by Moody Adams
Southern Baptist membership dropped for the first time in decades. Bill Leonard, a Baptist historian at Wake Forest University, says the decline is due to lower birthrates. For years Southern Baptist churches grew because their people had more children than mainliners. In 1971, there were 1,434,892 children ages 6 to 11 in Southern Baptist Sunday schools. By 2007, the last year for which statistics are available, that number had dropped by about 455,000 to 979,429. At the same time, the U.S. population grew by 46 percent.

Baptisms continue to decline, dropping to 1950s-era levels. And some fear the convention has reached a tipping point and faces years of decline. Giving is down and two of the largest seminaries have announced layoffs, while other agencies are preparing for budget cuts.

One evangelical seminary is already a victim of American economy's recession, while others teetered on the brink of collapse or faced serious cutbacks.

Salt Lake Theological Seminary closed in October, with faculty working without pay through December so students could finish the semester.

Many seminaries operate on endowment money which has lost below the original investment and the school cannot spend the principal.

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) president Albert Mohler said his Louisville school would probably need to implement layoffs and tuition increases to manage a $3 million budget shortfall after losing over $1 million in endowment revenue and reduced income from the denomination and the alumni.

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