is why it is so difficult as an outsider to tell someone in a smaller SBC church that their church is shallow or unfriendly; they have no idea where you would get the idea! The “fellowship” that is occurring in SBC churches is not based on Christ and Scripture, it is based on familial and/or friendship relationships that have accumulated over the years. That is why there seems to be almost no warmth in larger, especially revivalist churches; there are no common roots and few people who have been there more than five years. Revivalist SBC churches are so concerned with reaching those outside the church, that they drop those inside the church. I am reminded of Jesus’ main apologetic for us being his disciples: our love for one another. When a ministry in your church will try to “bribe” an unsaved person into the faith by fixing their roof, but that same service is unavailable to a needy church member…that displays the relational shallowness of our churches. Why would I want to become a Christian if the minute I do, the church stops caring about me? This is a big problem and SBC churches need to do something about it. Community that is not just spoken but demonstrated matters to millenials who are more apt to depend on one another more than the self-reliant, ultra-individualistic Gen Xers.

    Moralism is a big problem in the SBC and goes far beyond any single issue. Every time an SBC pastor gets up in the pulpit and harps on “living right” rather than expounds the grace and mercy of God offered in Christ, more and more people become 1) self-righteous Pharisees and 2) discouraged believers who cannot live up to the standard. The law kills everything in us, and justly so; the Gospel liberates us to be all that God has called us to be. We need to become a church that will take in sinners and have them in our midst, even if they do not believe! They need to see our love for one another and the manifestation of the holiness and beauty of Christ in our midst. We must go to them where they are, in dirt and filth of depravity and identify with them; from there we can point to Jesus and show them the Way out. It is all of grace, mercy, and compassion; yes, there are eternal consequences, but I think that is the part of the message we have conveyed pretty loudly and accurately. It is time for the SBC to start proclaiming the good news and not just scaring people into conversions (it’s not working anymore; many atheists would rather go to hell than listen to moralistic preacher harp on how evil they are for an hour) We need to target the Gospel where the people are looking if we want them to consider the entirety of our message.

    For too long the SBC has been unwilling to thoughtfully, softly explore the new information coming out of social and scientific disciplines. The SBC has also rigidly hung on to modernism over postmodernism thus refusing to retool the way the say things in order to open and honest in our age of greater authenticity. Every time an SBC minister (or congregant) says, “I believe it, because the Bible says it.” I cringe. Not because I do not believe the Scripture is accurate and reliable to show us who God is, what he is doing (has done, will do), and how we can join him in Christ…but because a lot of the things SBC people stand on is based on interpretation rather than the text itself. There is a strong push against science (not just evolution, but science in general) because people are afraid to have to come to terms with a reinterpretation of Genesis 1-2 and other passages. But this not a new problem, the Church has always had bad knee-jerk reactions that they later regret. There is also an attitude perpetuated by SBC leaders that doubt and honest inquiry is antithetical to being a believer; if I question, then I must be on the false prophet road and I need to be rebuked. There was a day when the SBC was more diverse (and then the Moderates messed it up for everyone by not reigning in the seminaries) and it is sad to see such intellectual potential mired in the quagmire of stressing minor doctrines such as YEC, pre-millenialism, patriarchy, and the willingness to at least REVISIT and process complex issues. When SBC leaders stick their heads in the sand and defend zealots like Ken Ham, the late Jerry Falwell, etc. …it causes millenials to wonder 1) what they are hiding and 2) whether the faith is robust enough to stand the test of time (which of course it is).

    Politics is probably the biggest downfall of the SBC leadership specifically; getting wrapped up in the religious right, the Tea Party, and even the Republican party was only a temporary win for the SBC. Now, with the political climate changing (as is inevitable), the SBC is finding itself allied with a group of increasingly questionable characters. While vigorously trying to impose sexual morality on the entire U.S. populace (something Scripture never mandates us to do), they have failed to acknowledge the greed of their pro-corporation, pro-lassiez faire capitalist allies. In fact, these individuals attend their churches and are regular tithers. These individuals and their greed are not being challenged by our churches; we are not standing up for the rights of the poor and oppressed EQUALLY. We need to be Scripturally consistent in all areas of practice; even the ones that may mean we lose big donors to our church funds (God forbid we should have to take a pay cut and “suffer” for the truth). We helped build this consumeristic society of cheap products that end up being purchased at the expense of the worker. We refuse to uphold the human rights and dignities of people we do not approve of or agree with (e.g. homosexuals. atheists, etc) and then we groan when they have swayed public opinion and they have had enough. It is one thing to teach against a homosexual lifestyle, it is quite another to impose this on the state. Millenials do not want to be aligned with people who are exploiting others and with religious leaders who are too blind to realize that they are being given lip service and a pat on the head. We are citizens here, but more importantly we are citizens of the coming kingdom which includes every tribe, people, and nation. Maybe our politics and practice ought to reflect that fact?

