where-have-baptisms-gone

This blog has become a community of very informed persons from a variety of backgrounds. Many of you readers are not from my denominational background; and many of you don’t know a lot of details about the Southern Baptist Convention.

So, in many ways, this post and a couple more next week are written for my immediate denominational family. The rest of you are welcome to “listen” in and even make comments. I have no doubt we can learn from you.

A Time of Sorrow and Concern in the SBC

I recently reported the latest statistics for our denomination. It’s not a pretty picture. Our membership declined again, this time by 105,708. And our baptisms were down to 314,956, the lowest level since 1948. But in 1948, we only had 6 million members. Today we have 16 million members. We are reaching less people for Christ, even though we have 10 million more members than we did in 1948.

Keep in mind that baptisms are our way to best estimate the number of people we reached for Christ with the gospel. When someone declares that he or she is a follower of Christ in our churches, that person is expected to follow through with baptism.

But baptisms are declining precipitously. Why?

Where have all the baptisms gone?

The Minimized Metric

The late Peter Drucker said, “What’s measured improves.” His statement is one of simple observation. If we are measuring something, we are paying attention to it. If we are paying attention to it, we give emphasis to it. If we give it emphasis, it improves. Do you know the best way to lose weight (so I’m told by a gadzillion experts)? Weigh regularly. Step on the scales, regardless of how painful it may be. When you are regularly weighing yourself, you pay more attention to what you eat and how much you exercise.

Of course, baptisms are an incredibly important metric for us in the SBC. We use that metric to see how we are doing on eternal matters. Yes, the metric is fallible; none are perfect. But that does not explain why we mention it less and less. It does not explain why it’s not at the forefront of concern for churches. It does not explain why many denominational entities at different levels hardly mention it at all any more.

Where have all the baptisms gone? Maybe most of us have hardly noticed they are disappearing. And there are some likely reasons for that neglect.

Some Possible Reasons The Metric Is Minimized

A possible corollary to Drucker’s thesis is: “Anytime something is measured, the measurement can be abused.” I cringe when I see statistics incorrectly cited, or cited in such a way only to support one’s own case. I am heartbroken when I hear of a church leader padding the numbers of his church for his own glorification.

So why does there seem to be an aversion to reporting baptismal numbers or, at the very least, lack of ongoing discussion about our baptismal numbers? I have a few possible theses. They all, admittedly, overlap.

  • Membership rolls have swollen with missing members. From the best I can determine, we would have a difficult time locating over 6 million of our 16 million members. We have baptized members who seem to show no fruit of salvation.
  • We are baptizing unregenerate members. The previous statistic of missing members seems to support this thesis.
  • Numbers have become an end instead of a means. When the focus is on the numbers rather than the One who gives life to the people behind the numbers, we have lost our focus.
  • We focus too much on incantation evangelism. Many argue that, in our desire to get greater numbers of decisions for Christ, we ask numbers of people to say a few “magic” words to become a Christian, rather than explain to them the true meanings of repentance and faith.
  • We assign the glory to the numbers rather than to God. This thesis is very similar to the argument that numbers have become an end.

Can We Then Re-focus?

I fear my writing the five theses above will engender debates that will distract us even more from reaching people for Christ who are then baptized. I challenge church leaders across our denomination to start looking at your baptismal numbers more carefully. I challenge you to lead your congregation to begin praying about those numbers.

I also challenge denominational leaders to talk and focus more on baptisms. I realize that talk is not the same as action, but our conversations usually reflect our priorities. As for me and my leadership, you will hear more about baptisms, especially in the context of revitalizing churches.

Our annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention begins this Tuesday in Houston. Listen carefully to the informal hallway conversations. Listen to the motions and resolutions. Listen to the presentations by the entity leaders. Listen to the questions asked of them.

Then you decide. Have we lost our focus? Have we failed to communicate the gospel truth of our first love, Jesus Christ? Have we stopped talking about baptisms because they just aren’t that important to us?

I’ll see many of you in Houston in a few days. May our time together be a focus on those things that really matter.

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Comments

  1. Charles Rambeau, Jr. says

    Thank you for the five reasons for the decline in baptisms. As a pastor of a rural church, I see the fields that are “white unto harvest.” I must confess that I am guilty of not going into the field to harvest. I want to lead others to share their faith and participate in the harvest, but I do not always go when I hear the Spirit calling. May God strengthen our call & boldness in our witness.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Charles -

      Your heart for reaching people is clearly evident. We could all learn from you. My five reasons were not as much an explanation for declining baptisms as they were to conjecture why we mention the metric less and less.

      Keep your focus Charles. People like you give me great hope.

  2. says

    Dr. Rainer,
    Thank you for your ministry, your love for the church and your passion for the lost. Our local Baptist Association has 100 churches, with 70 reporting information for the Annual Church Profile. Understanding that only the information submitted can be reported, I have two questions…
    (1) What percentage of the 46,000 SBC congregations submitted an ACP last year?
    (2) What has been the trend over the past several years regarding the percentage of SBC congregations completing the ACP?

    • Thom Rainer says

      Thank you Randy. The percentage of churches reporting declined from 83% to 82%. There has been a slight decline for several years. So a small portion of our reported declines can be attributed to non-reporting. The vast majority of the declines, however, are because of lower numbers from each of the churches.

  3. says

    Amen! Right on the money, Tom! I have seen this numbers game going on for so long that it makes me sick! The focus is supposed to be on making disciples, which of course includes baptism. Somehow we have forgotten this in the haze of our easy believism. May God grant us all a desire to return to a scriptural call for regeneration of souls and not just asking for a raising of scared hands from the back pew.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Thank you David. I appreciate your comments. I do want to be clear, though, that I am advocating for a greater focus on the baptism numbers, but for the right reasons. My thesis is that we are focusing less on the numbers today because we have less confidence in them. I hope we talk more and more about baptism numbers, because our hearts break for the lostness of people, and because we will have greater confidence in the numbers themselves.

  4. says

    Thom, I could not agree more. In our desire to succeed, we have made the means the end by focussing on the number of baptisms rather than the number of disciples. I heard it said well during your tenure as dean of the Billy Graham School, “Evangelism is not completed until a disciple is fully formed.” If out of sixteen million Southern Baptists, we have only ten million Christians, only God knows what the world would see, if those ten million Christians were all fully developed disciples.

    • Thom Rainer says

      You are so right Steve. Too many times our local church efforts to reach a person end in the baptismal pool.

      • Sundar Daniel says

        Why do our efforts to reach people end in the baptismal pool? Obviously because we are playing the numbers game. Where does this numbers game get its drive? To me it appears that it is more from a selfish desire to secure our salvation than from our passion to bring people to the saving knowledge of Christ. Therefore, there is little to no effort put into discipling the ‘saved souls’ into maturity. Does this also raise questions about the gospel we present? and the missionary methods we follow?

  5. Ben Stratton says

    Dr. Rainer,

    I wrote the below article back in 2008 about the decline in Southern Baptist baptisms. I hope you can factor this issue into your research on the subject.

