Review of Religious Research

, Volume 60, Issue 4, pp 455–475 | Cite as

The Emergence and Decline of Southern Baptist Congregations in a Southeastern County, 1784–2011: An Ecological Analysis

  • Matthew MayEmail author


Studies of the growth and decline of religious organizations tend to focus on the ability of American religious institutions to adapt within an open market system, but theories of adaptation may overstate the ability of organizations to respond to changes in their environment. Theories of selection, on the other hand, emphasize the role environmental forces play in organizational growth and decline. The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate the usefulness of an ecological theory of selection for modeling growth and decline in a population of religious organizations. To test this model, I use historical data on a population of Southern Baptist congregations in the southeastern United States from 1784 to 2011. My analyses indicate that the processes of denominational growth and decline are consistent with the expectations of ecological theories of selection.


Religious competition Religious economies Population ecology Southern Baptist Convention 



I would like to thank David Smilde, Linda Renzulli, and Penny Edgell for their helpful comments on earlier drafts of this manuscript. I would also like to thank Bill Sumners of the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives in Nashville, TN for his help with the data collection. Data collection for this project was supported by a Lynn E. May Study Grant from the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives.


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© Religious Research Association, Inc. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Sociology, Anthropology, Social Work, and Criminal JusticeOakland UniversityRochesterUSA

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