    Finally, we do not teach biblical wisdom in our churches but rather follow the “slippery slope” principle or we inappropriately apply the “do not cause others to stumble” clause. We cannot, and I wish to be clear on this, we cannot make something wrong that Scripture does not prohibit, neither can we make a holiness code that shows how holy and sanctified we are. Yes, we must not use our freedom in a way that is basically a middle finger to our struggling brother or sister, but at the same time we must use wisdom in how that is applied. For instance, it is not wise for a minister to drink alcohol in the deep South, especially in small town culture (it is different in urban areas, but they are Southern influenced rather than Southern based). Why? Because many in the South have been taught in church that drinking is wrong and reprehensible to do. This is true of BOTH saved and unsaved people; it can affect your witness of Christ if you are seen with alcohol in public. Now, if you live somewhere else, the guidelines are different. However, I think that you should never be “showy” or arrogant with your freedom in Christ; e.g. do not post pictures on social media of you downing a Heineken. I also think that if you work with youth, you really need to think about how they might be influenced by your decision. Biblical wisdom in Christ requires more than a “thou shalt not,” it requires a “How much do I love Jesus, my family/friends, and the lost? More than _________?” Wisdom requires a heart open to the Spirit speaking through Scripture, prayer, other believers, and even the world around us. Alcohol is just an example, there are a host of other issues that come into play; the SBC needs to start teaching people how “to live wisely because the days are evil.”

  67. Duane Warren says:

    I find it interesting how this type of a thread conversation seems to bring out the inspector in so many people. We, myself included, find it so easy to examine our churches and our brothers and sisters in Christ and find all that is amiss. But I wonder if this thread would look different if we first examined ourselves before our Lord…..and then thoughtfully shared our mind with others. Often with ourselves, and even more often with others…..we only seem to do the first part of “examining”. The easy part. The part where we just sit there and ponder. There is no profit in examining either ourselves or the church without engaging in the other part. Action…..individual action that will meld with others individual actions to become a movement of correction. Its great that we can all point out sin and eloquently describe the vileness of any sin…..especially when looking outward…..and not inward. We all seem to want our voices heard…..and that voice to mean something. But what about taking time to listen to God’s voice….His Word…..first. I believe without any measure of wavering that there is not only a written answer to the original question posted…..but an explicit plan of action to go with that answer. In fact…..if we could find the humility and patience within ourselves….and asked Him…..diligently……that answered would be revealed in His Word and would be far far more simple then our feeble intellect has proposed thus far. Far more simple. Why do we insist on giving sweet lip service to our God while expressing an answer out of our own depraved selves. And I will say…..I am the guiltiest of all.

  68. cao says:

    @Duane Warren We do. The problem is that the evangelical church has become a regime, a machine. And to topple it requires a revolution. And the first step in a revolution is to make people aware. Many people go to church every weekend begrudgingly and don’t understand why they feel that way. So when they possibly read some of this stuff, it might sync up with their feeling and maybe given enough time, some unity will be born and we can enact change. As it stands right now, things like the SBC and Acts 29 are too powerful and play too good of defense to allow any change to happen.

  69. David Naas says:


  70. Leading Edge Boomer says:

    The “problem” is not new, nor is it confined to Southern Baptists. Many millions of us left organized religion as soon as we left home, for work or college, because it just made no sense. The repression favored over compassion had something to do with it for some, but for the rest of us the mumbo-jumbo, political inflexibility, and adherence to anti-science positions was, and continues to be, downright embarrassing. The decision is easier than ever for Millennials.

  71. Mikehorn says:

    I am not SBC, but I also left the church of my youth, and later lived in Georgia among mainly SBCers. They were not effective at spreading their beliefs. Instead, they came across as partisan, militant against even little things (beer was cited earlier), petty about being in their right or wrong. C’mon, beer? I like a cold beer after hard exercise, like a 3 mile run. Or any outdoor work in the blazing heat and humidity. There is nothing spiritual there. Complain about it and I’ll just ignore you for your silliness. More worrisome is the militant partisanship. As long as the SBC is a “get out the vote” arm of the GOP, you’ve lost me. For that matter, the GOP lost me when they became the “worldly power grab” arm of socially conservative Protestant Christianity. The division and hate this has added to modern America does real damage now. When a political debate in a democracy enters into saints and devils screaming past each other, with good and evil defined by one specific religious view, that becomes a real problem for our future. The SBC should give honest thought to helping the poor rather than condemning them, recognizing the human dignity of others who are free to choose their own way, acknowledge the basic humanity of immigrants desperate for a better life… The SBC needs more humility, fewer litmus tests. They need to embrace the tax collector and prostitute, in biblical terms. They need to be more Christian and less divisive and hateful.
    Yeah, I don’t see it going that way either. Millennials will continue to leave for happier company.