    Why the Decline in Southern Baptist Baptisms?

    Recently it was reported in the news that the number of Southern Baptist baptisms had declined for the third straight year. In 2007 Southern Baptist churches baptized 345,941 people. This is considerably lower then 1972 when Southern Baptist churches baptized 445,725 people, the most in their history. So the question is why the great change in the number of Southern Baptist baptisms since 1972. Some are saying that we are not as evangelistic or as committed as we were back in 1972.

    While there is some truth to this answer, there is another reason that is totally ignored in the blogs and denominational papers. Back in 1972 the vast majority of Southern Baptist churches rejected alien immersions. (that is non-Baptist baptisms) Thirty-five years ago when someone wanted to join a typical Southern Baptist church from a Methodist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Disciples of Christ, etc. church they had to be “rebaptized” in order to join the church. Yet since 1972 hundreds of Southern Baptist churches have given up this practice. Today many Southern Baptist churches that thirty-five years ago would have rebaptized these non-Baptists who wanted to join their church, will now receive them by “statement”. That is one of the biggest reasons why the number of Southern Baptist baptisms is so much lower in 2007 than it was in 1972.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Ben -

      I find your thesis fascinating. Frankly, I haven’t been smart enough to include that in my own research. I wonder how or if we can get any hard data on this issue. I have little doubt that the anecdotal information supports your thesis, but to what degree? Thanks for your valuable contribution.

      • says

        Tom, I was thinking similarly to Ben, but also including the substantial quantities of re-baptism that have historically occurred within the SBC — folks who have been baptized already (perhaps in the same congregation) but who come to a point of “recommitment” or something along that line, and are re-baptized. Could it be that the theological shifts (increasing consistency in practice with a “once-saved-always-saved” theology; growing influence of Calvinism; etc.) are causing congregations — and especially leadership — to be more intentional and purposeful in who they baptize, and how many times they do? This, too, would account for a reduction in numbers of absolute baptisms but not with a direct correlation to numbers of conversions…

        • Thom Rainer says

          Again Ed, I think your reasoning is sound, but still the vast majority of the decrease is simply related to the reality that we are reaching less.

  6. says

    I tracked youth baptisms for Southern Baptist for more than 30 years. Eighteen of those I worked for the North America Mission Board. In 1989 youth baptisms reached a 20 year low and we formed a task force of student leadership and developed an Baptism Celebration emphasis for the denomination. This emphasis was picked up by a number of lead churches, like First Baptist Jacksonville, FL.

    I believe there is a possible sixth thesis. When a church stops reaching youth, then their baptisms will show a significant decline. A church that baptizes a lot of youth will become evangelistic and begin to baptize a record number of baptisms in other age groups.

    I believe that a Lifeway Discipleship Department baptism celebration promotion might have been prophetic. The promotion had two robots talking to each other. The first robot ask “What ever happen to Southern Baptist?” the second robot answered “They stop baptizing youth and never recovered.”

    I still have in my files the most extensive analysis of youth baptisms that are available between 1970 and 2000 including a state by state analysis, which shows that baptisms do not move state by state but jump nationally together. I would love to see a denominational task force which would study the steps to increased baptisms.

    I would be glad to share my findings.

    It is going to take an awakening… and especially an awakening in the student population.

    Dr. Dean Finley

    • Thom Rainer says

      Dean -

      Your contributions are significant. As we get more momentum toward a full effort at church revitalization, I would love for our team to meet with you and get your data. Thanks so much!

  7. says

    Thom,
    Thank you so much for these thoughts. I am the pastor of a very small rural church which has a large membership roll but very few of those members ever show up to church. I would estimate that less than 50% of our church roll are actively involved in our church. You have given me much to think about and pray about. Thank you again.

    In Christ,
    Tim

  8. Jason Krohn says

    Thanks for these numbers Thom. And I appreciate the frank and sincere tone in which you express concern.

    I grew up in and LOVE the southern Baptist denomination. It was there I fully committed my life to Christ and was Baptized.

    Being a pastor now (not of a SBC church, but one that would doctrinely line up with the SBC closely) I’ve noticed this same decline.

    One of the most powerful things that I’ve seen through the way we “do” Baptism here is the power of a personal testimony. We do ours via video when someone is Baptized. These stories help connect the dots for people. They also tangibly show how God has created this person anew.

    I wonder if sharing these stories of Gods power and Grace in someone’s life is what we’ve been neglecting to show?

  9. Tom Baca says

    Dr. Rainer, Thank you for your message on declining baptisms. It is probably just me but it seems like there was a period of time when bible conferences (revivals of sort) would come into churches and guest pastors would try to guilt people into believing that their first baptism was done before a true relationship with Christ was established. Therefore we would see dozens of people rededicate their lives to Christ through baptism. While I understand that this is a very real possibility, I just wonder how many of the dozens that came forward really understood what the Lord was saying to them. We have seen less and less of those instances where the guilt complex is used to move people to make a decision. My opinion is the numbers of baptisms was artificially inflated by these conferences or revivals. Maybe the numbers we are seeing today are closer to a realistic number than the ones from years ago? Thank you again! May the Lord continue to bless you and your ministry.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Thanks Tom. I think you may be partially right, but the overall evidence indicates we are simply reaching less people for Christ.

  10. Melissa says

    The church has changed so much from when I was young. Has it been for the better? Who knows? It’s hard to find a church with a true “altar call”. In Tulsa, where I live (buckle of the bible belt, right?), Lifechurch is very popular. It seems that every church is trying to emulate that church now. My son leads worship twice a week at a church that used to say “Baptist” in the title, but last year the church voted to rename the church to a more generic ______ Church. We also attend this church from time to time, but usually only when our son is doing worship. He also goes to other churches (which all used to have “Baptist” in the name) to fill in for other worship leaders, and we go and watch him there, too. My son is 25 and my daughter is 22 and they don’t feel that there is much of a place for them in church, it kind of skips from being all about the youth to being all about the young marrieds/young married with kids. My kids are still trying to find their mates. All this is to say that I think the Baptist church is really hurting. My daughter attended ORU here in Tulsa, and when she would tell people she was “Baptist” she said they acted like that was weird. She told me a few days ago that her friends like going to non-denominational churches, and that Baptists come off as “mean”. Frankly, Lifechurch is really nice, everyone is friendly, the message is good (sometimes feel-good), and you feel welcome there. At Baptist churches, you have that “hateful” element – I don’t want to call it that, but what is it? That feeling that they don’t want you there. It is scary and hard to get involved. For example, I have tried getting involved in the church that we attend most frequently, and I signed up for a “pancake breakfast outreach”. It was hard for me to even sign up to begin with, and the night before the event I received an email saying that they had “too many people signed up to help and that my help wasn’t needed”. I then went to church that Sunday after the event, and I noticed all the “who’s who” of the church had gotten to help…why couldn’t three of them stayed home and let some of us new people get involved (there were only three on the email that were told to not come)? Things like this ruin it for everyone. It’s just easier to listen to Dr. Charles Stanley at home and forget about it.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Thanks Melissa. But don’t give up on the local church. Find a church that will be happy for you to serve. There are still many out there.

