A task force designed to address declining baptisms among Southern Baptist churches released its full report on May 12.
An urgent, immediate call for spiritual renewal and personal commitment to evangelism and discipleship are the common threads among five recommendations made by the Pastors’ Task Force on Evangelistic Impact and Declining Baptisms. The national task force, aimed at addressing the continued decrease in baptisms among Southern Baptist churches, was convened last year by the North American Mission Board (NAMB). Most task force members are pastors. To read their full report, visit http://www.bpnews.net/pdf/SBCTaskForceReport.pdf.
“Southern Baptists’ downward spiral in baptisms is the fruit of our spiritual lukewarmness,” task force member Ted Traylor, pastor of Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola, Florida, said. “I am greatly encouraged by the stirring I see among us toward spiritual awakening and the need for the resurgence of the Great Commission. This task force work and report gives me hope.”
The group was formed, in part, because the 2012 Annual Church Profile (ACP) reported a drop of 5.52 percent in the number of baptisms in Southern Baptist churches, confirming a two-decade downward trend.
Al Gilbert, vice president for evangelism at NAMB, facilitated the group’s meetings. LifeWay Research President Ed Stetzer assisted the task force with research support.
“Recognition and ownership of the issue are keys to reversing the decline,” Gilbert said.
The task force identified five key areas, described as problems, that pastors and churches must address to reverse the baptism decline:
- Spiritual—“With urgency, we must join together in fervent and effective prayer for spiritual awakening in our churches and our nation.”
- Leadership—“As pastors we must intentionally model and prioritize personal evangelism while providing clear pathways for our congregations to follow.”
- Disciple-making—“As pastors we must create a disciple-making culture—focusing on multiplying disciples who know how to grow in Christ and lead others to Christ.”
- Next Generation—“As pastors we must leverage our influence, activity, and resources to reach and make disciples of the Next Generation.”
- Celebration—“As pastors we must celebrate new life in Christ as people publicly profess their faith through baptism. We must establish an ethos of joy that celebrates the practice of personal evangelism and its fruit.”
Task force member Manpoong “Dennis” Kim, pastor of Global Mission Church in Silver Spring, Maryland, said, “I am grateful for this endeavor’s commitment to renew the passion for evangelism that ultimately begs the question, ‘How then should we proceed?’”
Task force member Roger Spradlin, pastor of Valley Baptist Church in Bakersfield, California, summed up the conviction of the group.
“I think all Southern Baptists were aware that our baptisms were declining, but seeing the actual stats was both shocking and heartbreaking. Continuing as we are yet expecting a different result is not an option. We must address this issue now,” Spradlin said.
From 1950 to 2011 Southern Baptists baptized an average of 379,711 people annually. Only twice during that time did the numbers dip more than 10 percent below that average. But in 2012 the decline was 13 percent off the average—the worst drop in sixty-two years.
The report itself takes an even more sobering view of the issue. The report states: “SBC baptisms reached a plateau in the 1950s, peaked in the 1970s, and have stayed fairly constant since that time . . . The problem is even greater than these numbers indicate. Considering how the North American population has increased substantially between the 1950s’ baptism peak and today, these figures indicate how much ground we have lost and are losing.”
Gilbert said, “The recommendations are unanimous, but more than that, these men have made this a personal statement of action and they are hopeful that every pastor will review the list and see if they can identify with it. Our hope is that pastors will join us to make these recommendations personal and take action to affect change.”
Task force members include Ted Traylor, pastor, Olive Baptist Church, Pensacola, Florida; Jay Wolf, pastor, First Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama; K. Marshall Williams Sr., pastor, Nazarene Baptist Church, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Manpoong “Dennis” Kim, pastor, Global Mission Church, Silver Spring, Maryland; David Galván, pastor, New Life Hispanic Baptist Church, Dallas, Texas; Carlos Navarro, pastor, Iglesia Bautista de West Brownsville, Brownsville, Texas; Andy Addis, pastor, CrossPoint Church, Kansas; Roger Spradlin, pastor, Valley Baptist Church, Bakersfield, California; Jeff Lovingood, Next Generation pastor, Long Hollow Baptist Church, Hendersonville, Tennessee; Benny Wong, pastor, First Chinese Baptist Church, Los Angeles, California; Keith Wieser, pastor, Resonate Church, Pullman, Washington; Doug Melton, pastor, Southern Hills Baptist Church, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Alvin Reid, Bailey Smith chair of evangelism, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; Wayne Jenkins, evangelism church growth director, Louisiana Baptist Convention; Milton Hollifield, executive director-treasurer, Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.
The full report, recommendations, and video challenge are available at www.namb.net.
SBC Reported Baptisms Year by Year
|1960s average per church per year||11.07|
|1970s average per church per year||11.33|
|1980s average per church per year||10.05|
|1990s average per church per year||9.78|
|Average per church per year 2001 to the present||8.02|
|Year||Total Churches||Total Reported Baptisms||Baptisms per Church|
Joe Conway writes for the North American Mission Board and is a member of First Baptist Church Crabapple in Milton, Georgia.