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'The SBC Is in Crisis': Rick Warren's New Video Series Addresses Unprecedented Baptist Decline


Former Saddleback Church pastor and author Rick Warren has announced the launch of a four-part video series addressing what he calls the unprecedented decline of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).

The video series titled SBC at the Crossroads can be seen on the website SBC Stand. The first video "Part 1: Denial or Revival?" has already been posted to the site. 

As CBN News reported earlier in May, a new Annual Church Profile report showed the SBC lost 457,371 members – the largest single-year numerical drop in more than 100 years. In total, Southern Baptist churches have suffered membership declines of about 3% annually over the past three years.

slider img 2Warren believes this large loss of members shouldn't be ignored by the convention. In his short video series, he suggests some of the contributing factors that have led to the SBC's decline and offered a biblical pathway for revitalizing individuals and churches that he says will result in denominational renewal and revival.

"The SBC is in crisis," Warren explained in a press release. "Over the course of 17 years, the denomination has lost 3 million members. This isn't a glitch or the result of a pandemic; it's a trajectory we've been on for a while. Some SBC leaders seem unable to admit it or talk about it, but denial is dishonesty. We should be worrying about it."

The Purpose Driven Life author firmly believes that the principles the Holy Spirit laid out in the days of the early church are the pathway to revitalizing the denomination. 

The series will include:

  • Part 1: "Denial or Revival?" - Contributing factors to the 17-year decline of the denomination and biblical steps to recovery and revitalization;
  • Part 2: "What is a B.A.P.T.I.S.T.?" - Baptists' historic identity and the 7 unique distinctions that once made the SBC a powerhouse of Great Commission growth;
  • Part 3: "New Testament Case for the Ministry of Women" - New Testament passages that support the Great Commission ministry of women following a three-year study; and
  • Part 4: "Acts 1-2 Twelve Step Recovery for Churches and the SBC" -  Holy Spirit-led principles from Scripture that reveal a pathway for renewing churches to revive a declining denomination.

"If something is worth saving, you fight for it," Warren said. "My Southern Baptist roots are deep. I have Southern Baptist pastors on both sides of my family going back four generations. They brought me to Christ. They educated me in college and seminary, and they supported me in ministry. I urge the SBC to reflect on Revelation 2:5, which says, 'Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.'"

Warren's release of his video series comes just 11 days before the SBC's 2023 Annual Meeting and Pastor's Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana. 

SBC Boots Saddleback for Having Female Pastors 

As CBN News reported in February, the Southern Baptist Convention ousted the Lake Forest, California-based Saddleback Church for having a woman pastor.

The convention's Executive Committee cited Saddleback's having "a female teaching pastor functioning in the office of pastor," an allusion to Stacie Wood, wife of the new lead pastor of Saddleback, Andy Wood.

But the controversy began in 2021, when Warren ordained three women as pastors, prompting discussions within the denomination about possibly expelling the megachurch.

Warren made an emotional speech in June 2022 at the Southern Baptists' annual convention in Anaheim, standing by his ordination of women. He told delegates who debated the issue, "We have to decide if we will treat each other as allies or adversaries."

"We love and have always valued our relationship with the SBC and its faithful churches," Saddleback elders said in a statement after the SBC committee vote in February. "We will engage and respond through the proper channels at the appropriate time in hopes to serve other like-minded Bible-believing SBC churches. Meanwhile, we remain focused on following God's leadership to love and serve our church family and the communities around our campuses."

Warren Will Make Appeal at SBC Annual Meeting 

As CBN News reported earlier in May, Saddleback has asked the annual meeting of the SBC, which convenes next month in New Orleans, to overturn the decision by the Executive Committee and let them back in the Convention. Otherwise, the committee's decision will stand. 

"SBC bylaws plainly outline the process for churches determined to be not in cooperation with the Convention to appeal their cases before messengers cast their votes," SBC Executive Committee chairman David Sons said in a statement to CBN News. 

"Since this is the first time in SBC history for this particular item of business to come before the Convention, it's important for everyone coming to New Orleans to be prepared and informed about the process," Sons added.

Warren is scheduled to give a three-minute appeal to SBC messengers or delegates from the Convention floor on the afternoon of June 13.

Saddleback's appeal shines a light on the larger debate about the role of women in ministry. 

The church ordained three women pastors in 2021 – Liz Puffer, Cynthia Petty, and Katie Edwards.

"We're so grateful to share this moment with you. Our best days are ahead of us," the church commented on Facebook at the time.

After Warren retired in 2022, he was succeeded by Pastor Andy Wood and his wife, Lisa Wood, who assumed the role of teaching pastor at the church.  

Earlier this month, Saddleback's flagship campus appointed Katie Edwards as their new campus pastor, ChurchLeaders.com reports.

Appointing women to the position of pastor goes against the traditions of strictly male leadership within the SBC.

The SBC's statement of faith says, "While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture."

Shortly after the SBC's decision, Andy Wood released a video entitled "The Role of Women in the Local Church."

"A man who is an elder can empower women and utilize women to use their spiritual gifts in the local church," Wood said. "We see this from a descriptive angle all throughout the course of the New Testament." 

Stacie Wood commented on Instagram, "I'm serving Jesus under the authority and in alignment with my spiritual leaders...We believe that women can be gifted and empowered as teachers and as pastors."

Saddleback, with multiple campuses across Southern California, had 54,000 members as of 2021, according to its annual membership report to the SBC. It averaged an attendance of 28,000. 

READ: Rick Warren Appointed First Honorary Chancellor at Spurgeon's College in London

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