Thinking of the future of the Southern Baptists isn't pleasant at times. The demographics show an aging church with two problems in my mind.
One is that many Baptists, especially in the south, are rather nominal. They may be able to cite you the right phrases out of the Bible, but may have stopped going to church and stay members out of custom more than interest. Bene was blogging on a nasty fight at First Baptist in Jacksonville, but what interested me as much as their knee-jerk viciousness towards a dissident church blogger (the fight was over the church budget) as the discrepancy between membership and attendance. They have 28,000 members but only 7500 attendees per the Hartford Institute's megachurch database.
First Baptist might have a solid theology (their long time pastor Jerry Vines was one of the key conservative warriors in the SBC theology battles of the 90s) but the member-to-attender ratio seems to look very mainline, not unlike First United Methodist in Midland where I grew up. I think we had about 2000 members but only 600 or so would show up on a given Sunday. Things were SRO on Easter, but it would be roll-and-elephant-through time most Sundays.
If you have 7500 attenders, let's say we have 10K of active members who go most every Sunday. That leaves 18,000 folks who are affiliated with First Baptist but don't go on a regular basis. What will the faith of those folks' kids look like? Chances are they won't be members themselves when they grow up, if church isn't an active part of their lives as kids, not in a culture that places no stigma of not being associated with a church or a religion.
Other old-brick Baptist churches may see their numbers dwindle as nominal members die off and their children don't affiliate at all with them. A shrinking First Baptist of 3500 might function just fine, but the 400 member-120 show up church in a smaller town might become a 200 member- 60 show up in a generation that will struggle to pay a pastor or run a decent children's program, especially if 40 of the 60 regulars are retirees.
Mainline churches are having this problem now; I'd expect the SBC to start getting that problem in the next decade or two, having churches that are so AARP-centric that they can't attract younger people. If you're a single adult of child-bearing age, you'd likely not stick around, and if you only see two or three kids in a one-room Sunday school, families might not be all that interested if it isn't the only game in town.
Eileen and I aren't ethnic Baptists; we're more charismatic in nature and have Methodist and Presbyterian roots as kids. We're choosing to be there. In a lot of places, people will leave the churches of their forefathers if they have no stake in it. Some will move to other churches, but many will not have a significant faith at all.
Not that going to church guarantees a personal, saving faith; a bad church with a warped gospel can be worse than none at all, for it might inoculate folks from the real Good News. However, we can't expect the next generation to support a church if their parents don't bother to show up.