    • says

      Sounds like you need to join a church and faithfully serve. Church-hopping is a huge issue today. LifeChurch isn’t an SBC church, their pastor is an ordained Methodist.

  11. Cody Lorance says

    What you didn’t mention was that church planting was up last year. Now, I am a church planter and an advocate for church planting but it is somewhat disturbing that despite all the promises to the contrary, increased church planting has not lead to increased baptisms and membership. What is the reason for this? I am eager to hear NAMB provide a reflective response. Perhaps we simply need to wait, that baptisms will come later.

    However, I think we need to carefully consider how the “all church planting all the time” mentality may not be without its perils. Pressure to plant may be leading to some types of plants that are exactly evangelistic. I am seeing some church splits being dubbed as plants. Other plants grow primarily by cannibalizing existing churches. If these phenomena are occurring widely, which I suspect they might be, we would expect increased church planting without increased membership and baptisms.

    As a church planter, I say unabashedly that we need more church planting. But we don’t need all that passes for church planting these days. We need to reaffirm our commitment to evangelism and mission in existing churches.

  12. says

    The list so far seems to involve mostly things we’re doing to bring about results. I would like to add another thought.

    God said that some plant, some water, but God gives the increase. Since we’re not increasing, I surmise God is not giving any increase. So I must ask what it is we’re doing that displeases God, or what we’re NOT doing, that God commands us to do. And to me, it’s simple. Discipleship.

    That’s the Great Commission, after all. And as I said to the Convention last year, we’re failing miserably at that. Much as you said, Dr. Rainer .. we’re baptizing unregenerate people. Or, we’re not making disciples of our members. I’ve been asking why we have to be baptized to join a baptist church, for 5 years now. I’ve asked a table of pastors at an Executive Board Meeting, I’ve asked our Deacon body assembled, I’ve asked Sunday School teachers, and I’ve even asked an SBC seminary professor. NO ONE has ever given the right answer.

    It seems we’re not even making disciples of the people who DO attend.

    The SBC does so many things well, but unless we’re carrying out the Great Commission with the people God sends down our aisles to disciple, I cannot see where we would find favor with God. And that spells no increase.

    So we’ve milked all our methods and gotten all the results we’re going to get. And we KNOW what that definition of “insanity” is…..

  13. says

    Oh .. I did a study of membership vs attendance in the 6 major metropolitan areas of Alabama, with numbers furnished by our State Baptist newspaper. In every area, our attendance percentage lags considerably behind all other denominations: some as badly as 24.8% vs 53.1%, and 33.2% vs 54% on the average.

  14. says

    Hello Dr. Rainer!

    One thing that I also consider important is to look at how the cultural realities around us have changed. A number of years ago people in the U.S. had Bible or religion classes in school, attended church on special occasions and sent their children to VBS in the summer. There was a time in which the average unchurched American had some basic foundational understanding of the Bible. This no longer exists in the U.S..

    The first evangelism method I ever learned was Evangelism Explosion. That was a pretty intense learning experience. It involved a lot of practice and a lot of Scripture memorization. I think it did a good job in its day of filling in the gaps of people’s basic foundational knowledge so that they could understand why Jesus is Good News.

    I believe one of the major problems we face in evangelism today lies in the fact that while the foundational biblical knowledge of the unchurched decreased the amount of Scripture used to fill in the gaps also decreased.

    We have current evangelism methods which try to use a handful of Scripture verses out of context to explain why Jesus is Good News to people who have no basic foundational knowledge of Scripture.

    I believe the opposite needs to happen. Where there is no foundational knowledge a foundation must be laid. Upon that foundation the Good News may be proclaimed. It takes longer, but that is the direction we need to go. Now, can we find followers of Jesus ready to devote themselves to the task?

    I’ve blogged about this topic recently and also have an article on my web site about the challenge of evangelism in South America – the issues of culture here play into how we lay the foundation and build upon it here.

    Blessings!

  15. John W Carlton says

    I had to retire from the active pastorate in 2011 due to my health; however, I am actively involved in my home church. The church that I pastored was a rural one. We had our greatest year of baptisms in 2009 when we baptized 14. Our congregation had a total membership of around 100. 10 of those 14 baptisms were of children and youth. This is the key to reaching increasing our baptisms. Your insight is so true.

    One of the ways that baptisms can be increased is by thinking outside the box and the four walls of our buildings. I have begun a ministry to our emergency personnel offering a Sunday service. We reach our deputies policemen, 911 dispatchers, firemen, and EMTs through this ministry. Pray for me as I try to expand this ministry to others who cannot or will not enter the church building.

  16. Adam says

    What timely circumstances for My Hope America with Billy Graham! Both discipleship and evangelism along with both the Pastoral Leaders and lay people all involved.
    Great post Thom!

  17. Daniel Baker says

    Bro. Rainer,

    I might also suggest, and perhaps some have also done so, that our decline in numbers is due in part to other related circumstances. I will try to be brief, but here are some things to consider. Many believers are under the impression that this is the time that Amos spoke of and so they are not reaching out as a result. Likewise, many churches are painfully aware of the decline and are subsequently focusing on those who can help sustain the church. This may or may not also require them to consider their words for fear of offense. Of that same note, many churches have exchanged their sermons and altar calls, for more contemporary ideas of not pushing someone or singling them out and potentially causing them embarrassment.

    I have also seen churches divided by age, with the older members clinging to tradition while the younger are embracing their own culture. This creates a house divided. And for that matter, many older members simple do not want the younger unchurched coming in. This may be because the unchurched do not have the respect for either the church or the older matured believers. However, the opposite can be said that older believers do not have the patience and or compassion for the unchurched.

    Again, I don’t wish to be argumentative, but I am reminded of John 12:32. Perhaps the young are searching the world for the bread of life as Amos said they would, and we aren’t feeding them.

    Thank you,
    Daniel Baker

    • says

      Huge issue. Baby boomer churches won’t accommodate millennials. Yet, someone in their 60′s is far less likely to be baptized than an older teen or 20-something. Who should be more spiritually mature and compromise their preferences? The other side of the coin is “social gospel” as a means to reach millennials in stead of the actual gospel.

  18. Donnie Hazlewood says

    To follow up on this post. I recently had 2 families join my church (an SBC church) and only 2 of the 9 people were baptized. One family has a background in a evangelical bible church. All 5 members of that family saved and baptized in that church. The other family had 1) The Dad who was baptized at a small country SBC church in Georgia that no longer exists and the Mom had grown up in a bible church and was baptized their. We did baptize 2 of their children who recently made professions of faith.

    My church allows for people to join by statement in this instance. My association has 27 churches and only 1 of them would require a person from a different denominational background to be rebatized if they had previous been immersed after coming to faith in Christ. All the rest allow joining by statement.

