The following article highlights something that the Mormon Church has been criticized by some for doing for years, but it is the Southern Baptist Convention (often the most vocal criticizers of Mormonism) that is doing it in this case.
A second article, linked in the above article, provides very disturbing numbers for the SBC. It can be found here:
What does this mean?
1) Internally, the Southern Baptist Convention is facing pressure to view and report its membership much like the Mormon Church has been doing for years – by reporting (at the very least internally) a total membership AND an “active membership”. This method is being touted internally as the “honest” way to address this issue. (Note that the Mormon Church’s funding of local congregations is based strictly on average attendance of Sacrament Meeting – the worship service portion of the Sunday meetings. It does not include, for example, youth who attend mid-week activities but do not attend the Sunday worship service – and it does not include members who attend Priesthood or Relief Society meetings but not Sacrament Meeting.)
2) With roughly six million members attending worship service weekly out of an official total of roughly sixteen million, the SBC has an “activity rate” of approximately 37.5% – compared to the Mormon Church’s activity rate of approximately 40%. Statistically, they are the same – particularly since my figures are broad estimates only. Obviously, the Mormon Church is not unique in its struggles to retain activity among its membership, and, even given its greater demands on time (both on Sunday and in the fulfillment of callings) and financial investment, it is doing so every bit as well as the SBC.
3) The “new convert” growth of the SBC, measured by baptisms per year, is shrinking annually – and quite dramatically. Since the “Raise the Bar” announcement, the Mormon Church’s North American baptism rate has been flat (-1%) – which is a significantly lower drop than that experienced by the SBC. (World-wide, the Mormon Church’s baptism rate is about 4%-5%, with an international growth rate of about 5%-6%.)
4) I have no idea at the moment how this plays out in the other large denominations, since (to my knowledge) they aren’t reporting “activity rates” in the same way that the Mormon Church does.
***THIS POST IS NOT INTENDED AS A COMMENTARY ON THE SBC.*** I mean that sincerely. Please don’t turn it into a debate about the SBC. It is intended solely to highlight something that I have noticed for many years.
Members and former members of the Church tend to be hyper-critical of it, which is natural given our emotional investment, but too often this criticism lacks broader context – which means, as in this case, that something like the Church’s struggle with activity rates that is very common to religious organizations as a whole (but addressed directly and openly by the Mormon Church and accomplished at the very least as well as others) morphs into a unique example of the failure of this organization and then morphs again into an example of deceit, dishonesty and even blatant manipulation. In this instance, that simply isn’t the case.
I have no idea how many people have used the Church’s inactivity rate as part of their justifications for criticizing it in multiple ways, but I do believe that the issues raised by this article for the SBC highlight the care all of us should take before we accept something (anything, really) without knowing the big picture and end up on a bandwagon that plays no legitimate tune.