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Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Death of Denominations & the Future of the CBF

The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) has a blog called The Fellowship Portal that has become very active lately. The Fellowship Portal lists ten featured bloggers.

One of the featured bloggers is Robert Prince. Prince is the pastor of First Baptist Church, Waynesville, North Carolina.

His post is entitled, The Death of Denominations and the Future of the CBF.

Check it out below and bookmark/subscribe to The Fellowship Portal.

Denominations have defined Protestant Christianity in America for most of its history. They’ve included Congregationalists, Methodists, Episcopals, Presbyterians, Baptists, and Methodists. But about 40 years ago, these denominations began a steep decline. It started with more liberal denominations, but spread rapidly to moderate ones. For example, the United Methodist Church has lost about three million members over the last 40 years.

Conservative denominations like Southern Baptists have appeared to be immune to this decline. But this may not be the case. Statistics show that the average weekly worship attendance in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is about 6 million. That’s down from slightly more than 7 million in 1980.

Where have the people gone? Many have quit going to church entirely, many have gravitated to chuches of other denominations, and many appear to have migrated to non-denominational churches.

I’m challenged by the fact that when I talk to our high school and college-age students, I find that they find no attraction on any particular denomination or to the idea of a denomination. They feel that denominational distinctives are unimportant. I’ve also noticed that once they get out on their own, they tend to go to non-denominational churches, despite my best efforts to make good Baptists out of them!

What does all this mean to CBF? I remember when I attended one of the early gatherings of what would become the CBF there was a lot of discussion about what the group would be. Would it be a split-off denomination, a network within the SBC, or what? I must confess that I was one of those who wanted to see the CBF become a denomination.

The CBF has developed into a kind of quasi-denomination and mission society. While that frustrates people whose organizational model is the SBC, I’ve reversed my opinion and think that’s a good thing. Why become a denomination when the denomination is a model of the past? Though there are many things about the structure of CBF that are frustrating to those of us who grew up in the denominational model, I think it’s the form of the future: a partnership of Baptist churches, individual Baptists, Christian institutions, and outside denominational entities that continues Christ’s work.

The CBF has many challenges ahead. But I think it’s better equipped to deal with the future than many other groups.



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