    I agree with your premise though, but some if te lower numbers could be attributed to this. Imagine if out of the 46,000 SbC churches each church was baptizing 2 a year that were already committed to Christ and had been immersed in another denomination. That would be almost 100,000 ppl a year.

    Just thought I would point out some facts about the number of baptisms, which I believe was inflated because of re-baptism requirement in years past.

    @Dn_4sty on twitter

  19. says

    I’m disturbed by the idea that “baptism” is being used as a measurement. That’s like using “church attendance” as a measurement. Maybe that is where the Southern Baptists have gone wrong. I attend a Baptist Church, but I feel the use of “denominations” is meaningless. God doesn’t see denominations. Another area where “Christians” are looking at the wrong issue. I know many people who have been “baptized”, but they don’t really even know what it means to actually be a “Christian”. I submitted to Christ when I was 12, but I did not get baptized until I was 24. Baptism has nothing to do with the heart of a person. And in all the Baptist Churches I have been a part of it is strongly taught that Baptism itself does not make you a Christian. That’s why this article disturbs me. Also the Church should not be looked at as a business with all its projections and looking at productivity in such terms. As disciples of Christ we are told to make disciples, it is His job of building the church. We put our nets down, and He will provide the fish. It is a wonderful thing when someone submits their life to Christ and shows that in getting baptized, but if we start just worrying about the number of baptisms, that is like putting the cart before the horse. The biggest problem I see in too many churches is this idea of getting people to walk down that aisle so it looks good for their stats. Then we let them walk out of the church with no discipleship and no education to become people of “depth” that can actually be useful for God’s glory. Those that stay in the church too often become “shallow” so-called Christians sitting comfortably to be entertained. After all, they’ve been taught that they are baptized, so now they can just cruise on safely with this “Christian” life, not a care or even knowledge of what that responsibility entails and what Christ calls us to do. This world is full of “baptized” people who know nothing about Christ, do nothing to be obedient to Him, live life oblivious of Him. I know too many of them. So to use “baptism” as a measurement is doing the Church a disservice, doing God a disservice, and doing people a disservice. Maybe THAT is why too many people are leaving the SBC. And that is a real shame.

    • Jeff Blanton says

      Melissa,
      Thom is not saying that Baptism is salvific, nor is he trying to say that the whole point is too count numbers without changed lives. The point he is trying to make is that maybe if we had greater focus on baptism numbers people would be more likely to share their faith with people that they might be saved by God’s grace and then follow Him in obedience to baptism. You seem to have a desire for discipleship, but even in the great commission, Jesus said to baptize, before He told them to teach all that He commanded them. Baptism should be the first step after someone has come to saving faith in Jesus Christ. An interesting fact is that only one person in the whole NT is referred to as saved without being baptized, showing that it’s not salvific, but that it is a step in obedience. Hope that helps you with your questions.

    • Melissa says

      Preach it, Melissa! So true. They will be known by their fruits, right? So how come so many “church people” are hateful? Some aren’t, but some are…too many are. I will say it: too many are on the payroll. Also, how many people do you know that went to Falls Creek, said the “Jesus Is My Savior”…and still live like there was not ever a conversion? My guess is that there wasn’t a conversion. Doesn’t that make it worse than not ever walking the aisle and “saying the words” at all? Because then you have people that went to church camp, uttered some words, left there thinking they’re saved, and then they die and go to hell because He never knew them?

      Reminds me of those old ’70s end time movies…when the girl gets left behind and she goes to her church and the preacher is still there! He never knew Christ! Wonder how many “churched” will be left behind?

  20. says

    Dr. Rainer,
    Your words always deeply move me to desire to reach more for Christ. My consistent prayer for myself and our church is to be used to turn many to righteousness in Christ Jesus. Years ago our church would baptize more people than now. However, while the numbers looked good on the state stats we seldom were able to disciple these people or see them “stick.” I became burdened about this several years ago and we made organization changes in our church that nearly did me in but they had to be made. One was that when a person makes a profession we do not baptize them immediately but we have set baptismal dates in the life of our church, you have to go through our new members class to join and etc. What I have noticed is that we still have a lot of people that profess to come to Christ but the baptisms have dropped significantly. The positive side is those who are baptized, go through new members and etc seem to stick…there seems to be a slow stability in the church. However, the pastor side of me still deeply struggles the lower baptism numbers. I believe for the long haul we made the right decision but it sure makes us look bad on the state stats. Thank you for stirring my heart again to see people come to Christ.

  21. Randy Davis says

    Good post. I think as difficult as it may be to accept, one has to ask the tough questions that you are asking. I also think that while self reflection is good and definitely needed that getting an accurate appraisal of yourself or organization from the people inside can not also be miss leading but more importantly might not ever help you find the true problems. I would recommend that to get an accurate self appraisal you do extensive research via third parties to really analyze how your organization and message is being received by those out side of it, which are the people you are actually trying to attract. While I think there are many that might have good insight within the organization too often the ones at the top actually guiding it are in various forms of denial about what is really going on.

    As a non-denominational believer myself I would offer this at the risk of being overly simplistic. Don’t look at the numbers, keep your focus on doing what is right… Love the way Christ did, or as close to it as you can. Focus more on the balance of truth and grace. The first thing anyone should think of on any survey questionnaire about a Christ centered organization is, love. Followed by guided teaching to a richer life experience via the fruit of the spirit. (living a moral life via scripture, by placing selflessness above self). However, if your at first ear shot of your church ‘s name/organization the first thing that pops in your target audiences mind is, moralistic and legalistic judgement then how can you expect to get them into the door to even hear the message of love and forgiveness? And, please do not take this the wrong way. Some of my closest friends are SBC and I love them and their faith and their Church. I have had this conversation with them and deep down most of them know it is true. But they are not the ones at the helm… And, perhaps I as a layman cannot appreciate the complexity of the issue so forgive my simplistic take but I love the good people of SBC and want the world to see them more as they really are and not as they have been portrayed. I will be praying that you have a great meeting.

  22. J.D. Camp says

    The topic is truly a relevant one. I don’t wish to be a troublemaker of any type or pretend I can solve the problem of denominationalism, but when we truly seek biblical truth and pattern, can’t we just be the church Jesus paid for with his blood, the one true church we find in Scripture? Where does one find the authority for a convention or a “denomination” (1 Cor. 3) and then talk about them as though they are pleasing to the Lord? Where do you find the authority for pastors beyond the elders of a local congregation leading that one local church? Can’t we follow the pattern of the New Testament and be Christians (disciples) only and use the Bible only for our practices and teaching?

    • Melissa says

      Yes, Scott. This is my point.

