Numbers should be wake-up call for churches
by Nelson Price
February 23, 2014 12:00 AM | 1339 views | 10 10 comments | 39 39 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Communities have several complex characteristics. One appealing trait of this region when we came here in 1965 was the moral and religious ethos. People spoke openly in the “market place” of their faith and in general embraced a high moral standard.

Cobb was a somewhat rural community, Marietta and other municipalities had a small-town air, and Atlanta was on the cusp of rapid expansion that was to color the entire region.

Church life was a part of the culture. The Jewish community was relatively small but vibrant and influential.

My study resulting in the column primarily involves Southern Baptist churches, but what they are experiencing is typical of all denominations, actually a bit better.

There is a recent study of churches inside the Atlanta beltway. When we came in 1965, there were 166 Southern Baptist churches in that area. Today, there are only 38 of those original churches still open and 25 of those average less than 100 in attendance.

Within the beltway there are now 117 Southern Baptist churches, but they are not as strong as the original 166. Most are small, struggling bodies. Many are storefront churches with only a few in attendance and provide very limited weekday ministries.

The following should be a wake-up call for churches. The percent of adults in America claiming no religious affiliation in 2007 was 15 percent. By 2012, it had grown to 20 percent, an astounding 33 million people. There is little cultural encouragement for those who formerly were marginal attendees and they no longer go to church.

In 1965 active church members invested an average of four hours a week in their church. Today, one hour. Studies show once-active members who regularly attended worship now attend around 75 percent of the time.

Denominational leaders estimate that within 25 years half of the present SBC churches will no longer exist. In 2013 over 8,000 churches closed in America. This decline has occurred in spite of remnants of formerly vibrant churches trying tenaciously to hang on with less than a dozen members.

The entertainment media mocks persons of faith and a minister is never depicted in a favorable light. Sports and recreation groups conduct team competition that require attendance for practice and games on Sunday. Our government continues to put restraints on the religious community and has virtually excluded God from the market place.

I had the honor of being pastor of the last church in America in a major TV market whose worship services were broadcast live at 11 a.m. Sunday on a network station. There are none now.

Paralleling this, the moral fiber of the region and nation has seen a seismic shift.

Listen in the market place and see if you hear conversations regarding faith and virtue. Simultaneously, evaluate what level of character and virtue is overheard.

Even within this cultural environment, there are some admirable exceptions to the rule. There are some growing and ministering “lighthouses” in the darkness.

Some insist on emphasizing style rather than substance. Rare is the church that does both. They are the hope for keeping America from becoming a spiritually impoverished and doctrinally deprived nation.

There is a lot to be lost with the decline of the citadels of moral and religious values. Consider what you as a party of one can do about this.

The Rev. Dr. Nelson Price is pastor emeritus of Roswell Street Baptist Church in Marietta.
Comments
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why not
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February 24, 2014
Perhaps the Southern Baptists should listen to the advice the current Pope gave to Catholics and start being more than the anti-abortion, anti-gay religion.
just sayin
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February 23, 2014
The problem with the Southern Baptist Church is not the media it the fact that they decided some time ago to follow Ronald Reagan, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robinson and the political right wing. Today they reflect the same dying demographic as the Republican Party, old white people. The sad thing is that like FOX, when you choose to align yourself with politics and one political party in particular you exclude every one else. Christianity should be about love and inclusion, something the right knows little about.
Josh G.
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February 23, 2014
Ah, yes. The wonderful 60s, when Southern Baptist churches were fighting integration and treated minorities like pieces of trash. When will get back to those moral times?
anonymous
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February 23, 2014
"I had the honor of being pastor of the last church in America in a major TV market whose worship services were broadcast live at 11 a.m. Sunday on a network station."

- perhaps you were a part of the problem - why the SBC has declined and is viewed as a caveman convention by much of the country
Kevin Foley
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February 23, 2014
In 1965, Cobb County was clinging to segregation, which included violence against African-Americans. Despite Jesus Christ's teachings, local religious leaders did next to nothing to stand up to the hatred and some even facilitated the violence.

I would not call that a "high moral standard."

