The Current Climate

Calvinism, Evangelism, and SBC Leadership

Calvinism, Evangelism, and SBC Leadership

Ed Stetzer
Director, LifeWay Research and Resident Missiologist Nashville, Tennessee

THIS REPORT ANALYZES AND COMPARES data from two recent surveys—LifeWay's 2006 Calvinism Study and the NAMB's Center for Missional Research 2007 New Minister's Study. Drawing from these two sources, we get a good view of the proportion of Calvinist pastors and/or church staff in SBC churches and how Calvinist doctrine influences several factors related to evangelism.

Although opinions abound about Calvinist doctrine, little empirical data is available that analyzes how a belief in irresistible grace and election influences evangelism in the local church. By comparing LifeWay's 2006 Calvinism Study and the NAMB's New Minister's Study, my hope is that we can use specific data to answer the general question: Do churches with Calvinist leadership remain committed to evangelism?

Here is a summary of the findings of these two studies:

The protocols related to these studies are provided at the end of this chapter; however, some specific findings are reported in the following graphic illustrations.

Preaching about Calvinism

Starting with the 2006 LifeWay Calvinism Study, about 10 percent of SBC pastors say they are five-point Calvinists whereas nearly half of SBC pastors (47%) address the issue of Calvinism from the pulpit several times a year or more.

These results reveal that pastoral leaders who identify themselves as Calvinists are the minority. Even though nearly half of SBC pastors surveyed say they preach on issues related to Calvinism, this is not terribly surprising considering the issue is present in some form whenever the salvation message is explained or presented. All in all, however, Calvinism is not widespread throughout the Southern Baptist Convention.

The 2007 NAMB New Minister's Study indicates a fairly substantial increase in those who agree they are five-point Calvinists compared to those in the LifeWay study who say they are Calvinists. In fact, 27 percent of seminary graduates serving currently in SBC church leadership roles strongly or somewhat agree with the statement, “I am a five-point Calvinist.” However, it is difficult to make a direct comparison between the two studies since the 2007 NAMB New Minister's Study includes any seminary graduate between 1998 and 2004 who is serving at any level of church staff leadership. The LifeWay Calvinism study only looked at SBC senior or lead pastors.

Among the recent seminary graduates serving in SBC church leadership, a majority of them agree specifically with two tenets often associated with Calvinism:

A cautionary note at this point: Church leaders who are not Calvinists in the formal sense could still believe in either of these statements.

Clearly Calvinism appears on the rise among recent seminary graduates compared to SBC pastors as a whole, particularly when the NAMB study is compared to the 2006 LifeWay Calvinism Study. In order to obtain a better comparison between the two studies, it is helpful to limit the 2007 NAMB New Minister's Study to only those who are senior or lead pastors of SBC churches. This better aligns with the LifeWay study of pastors. By doing this, the combined studies reveal a 19 percentage point difference between recent seminary graduates who say they are five-point Calvinists against SBC pastors as a whole.