      Another point that leads back to why the decrease in baptisms/church membership/people being saved is that at it’s core, the Baptist church is not preaching the Word of God, in many cases. We are accepting divorce as a given, instead of preaching against it. Premarital sex? Please. There is just as much sex going on in any given youth group as in any given group at a local high school. You can’t tell a “Christian” from anyone in the outside world. Why are so many in a tizzy about gay marriage when the church can’t even get real marriage right? Someone said earlier that I should serve and quit church hopping. Thanks for the judgmental answer! I have been in the Baptist church ALL MY LIFE but realized about 5 years ago that I cannot stomach the hypocrisy and lack of caring and love that the church offers, or should I say, doesn’t offer. This last fall was almost more than I could bear with my local preacher all but straight out told us to vote for Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney! A mormon! As in, not a Christian. All these years growing up in the Baptist church…to be told to now vote for a Mormon! It was almost more than I could bear. However, all this has made me grow so much closer to God. That is the answer, for me. I am thankful for the sound doctrinal advice and teachings I received over the years growing up in the Baptist church. However, they can’t have one foot in both worlds. Bring back “church training” on Sunday nights! Why is there no longer “Sunday School”…only life groups? What happened to Wednesday night preaching? Those things kept people on track! Accountable, if you will. Now, we have hipster dufus people running the church a lot of times…grown men dressing like they’re 17 years old. We need men to lead us! The church will die without the leadership of men.

      • says

        Melissa I understand your response but I was suggesting that we should get involved in someones life besides just sunday morning. to make disciples it takes a lot of time and energy. if we don’t become relevant in peoples lives, how can we have any influence towards them? to attract different types of people different methods must be used but the message always stays the same. we must go out and bring the people in otherwise we will continue to decline in numbers and more importantly believers.

        • Melissa says

          I can’t invite people to church when I’m afraid people won’t be nice to them. I do, however, serve in the community. There is a church that feeds the homeless on 3 Sunday mornings a month that I have helped with. I enjoy it very much. There are many way I get involved. This isn’t just about ME! I am everyman, per se, and I am trying to tell the rest of you how it is for the general population.

          Praying for you and your ministry, Dr. Rainer! You are a welcome light in a dark tunnel.

  23. Donna says

    Tracking baptisms in my mind is like the Southern Baptist version of “No Child Left Behind” in which students were taught how to succeed at a test but poorly educated overall. Maybe “what is measured can be improved” but let’s look to the broader category of “obedience” and not just baptisms.

  24. Keith says

    One additional bit of analysis that has not been mentioned is that number of baptisms are actually higher, potentially much higher, than the number of new conversions and commitments to Christ. Since there appears to be an increasing trend among evangelicals for preferring a style of church or worship experience as the primary factor in church attendance over a set denominational theology, there are an increasing number of people attending churches different than their denominational origin. While aspects of this are to be praised, denomination views of believer’s Baptism and modes of Baptism differ such that potentially a number of the nearly 315,000 baptisms are reflecting denominational transfers who were baptized for transferring membership rather than new believers. I doubt that this factor is tracked sufficiently for us to actually know how many of the 315,000 are truly new converts.

  25. David Journeycake says

    Good article. 2 comments: Perhaps the decline is because (1) the modern method of evangelism, falsely attributed to St Francis of Assisi, has become, “Preach the gospel at all times; if necessary, use words” and (2) success is measured by numbers or converts—-rather than success being measured by (A) actual and proactive proclamation of the gospel (Eph 6:18-20; Col 4:3; 2Th 3:1; 2 Tim 4:17; 1Co 1:18; 1Co 2:2; Lk 24:45-48) and (B) clarity and fidelity in our presentation (Col 4:4; 1Co 1:17; Act 17:18; 1Co 2:1-5).

  26. David Journeycake says

    Perhaps the enemy’s biggest victory has been in getting us to only do the inefficacious ‘lifestyle evangelism’ (i.e., inaudibly displaying positive results in our life hoping someone will also want Jesus) or preach a feckless, ineffective message (‘personal-testimony evangelism’. I.e., one that subjectively focuses on what the gospel has done for us practically rather than objectively on what Jesus did; a message that focuses on the joy, peace and better marriage that may come from being saved rather than the death and resurrection of Jesus and the hope of eternal life and forgiveness of sin that are now possible through him)?

  27. says

    Dear Thom,

    I could not agree with your ideas more, I especially have been very intrigued by your book, “I am a Church Member,” and I’m including it in my doctoral thesis I’m currently writing through Southwestern Seminary. I believe that your thoughts are definitely one piece of the puzzle of the SBC’s problem.

    My fear and concern is that most of our churches seem to be glorified “social clubs” catering to a specific demographic of people that wish to maintain anti-biblical traditions or some way of life that is really more individualistically American than Christian.

    I do not believe we will see spiritual power return to our churches until we begin to take ministry much more seriously. Transformational church really hits it well – we really believe as long as the building looks good, we make budget and our membership is stable…we are doing ministry…it kind of reminds me of what Jesus said about being “white washed tombs,” beautiful on the outside, rotten on the inside…declining baptism is one of the symptoms of this “social club Christianity” and that we are rotten on the inside.

    Please keep up the good work and I thank God for you, Ed, Tom Crocker and all the other staff at Lifeway daily.

    Your servant,

    Shelby L Hazzard

  28. says

    I will be praying for you and the convention leaders this week. My aunt and uncle will be there. I look forward to hearing their report. I grew up in SBC churches. I love and celebrate that heritage. I believe in our convention and its’ purpose. This was reinforced on the mission trip to Thailand I just returned from through Adventures in Missions. I discovered much to my naive shock that the missionaries employed by AIM are 100% self-supported. Not so with the IMB and NAMB! The way we support our missionaries allows them to do more ministry because they can focus less on financial worries (not that we can’t do more). Anyways, I love my convention. I mourn that we seem to be losing focus and impact (at least in the part of the world I live in). I want to do more. For our churches to make a difference. To be true beacons of light in a dark world that cries out for a Savior. As our leader, please, continue to show us how to improve.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Thanks Amy. I have to make certain I am leading the way by example first. I do appreciate your prayers. I don’t deserve them, but I sure do accept them.

  29. Adam Fisher says

    Thom, I’m afraid the numbers are actually worse than what you are finding. Counting baptisms is not always an accurate count of converts where I come from. My church always counts people who are “baptized” into our southern baptist denomination. What do you think about that? For me, it has always made me cringe to hear a pastor say “our church is awesome, we baptized 100 people this year!” And maybe 10 of them were new converts. The rest were from the different denomination church down the street, or they have been believers for years but never got baptized. Why can’t we as Southern Baptist put emphasis on how many unchurched people are attending and count how many converts we have? I would love to hear your thoughts Thom, thanks for all that you are doing for the kingdom.

    • Keith says

      Adam,

      Your example is a perfect illustration of what I mentioned above. In the churches that are most effective at reaching new people, there also tend to be higher numbers of Christians coming from other denominations that don’t practice believer’s baptism. I would love to see research regarding past trends for cross-denominational shifts, but I would be strongly inclined to believe that number is significantly higher today along with the percentage of non-conversion baptisms for such cases. Another indicator could be what percentage of baptisms are from mega churches versus smaller churches, with the presumption that mega church baptisms likely have at least 20-30% (probably much more) of their baptisms from denominational shift rather than conversion. Could the count of actual conversion related baptisms be closer to 200-250 thousand?