  72. MGRoach says:

    Have you considered that this generation does not want to associate with a religion that was founded in support of slavery. Since the SBC was wrong about that issue 150 years ago perhaps the “Millennials” have reasons to consider the SBC current positions on social issues to be equally wrong. They’re not prepared to wait 150 years for the SBC to realize that all people are equal in God’s eye.

  73. Bernie Lee says:

    I agree with you. We non Southern Baptists, (I’m Jewish), whether fairly or not, associate the Southern Baptist Church with the Southern White subculture of racism and segregation. I’m in my 50’s. I suspect that younger people also see Southern Evangelicals as anti women also.

  74. Bernie Lee says:

    I concur with you. My understanding is that Southern Baptists broke from regular Baptists over the later allowing African Americans in their church. From slavery to Jim Crow to Jerry Falwell and Swaggart, Southern Baptists have sadly made bad decisions.

  75. Bernie Lee says:

    I’m a Democrat. I agree. People like Pat Robertson, Ralph Reed and the late Jerry Falwell appear to be arms of the Republican Party. I do think that abject partisanship has come back to haunt Southern Baptists. Pope Francis, by putting the focus of the Catholic Church back on the poor and the ill can benefit all conservative Christians. It will be interesting to watch. I as a Jewish American deeply admire this pope.

  76. jim says:

    jesus practiced inclusion, for all intents and purposes the SBC promotes exclusion and has for the last 50 yrs or so. what then do you expect to happen. besides, as mikehorn and william mcpherson pointed out, once you become a mouthpiece for the far right your credibility as a moral force ceases to exist. it was obvious in the ’60s when the white preachers abandoned mlk and today it’s even more formal and focused. so you sold your credibility for political power and now you have nothing left. well except wealthy white people who are afraid of everything. jesus never wore rolexes and drove cadillacs………………………..

  77. Martin says:

    I have been thinking of this question recently and here are my thoughts. I really don’t know if they are accurate – just one person’s reflections.

    The application of doctrine is at the heart of the millennial problem. Not the wonderful and mysterious truths that embody doctrine, but the ‘feet on the ground’ biblical truths of the social gospel (I dislike the term ‘social gospel’ because of the knee-jerk response, but employ it for lack of a better term).

    Until millennials see the church making bold stands for justice against policies and mind-sets that oppose issues concerning millennials, they will always stay at the fringe – looking in, then looking away.

    Millenniels need to see how following Christ addresses the atrocious governmental policies against homosexuals in repressive regimes (Sudan, Nigeria, Mauritania, Uganda, Tanzania, Sierra Leone, Russia), not only our protests against gay marriage.

    They need to see the church being the most vigilant agent in addressing environmental practices that harm the earth and have their greatest deleterious effect upon those least capable of withstanding the harm that results.

    They need to hear and witness the church truly affirming the equality of women in the world instead of maintaining its own practice of complementarianism (claiming it is based on a literal interpretation of Scripture and minimizing the overwhelming evidence for egalitarianism, as well as the obvious capabilities of women throughout history).

    The doctrines we cherish have little substance for millenniels unless they bear fruit in the world. We claim a God of truth, love and justice. When we seek truth like children (asking why did Jesus say this? why did Jesus do the things he did?), show love beyond our own capability and work for justice where justice is not, then millennials we see the hand of God among us.

    I feel millenniels are put off by culture of the conservative church. The alliance forged with conservative politics is unhealthy at best. As in the corporate world, a healthy culture is created when it enables the individual and promotes the freedom to question and confront tradition.

    The truths of our doctrine are not for the mind alone. They are for the feet.

    I don’t mean this to be a generalization of all gospel-preaching churches. But, I do believe the problem exists.

  78. Jules says:

    Rob, you’re right. I didn’t leave the church because I saw real love of Jesus in my parents. I saw the problems, hypocrisies, weaknesses. But I knew there was more to it because of their genuine faith.

  79. Brian says:

    As a staff member of a large Christian church who supports missions through the SBC, I don’t think we pay much attention to who’s who so much as who has He allowed us to share his redeeming grace with and with purpose. The key is always being purposeful about relationships. It’s easy sometimes to categorize large churches as a corporation but consider they could actually be making a concerted effort to spread the gospel like we are called to do and letting God use us to show how He changes lives for the Kingdom every second of every day. I love being a part of an ever growing church who sees people commit their lives to Christ and follow up int the obedience of baptism each weekend. If a church does not grow, is it carrying out the great commission and discipline…that’s something I ponder. Who can we all come one step closer to sharing His good news with today?

