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Thirty years ago, conservative Southern Baptists started a revolution.

Claiming their denominational leaders had abandoned the inerrancy of Scripture, they launched a "conservative resurgence" in 1979 to bring the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) back to its roots.

This year's SBC annual meeting, held June 23-24 in Louisville, featured talk about another revolution. This time, one focused on evangelism through a "Great Commission Resurgence" (GCR) aimed at reversing continuing declines in membership and baptisms.

The new movement is the brainchild of SBC president Johnny Hunt and Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. They fear that without major changes, the SBC will suffer the same fate as mainline denominations with dramatic losses in membership.

"We are saying times have been desperate," Hunt said. "Now I really do sense fellow Southern Baptists are saying we need to get serious."

The conservative resurgence was about theology, known as the "battle for the Bible."

The GCR is more about ecclesiology—how to do church.

To reach more converts, Southern Baptists have to reach out to more ethnic groups and allow churches to experiment more—at least when it comes to worship style. And they must give evangelism top priority when it comes to money, according to Hunt.

Hunt was backed by a group of center-right Baptist leaders, including former SBC president Frank Page. Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, also backed Hunt, saying Southern Baptists have to do a better job reaching nonbelievers.

"Is there more that we can do?" Mohler said. "There is no need for Southern Baptists to fear that question."

Supporters of the GCR pointed to research showing that, if current trends ...

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June 2009

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