  30. says

    Dr. Rainer,
    Haven’t commented often, but I do read all of your blog posts and appreciate them very much. My heart aches as I read this one. As a pastor who has been in full-time ministry now in Alabama for 20+ years, my personal observations are the following related to declining SBC baptisms…
    1) The model of “doing church” used by most SBC churches is an “attractional” model i.e. “come to revival services, come to VBS, come to our Sunday school class.” However, with the cultural changes that our nation is experiencing, fewer people are seeking out the church. Every year that goes by sees a higher % of people drive right by our churches and never know they are there.
    2) Most churches have correctly decided that the old “visitation” ministry does not work as it used to. However, most of the churches that have dropped visitation, have not replaced it with anything remotely effective. At least visitation had the church out meeting people in the community. Now many churches have nothing that builds bridges into the lives of people. I am not saying that we should go back to the old visitation approach, but my point is that we stopped doing something that was less effective and replaced it with nothing.
    When we combine these two trends, the result is that fewer lost people are coming to our churches and, at the same time, we have less Baptists out building “the bridges of God” into the community. That combination is a big contributor in my opinion. Lost people aren’t in the building like they used to be and the Baptists aren’t in the community like they used to be.
    Personally, I believe the only thing that will change the baptism trends is repentance, brokenness before the Lord and seeking empowerment and wisdom to engage the unchurched again. If revival comes to our churches, we will get concerned about the lost and seek God’s power to reach them.

  31. Susan says

    I hope you don’t mind a comment from an outsider. My church is associated with the Baptist Union of Great Britain. I suppose It is because I see the church as a man made structure reflecting the fallibility of mankind that I am not always happy with the idea of planting and growing churches. I would so much prefer to see the expansion of God’s reign and rule here on earth. A reign and rule that brings transformation into the lives of those already in the church.so they become more Christlike. A reign and rule that means the church is a beautifully prepared bride. A reign and rule that means the entire community is impacted by godly principles as reflected in fewer abortions and more marriages and many other measurable social and economic factors. A rule and reign that is characterised by the blind being able to see, the deaf hearing the lame walking the captives being set free and all the other scriptural promises of what living in God’s kingdom will be like being unmissable.A kingdom whose ambassadors visit those in prison, feed the hungry, give the thirsty something to drink whether practically or metaphorically. A kingdom whose ambassadors encourage others to accept the offer of being able to be adopted as children of the king because the king’s son loved them so much he died in their place. I love my God and am so thankful for what he has done for me. Problem is that I have been hurt and abused by the humanity seen in church and denominational structures. I see discussions about churches and their structures and wonder how they fit in with my dream of God’s kingdom here on earth. Maybe I am just a dreamer but I think those dreams of what living in God’s kingdom would be like have something to do with Jesus teaching.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Susan –

      You are most welcome here at anytime. Thanks for taking the time to share your heart.

  32. Mike says

    Dr. Rainer, thank you for the article. I appreciate your observations. I know for me, the ACP does not communicate the whole picture of our church, who we are, what we do etc… that it FEELS like our significance or justification as a Church is reduced to two things, published for all the world to see: how much we gave and how many were baptized. Those things are important for sure but perhaps the ACP itself needs revitalization to give churches an opportunity to tell more of their story and NOT feel like they need to be placed at the bottom of the list just because they are either poor, serving in a poor community and cannot give much OR because the community is small and the pool of potential “prospects” (another name I wish we would TAKE OFF our literature as it is dehumanizing). Anyhow, I do not mean to sound like a whiner. For me though when that profile comes up as something we are encouraged to do, I think I will decline to participate this year (and we have had one of our best years). I see what participation does to some of my colleagues who faithfully serve and are trying everything they can think of to grow–be faithful etc… and in their particular situation it just isn’t happening–small town, problems with deacons, finances, family life etc…. Yet, they are there each week, serving, loving, shepherding a group of people through the truth to know the Truth but come time for the annual meeting they feel the insignificance of what they have done as they watch pastor so and so get another plaque for baptisms or feel the guilt laden sermons talking about how terrible we all are–what failures they are etc… For me, I have participated in the ACP each year I have been an SBC pastor. This year we have had one of our best years but respectfully, I will not be participating and feeding this results driven monster. I do not want the significance of what I do nor my brothers who serve in small towns and communities reduced to the numbers on a printed page–numbers that most people ignore (because they are at the bottom of the list).

  33. Mike says

    Sorry, I should have included this in my first response as well. This is only an observation/opinion as what I listed previously. One thing I believe that is slowly killing us is the nagging obsession we seem to have in being political and using our public platform to swing elections (as Ted Haggard mentioned was a very real possibility during an interview when he was president of the NAE) This nagging obsession to be that TYPE of political rather than prophetic is killing us. On any given day of the week, one of our Christian leaders is publicly droning on about SSM or something else and the demise of our society etc… I get the whole: ‘let’s take a stand’ thing but somewhere and somehow we need to manifest a little more humility, grace, love in and for the world, an acknowledge our own sins and the way in which we might have contributed to the declining moral climate. I have friends who are gay, in a same sex relationship and the typical response is: how dare you all judge us; you do not know us, you are not trying to understand; it seems as if you do not really love us either; you are just afraid.

    I cannot think of anything more political than: “…the kingdom of God is at hand.” THAT is prophetic and political and results in genuine transformation.

  34. says

    I’m not a Baptist, so I’m definitely chiming in from the “outsider” perspective. But in the group I’m a part of (Churches of Christ), part of the “numbers” issue we face is that our families are getting smaller. Birth rates in white, non-Hispanic American families are at historic lows. The Census Bureau reports that the current generation of kids is 15% smaller than is needed just to replace their parents in the population. As such, where in our fellowship a lot of the baptisms were of kids growing up in church, now there are fewer and fewer kids to start with, and we’ve had to get better at making adult converts just to hang on.

    The field may be “white unto harvest,” but when the low-hanging fruit becomes scarce, reaping becomes harder work.

  35. jonathon says

    Eugene Myers Morrison: _How to win Souls_. 1952.
    In 1850, it took 5 people to lead one person to Christ.
    In 1952, it took 33 people to lead one person to Christ.

    Larry Kreider: _The emerging House Church Network_. 2009.
    A church planted less than three years ago takes 3 people, to lead one person to Christ.
    A church planted more than ten years ago takes 85 people, to lead one person to Christ.

    Would not statistics like that also count for why there are less baptisms?
    Fewer people doing less effective outreach.

  36. Don Matthews says

    To be honest. I don’t think we are getting accurate information from the ACP. The number of baptisms are alarming but I do not believe they are being accurately reported. I work for a state convention and we do all we can to get churches to report at all. It is time for us to develop a new reporting system.

