Anyone looking for Baptists should go to Greenville, SC
“People here say you can throw a stone in one direction and hit a southern Baptist church and if you throw a stone in the other direction you will hit an independent Baptist church,” said Nathan A. Finn, rector of the University of North Greenville.
Finn’s school – with strong ties to Southern Baptists – is not the only hallmark of “Baptist” life in town. There is the progressive Furman University, as well as the independent Bob Jones University, known for its Baptist defense of fundamentalism.
The Baptist world is extremely complex and difficult for many foreigners to navigate. Some of this confusion, Finn said, affects life within the largest Baptist flock – the Southern Baptist Convention – and perceptions of SBC conflict.
“Many people need to understand that Southern Baptists are much more diverse, ethnically and culturally, than they realize,” he said in a telephone interview. “At the same time, we are more uniformly conservative than we often appear, especially since we spend so much time fighting with each other over some of the little theological points on which we differ.”
With some of these stereotypes in mind, Finn recently launched a dozen Twitter posts describing different images of actual “Southern Baptist” churches that are common today. The goal, he said, was to create “composites of what the different types of SBC congregations look like” and he gave them “names common to certain types of real churches.”
There is, of course, a “First Baptist Church” which Finn described as “a downtown church that accommodates 500 people in worship. The church is rich, which is reflected in their magnificent building. worship is traditional. There are many programs & committees “and the congregation is known for its large donations to the SBC’s” Co-op Program “shared budget.
Then there is one of the mega-churches that have dominated the American religious market for the past several decades. Although the word ‘Baptist’ is missing from its name, Finn noted, “CrossWay Church is a suburban church with 1,400 services in two services. The “ambiance” of each service is relaxed and contemporary. the leaders “are considering launching a second campus”.
These large churches often make the headlines. However, at the other end of the urban spectrum, there is this image: “Northside Baptist Church leads about 40 people in worship. Their neighborhood was once residential, but is now industrial. The youngest active member is 59 years old. pastor is bi-vocational, ”and the church has only three deacons.
Meanwhile, there are many SBC congregations that fit this description: “Stoney Creek Baptist Church is a rural church that runs 75 cults. The church dates back to 1850, and many families in the church date back to three times. generations or more. “
The Twitter list mentioned other forms of life in large churches, as well as a herd typical of a college town, a distinctly Calvinist congregation, and a highland church specializing in “cowboy” worship and community life.
Again, note this pattern: “Iglesia Bautista Berea is a Hispanic congregation with 150 people in worship. About half of the regular devotees are long-time members, but the other half are migrants who frequent seasonally. Some of them may be undocumented ”.
In addition, “Solid Rock Baptist Church is an African American church that conducts 300 services. The service lasts almost two hours. The pastor is a beloved figure in the community, both for his strong preaching and for the program. mentoring from his church to the neighborhood elementary school school. “
Outside of a few headlines on debates over critical racial theory, few Americans – including some within the SBC – understand how ethnic churches are on the rise in the country’s largest Protestant herd. Some have achieved mega-church status, like the Fountain of Praise Church in Houston, which hosted the funeral of #BlackLivesMatter icon George Floyd.
Ethnic churches “are really growing and becoming more and more important, but a lot of people don’t realize how crucial these churches are to the future of the SBC,” said Finn. “When people think of the Southern Baptists, our large churches are always part of that picture, but some of them are black or Latin churches.
“Much of our growth today is definitely seen in ethnic churches. … Many of our stereotypical Anglo churches are struggling. “