East Cobb Senior
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February 24, 2014
Foley, Just Sayin, Josh G. and anonymous, you are all obviously liberal Democrats and conveniently fail to admit that it was you Democrats in the south that fought civil rights, integration and minorities. Bull Conner, Orville Faubus, George Wallace and Tom Murphy just to name a few segregationists, were all dyed in the wool Democrats. It was the Republicans who got those laws enacted and fought for minority rights. How typical of liberals to always want to rewrite history in order to place blame on anyone but themselves. Like a bunch of lemmings, you follow the "Liar and Chief" and simply regurgitate everything that comes out of his and the mouths of the Liberal Left. Shame on you, just for once it would be refreshing for you to speak the truth and stop your constant liberal spin.

Ever since prayer was taken out of our public schools they have been in decline as has morality in our society and culture. And by the way it was Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, a southern Democrat and former Klu Klux Klan member who wrote the majority opinion in the Engel v. Vitale case of 1962 that first banned prayer in our public schools.

just sayin
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February 24, 2014
East Cobb Senior you are partly right but conveniently fail to admit that after the signing of the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act the segregationists were welcomed with open arms by the Republican Party. Richard Nixon's southern strategy was to appeal to southern bigots and bring the south solidly into the Republican Party where it is today. Ol' Strom Thurmon, Jesse Helms Trent Lott and many other segregationists defected over civil rights to the Republicans. That is why the Republican Party is currently a regional party, made up for the most part, of the old Confederacy. Did you ever wonder why Ronald Reagan began his Presidential campaign

in Philadelphia, Mississippi whose only claim to fame is the murder of three civil rights workers?
East Cobb Senior
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February 25, 2014
@Just Sayin, The Republican Party is a big tent and they welcome anyone that wants to embrace their principles of smaller government, personal responsibility, lower taxes, strong national defense and equal opportunity. Those that you mentioned and many other "former" Democrats, such as Ronald Reagan, woke up and saw the errors of the Liberal Democrat philosophy of big government, over regulation, higher taxes, equal outcomes and government dependence. Maybe it's time you did the same instead of trying to defend the indefensible along with that incompetent in the White House and rewrite history. The Southern "bigots" you refer too were the Democrats who refused to accept Civil Rights as the law of the land and continued their anti-black, anti-segregationist activities.

Keep in mind that Georgia was one of the States under Justice Department scrutiny through Sections II&V of the Voting Rights Act because of its discrimination of minorities in voting and reapportionment. That discrimination was under Democrat regimes and wasn't until the Republicans took political control that those Voting Right restrictions were eliminated. Please get it right for a change and stop the spin.
just sayin
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February 26, 2014
@East Cobb Senior, You have got to be kidding! The Republican Party a "Big Tent" for whom? Blacks, Hispanics, youth, gays, women are all voting with their feet over the right wing's hair brained policies (can you say Trans-vaginal probes). The only ones left in the Republican "Big Tent" are white seniors and Tea Partiers. Lyndon Johnson said after passage of the Civil Rights Act that the Democratic Party had lost the south for a hundred years. He was right, the old bigots and Dixiecrats of the old confederacy simply became Republicans. Section II & V of the Voting Rights Act existed under Republicans as well until they were overturned by the right wing Roberts court. The rights that were eliminated were the rights of Republican states to discriminate against minority voters. Now Republican controlled legislatures can pass onerous voter ID laws, purge voter roles, restrict voting days and hours solely for the purpose of making it more difficult for the poor and minorities to vote. It's an old southern tradition!
East Cobb Senior
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February 26, 2014
@Just Sayin... No sense in debating with someone that is both obviously wrong about the facts and is unwilling to recognize that his ideology and emotional attachment to liberal leftist thinking has skewed his view of reality and logical thought processes. Jimmy Carter, Democrat Governor, did not have on minority in his Cabinet and Tom Murphy and the Democrats were repeatedly sued by the Justice Department for their discriminatory redistricting plans. Also Democrats completely controlled Georgia until 2001, over 135 years of absolute control. Hopefully some day you will, as the Gnome on TV puts it, "Wake Up and Smell the Roses". I rest my case.
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