  37. Michael Palmer says

    Revitalization will always include a biblical and wholistic approach to evangelism. I am going to spend the next chapter of my life, in part, doing this Revitalization work. Would love to bend your ear for an hour over lunch someday about these issues and how The Lord wants to use us as a conduit for constructive Spirit-led change. We must turn this around. The Lord is still in the life changing business. It may not be as “easy” as in the past but like many have stated in their responses maybe “easy” was not really effective. And today, for all “the talk” about the Gospel there certainly does not seem to be much of a burden to give the Gospel away! Biblical integrity should always result in a passion for others to come to Jesus. Thanks Thom for a you have done to encourage the troops to obey the great commission!

  38. says

    Dr. Rainer, concerning the 1948 number of 6 million members, any idea what church attendance was then as compared to the membership number? In other words, were membership numbers inflated then like today? Or were they truer to form? Just curious since it is generally stated that we currently have almost 6 million in church on a weekly basis in the SBC with 10 million who are AWOL.

  39. Dean O'Bryan says

    Random thoughts,:
    One way church communication gains listeners and silent adherents, not disciples. Disciples only reproduce themselves.

    When we are attendance-driven and care mostly about “Sunday show up” and offering numbers, first we get weariness, then disenchantment and finally come to the tipping point of absolute mission failure.

    Increasingly, American generations long for purpose, value and engagement, not serving someone else’s success. Men in particular hear an eternal vision declared by many church leaders, then discover a massive disconnect between that and the mere program participation to which they get invited.

  40. Gregory Cunningham says

    Dr. Rainer,
    I am praying that there is a Divine Illumination, Divine Inspiration, Divine Guidance and Divine Rival on you and the leaders at SBC this week.

    Here is a fact: There is a starting point for true and lasting Success in order to fulfill the Great Commission and every other mission you have. Success has nothing to do with money but it’s about Becoming All that God created you to be. Spirit-led Success initiatives will ignite greater effectiveness and it’s time The Church start to equip, challenge, & inspire people to Love more, serve Better, and Glorify Him in every action we take and decisions we make. Making Jesus practical everyday will attract lost people and inactive members to Become All that God intended us to be and do will bring Baptisms to an all-time high in every SBC Church.

  41. says

    Thom, I found your post to be spot on! We were part of an SBC church for 16+ years, in leadership, teaching, very involved. When I noticed the Sunday School rolls becoming bloated with the names of people who had shown up once or twice, those who had “walked the aisle” or “taken the Pastor’s hand” or “filled out a card” or “prayed a prayer”, those who specifically said they were not really interested in being part of the church, or who had just walked away (yes, efforts were made to gather them in), I brought it to the attention of the “Senior Pastor”. I was told we HAD to keep the names on the rolls for the most ridiculous of reasons. I later learned that the “Senior Pastor” who is highly regarded in the State, was reporting the inflated numbers in the annual report, certainly for the wrong reasons.

    Sad to say, your bullet points are exactly what is wrong with the way “numbers” are accounted for–the numbers seem to be the goal rather than the glory of God. We’ve been part of a non-SBC church for 11 years now, and one of the things that immediately struck me when we became members was the blatant absence of the emphasis on the numbers. Instead, the emphasis is on the gospel, and the work of the gospel in the lives of believers and non-believers alike.

    Yes, I’ve been rather pointed, but it takes truth to be spoken, in love, to get to the bottom of any issue.
    Grace to you-
    SDG

  42. Hal Hunter says

    Dr. Rainer-

    For years I wrote commercial software for a living. One main principle in writing a program is to start with the desired output and work backwards. For a desired output, what minimum inputs are required, and what manipulations have to occur in the middle?

    Our problem is that the desired output is a changed life; a Christ-follower. And that is something that is very subjective and is a process rather than an event. But we still want to measure the output; we want to point to a success. So we scratch around to decide which discrete, countable inputs might be indicators of changed lives, of Christ-followers in-the-process.

    Institutionally, at some point in the past, we decided that membership, attendance, baptisms and giving were the things we could count, and must be connected with our desired outcome. Therefore, we count those things, and declare a success if they go up, and worry if they go down.We also assume that correlation implies connection; if baptisms increase that means we must have more Christ-followers. Many comments above point out that is not totally true, (coefficient less than one) but we have anecdotal evidence (or at least hope) it is something considerably more than zero, but no real way of knowing the real correspondence.

    I personally think the ACP is out-of date and counting things simply to count them, hoping for an increase so we can feel relieved at a success. At least half of the specific categories have little to do with the way we actually do things at my church. I firmly believe it is way past time for a thoughtful revision of the form and the process. Although I understand the historical reasons for our reporting year, (Oct 1 – Sept 30) absolutely everything else we do is on a calendar year. I suggest the reporting year be adjusted in the process of updating the whole system to be more meaningful.

    As always, thank you for thoughtful, and thought-provoking,material on your blog.

  43. David Eaton says

    In regards to Ben Stratton’s comment above, there is likely some impact coming from churches moving away from rebaptizing those who were baptized in a non-Baptist setting. If the ACP requests that churches report not only the number, but also the ages, of those baptized, you could tease out some insight into this.

    My sense is that most “re-baptisms” would be of adults. If we notice that baptisms of those 30 and above have fallen while baptisms of those 18 and younger are steady, or increasing, the rebaptism issue may have support. If baptisms are down at all ages, it is less likely to be a rebaptism issue.

  44. Timothy Marr says

    Dr. Rainer,

    Thank you so much for your this post. In the rural area where I serve as a Pastor so many of our folks believe that baptism is the be all and end all. Yet they have never truly been changed through Jesus Christ. This is one of many battles that I fight here praying that God will use me to change the mindset of the people that has been engrained in them for so long. I’m all about growing the church, but not at the cost of sacrificing a person’s understanding of what it means to be saved and that baptism is an expression of that understanding and change.

    Thank you again for all of your words of wisdom.

    • Susan says

      I read this minutes before started to listen to “a representative of the opposition” doing a talk. They were copying and mimicking the transformation process that The Apostle Paul talked about. They would not do this unless people found it attractive.

      What is the church’s response? Don’t do that.! Stay away form that stuff it hurts. I know it does but I want to know that the opposition is up to so that I can come up with a plot to counter them.

      Wouldn’t a better and more effective way be to create an effective alternative. Offer people an attractive effective alternative and it will put the opposition out of business.

      What do we do with small children? We tempt them to eat certain things by making them more attractive. If we don’t want them to do one thing we encourage them to do something else instead. If principles like this work for small children we can use them with adults.

  45. Roy says

    This is perhaps just incidental to the discussion but when considering that we are losing our youth, it is something to think about. The ‘mobile’ revolution has been described by some as the biggest most disruptive revolution since the Gutenberg printing press. From books to radio, to movies, to television, to the internet and now to the massive decentralization of information dissemination and its consumption via mobile devices, we are witnesses to change of monumental proportions. Our youth have these mobile devices (over 5 billion people worldwide are mobile subscribers). So how does this relate to lower baptism numbers? Think about it. Who or what has the attention of our youth. We, the people of the SBC, need to recognize the changed landscape. We must find productive and Christ honoring ways to tap into the mobile revolution. From my own observations within my own local church, just getting folks to recognize we aren’t in the 60s or 70s anymore is a challenge. Just look at a typical church website: pitiful in many cases. Is the site mobile friendly? Have a mobile app? Is even the sbc.org site much better? Technology is not the answer but it must be part of the solution. Lifeway is perhaps positioned better than any other SBC organization to provide some assistance to our local churches in this area.