  80. JohnM says:

    I can’t help noticing some of the negative (toward the SBC) comments here are made by people who never left the SBC because they were never there in the first place. Now you folks know who you are, and you’re entitled to your opinion of Southern Baptists, but your comments can’t really go all that far toward answering the question of why millenials are leaving the SBC.

  81. Leaving the SBC so you can drink beer without guilt? Grow up! If legalism is a problem in the SBC then judgmentalism is a problem for many of you leaving the denomination. I recommend a recent article in CT by D. L. Mayfield, “Why I Gave Up Alcohol”. It really is about being aware of the influence that culture has upon you and the influence that you have upon others. Your practice and demonstration of “drinking alcoholic” beverages as a Christian leader can have a detrimental and debilitating effect on those under your influence. I recommend that you consider giving up your “sacrificed meats” offered to the idols of our culture to be a greater witness to others. I grew up around alcohol and the “occasional beer” and I witnessed first hand a number of family and friends that were entrapped in alcoholism. I vowed not to touch the stuff, even though I am free to in Christ, to save even one person from that lifestyle of entrapment and slavery. Why do people who leave a church or a denomination have to trash it. Just move on and go serve Christ the best way you feel led.

  82. Craig,

    There is a difference between leaving the SBC because of the desire to drink and leaving because drinking (and many other things) are looked at as inherently sinful. I do not drink personally; the choice I made was based on wisdom concerning my context and future in ministry. However, I recognize the need to discourage adding rules to our faith; we cannot prohibit something just because we do not want to deal with the consequences. Perhaps the ones who want to drink so badly need to examine their motivations and hearts on the matter; is that really the wisest choice (especially those in certain communities in the deep South)? But at the same time, those who want to add new laws need to ask themselves whether they have been gripped by a spirit of Pharisaism; how much of the motivation to oppose alcohol is a desire to be able to receive certain praise from the pseudo-Christian Southern culture for being an upstanding citizen or an exemplary church member? Drinking brings up bigger issues than the consumption of alcohol; it reveals where were are selfish, sinful and desire to be right or have our way rather than to hear our brothers and sisters.

    Part of the problem with alcohol consumption in the South is that it was commonly done by the poor to escape from the harsh life of poverty. Alcohol became a means of medicating depression and thus a lot of people became culturally enslaved to it. Alcohol is typically viewed as harshly buy the middle and upper class because it was typically a celebratory drink. There is a danger, as with any substance, that you will become addicted in order to alter your mood, but this is true of prescription medications, sugary treats, and caffeine (some people I know cannot function in the morning without coffee). All of these can lead to enslavement and cause heartache for families but no one crusades against them or says that we should not be able to have them. It all has to do with context and whether or not we are willing to let people who are discreet with their drinking do so, and how Christian leaders (especially in the deep South) would be wise to avoid it.

    But I left the SBC not because of any one issue and the only reason I say anything is that SBC is the biggest Protestant denomination in the United States, what it does affects all of the rest of us. You guys are not in isolation and you cannot just tell the rest of us to “put up and shut up.” What you do and what you stand reflects on the entirety of Christianity in America and every theologically conservative Christian is compared to the leaders and thinkers (often times the wrong ones) of the SBC. Millennials who reject your churches for certain reasons will reject our churches too if we use the same tactics (often extra-scriptural) and catch-phrases as you do. The SBC needs to realize how it is not solving these issues by initiating another study or task force; Lifeway or whatever committee can study the issue to death but the only solution is to begin changing the SBCs culture. Only those who are on the inside and leading the churches can do that.

  83. Meg says:

    I finally had an opportunity to read this article. I did not read too many of the comments, but as a woman who has been a believer for 35 years, and a SBC member for only the past 5, I was saddened to see that the success stories were not posted in the article. In our SBC church here in Okinawa, Japan, we are free to use pretty much whatever we like (as long as it is Biblical) in our community groups. We have over 100 various studies availabe as well as access to Right Now Media. Do you know what studies are always the most sought after? Anything by Platt or Chandler. When we look at Platt, Chandler, Greear and others like them we see a number of commonalities too numerous to mention. One commonality is though that their churches are big – very big, with many millenials. Also, they are SBC (not your grandmother’s variety) and will not compromise Biblical authority for the culture. They are “in your face, ‘Thus says the Lord’ ” types. Believe me, more churches are popping up like this, attracting many and not swayed by the signs of the times.

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​Trevin Wax is Bible and Reference Publisher at LifeWay Christian Resources and managing editor of The Gospel Project. You can follow him on Twitter or receive blog posts via email. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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