  46. says

    Brother Thom,
    I’m wondering if the problem that frustrates you the most is the problem God has assigned you to solve.

    After 17 years and upwards of $10 Million in R&D, i can guarantee you there is a starting point for true and lasting success. It doesn’t matter Whether it’s spiritual, personal, or professional matters, failure to recognize this issue, Baptisms, ministry, the business of the church and every home will always struggle to reaching the Joy, happiness, satisfaction, and Significants.

    Think about it, transforming the Mindset of what’s important to individuals is critical. Is the Baptism decline is a result of competition? SBC churches are not in competition between other churches. Churches are in competition with traveling soccer, volleyball teams…little league baseball, and other activities. I’m not putting these sports down. I spent years in the coaching and I know they are positive experiences for development. The point here is that Parents value pleasing kids more than the pastor’s sermons or more importantly God’s Holy Word.

    The SBC must recognize that people fail and churches fail, marriages fail because they don’t expect to succeed. What gives you the right to believe that baptism numbers will grow if we don’t expect more and execute better. It’s obvious we’ve been praying for more Baptisms. We’ve been asking God to intervene and change the hearts of His people. Develop Disciples who will help others find the right starting point to become ALL that God created them to be.

    Start with discipling Believer to develop a Spirit-Led Winner’s Mindset:
    Clarity of one’s Values will lead to Clarity of your Visions, which will lead to Clarity of your Roles which will lead to an absolute Conviction for what is right which will demand a commitment and the Lord will give you the Courage to start fulfiling God’s Will and your dreams.

  47. Dr. Russ Hale says

    Dr. Thom,
    Are any of these metrics ever considered from an eschatological perspective? Isn’t some type of dispensational theology prevalent in all of the SBC seminaries and churches and these declining numbers are simply scripture being fulfilled by a “falling away” of the make-believers?

    Blessings,
    Russ+

  48. says

    I suppose if we were baptizing unregenerate members then a drop in the overall number is a good thing. The less folks we usher into Hell through easy-believism the better. Maybe we have more sincere baptisms? This seems to be yet one of many areas where the “experts” were wrong.

  49. Phillip says

    I agree with my Seminary president, Dr. chuck Kelley’s message to Alabama Baptists earlier this year at the State Evangelism Conference (you can find it on Vimeo.com). As a Convention, we forgot that evangelism separate and apart from discipleship merely creates seeds…. It doesn’t make plants out of those seeds. And, without planting, watering, protecting and nurturing those seeds, there isn’t going to e a “next generation” of seeds,or plants. Those aren’t his exact words, rather they are my paraphrase of his message.

    While a student at NOBTS, God provided me with a model for HEALTHY church growth that I believe serves well. While, I am not on a staff currently, I still use it as a thumbnail to evaluate growing churches when I visit them. The model uses the acrostic PEWS, because that is where REAL church growth begins, not in the pulpit!

    P – PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS. Christianity is a relationship. It’s THE relationship. We must have a PERSONAL connection with Jesus. But, we also must have a personal relationship with those in our congregation as well as with those who have no relationship with Christ OR our church.

    E – EVANGELISM. For the purpose of this evaluation, I simply define evangelism as the expression of ones dependence upon Jesus Christ for life, freedom and eternal life. Notice that this “evangelism” flows naturally out of our relationship WITH CHRIST and into our relationships with church members and those who have nothing to do with either Christ or the church.

    W – WORSHIP. I define worship as the expression of love and gratitude to the Heavenly Father for all the things He is, and all the things He has done.

    S – SERVICE. If I have a personal relationship with the king of servants – Jesus Christ – then I will be motivated to model my lie after Him and serve those in need surrounding me.

    I can almost assuredly guarantee you – if a congregation successfully sustain these four concepts, and integrates it into their culture, they are reproducing Christians and that number will be demonstrated in a number of ways, including an increase in the number of baptisms.

    PS: I don’t mind anyone using this information, but, PLEASE, identify its source. My name is Phillip Swindall. The web administrator has my email address if you need to contact me. Thank you.

  50. says

    Dr. Rainer,
    Great job at ringing the bell! We are struggling no doubt. People simply do not share their faith or invite the uncoverted to church enough. When they do come, we do not realize how uncomfortable it is to be the new person. We seem to have unconsciously adopted a hands off approach to growing churches. When the SBC saw growth in the 40′s and 50′s, the small group was the front door to church. And the literature and programs had a prospect focus. That meant connecting with the unchurched by knowing their name and contact information. That means these class members prayed for and cared for specific people. I am afraid that we have become so busy as Americans and in doing church that we have forgotten the vital point of connecting with and contacting prospects regularly. The lost will drift out of church without our regular love and encouragement.

  51. Sam Coyle says

    Jesus commanded His disciples to GO into all the world and PREACH THE GOSPEL. Most churches don’t, locally, nationally, or internationally.

    But what is the gospel? An alarming number of Christians are zealous to preach the gospel, but they don’t even know what the gospel is. They are sincere, but they’ve never been taught. There is an apostate gospel in America that says to ask “Jesus into your heart” to be saved. Just to know about Christ, is a false gospel. If a person’s faith and theology is wrong, their salvation is wrong. They’re lost. Preachers everywhere are watering down their message as if the “blood” of Jesus is something “not to mention”.
    Nor do they challenge open sin. The results is biblical illiteracy.

    What is the Gospel? I Cor. 15:1-4 defines it….

    Paul said, “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; …….
    He goes on to say: ” that Christ died for our sins, was buried, and rose again on the third day.” THIS IS THE TRUE GOSPEL! Many SBC ministers are too concerned about making people feel good and accepted. Church has become a “social club” for networking. Put down the IPods and pick up the Bible. Forget about Face book etc.

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  1. [...] Where Have all the Baptisms Gone?  (Thom Rainer —an important discussion that is sourced in Southern Baptist history and is relevant for everyone in the Protestant tradition.) 22 Maps that Reveal how differently English is Spoken throughout the Country (Look at map 15 to find out what to properly call a long sandwich with cold cuts and lettuce, Hint most of the country has it wrong.) Giving Up on Game of Thrones  (Thinking Christianly–There is such a thirst for escape, fantasy and adventure in people, Christians and non-Christians alike, that sometimes we fall prey to dangerous Hollywood products like Game of Thrones (Book and Films). Here’s help in thinking better about what is appropriate and what isn’t.) The Three Worst Qualities of the Gospel-Centered Movement  (Really a great post by a young believer showing wisdom beyond his years and experience.) Oh to be Such a Worm for the Glory of Christ (John Piper on the ministry of William Carey) [...]

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