Doesn’t really need an explanation. The numbers of baptisms by churches affiliated with the SBC is a decent measure of what’s going on in evangelism in our churches and the number of dunks is in a long term, persistent, consistent slide downward. The last reporting year, 2018, showed 246,442 baptisms. Reporters who are fond of comparisons harken readers back to the 1940s for such baptism numbers as we see today, lowest since 1944 (“since Roosevelt was president! “since D-Day” “since sunscreen was invented”).
So, J. D. Greear explains why baptisms are down and in his view “the primary problems are spiritual.” He lists (a) loss of urgency of the Gospel message and complacency, (b) prayer deficiencies, (c) not enough leaders which points to a lack of discipleship, (d) culture preferences (which I take to mean irrelevant traditions and such), and (e) the use of fads and gimmicks rather than solid Biblical, new testament church principles. I’m condensing JD’s take on this. You can read his article here.
I have no gripe with JD on this. He’s right on every point, I suppose, but leaves out some important things.
Al Mohler looks at the same numbers and sees some things that JD doesn’t: (a) the number-conscious SBC is not immune from societal trends and church membership and attendance has been declining overall. He makes the point that we have been somewhat insulated by being concentrated in the more religious South. (b) “We don’t care as much as we once did…” (c) Our methods are not as effective as they once were, a point he calls “beyond refute” and giving as an example that large crusades are no longer as effective as they once were, (d) a speculation that SBCers don’t really believe lost people go to Hell, and (e) demographics, specifically our anemic birth rate, well below replacement level. I’m one of five children (always thought my family was too large, would have been better if I got more stuff and had less competition). My siblings and I have a total of 11 children. You get the picture. More senior ministry than preschool.
What the baptism figures provide is a chance for all of us to complain and for some to demagogue about the SBC. I sat through numberless laments from denominational employees about how “we’re” just not baptizing as many and the ratios of baptisms to members is rising (“It takes 56 of us to generate one baptism.”). When denominational employees say “we” aren’t doing something, they mean “you” aren’t doing something.
Candidates for SBC offices tout the decline as a campaign point, a bit self-serving I think. One of our two presidential candidates (Mohler) has offered in the past a real solution: Southern Baptist couples should have more babies. That would prove more effective than any new plan or program.
Your humble hacker and plodder blogger has a few suggestions for bringing up baptisms:
- All seminary students, professors and administrators should be required, as a part of their job, to witness to a defined number of people per week on average. Each employee should be required to report on their evangelistic witnessing activity. (for the record, my alma mater, Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary, required this).
- Every associational mission strategist (DOM, AM) should have the same requirement, checked by his association’s Executive Committee. No witnessing, no job. The AMS should also be required as a part of his job to provide evangelistic training to any church that requests it. I’m a little weary of hearing associational directors whine about the state convention not providing evangelism training. You do it brother. You’re right there. You don’t have anything better to do.
- Every state convention ministerial employee should be required to do the same.
- I ratify the current plan “Who’s Your One” offered to churches. It’s not the only workable plan but it beats whining about the baptism numbers.
- I commend the addition to the calendar of “Baptism Sunday.”
- I challenge every Calvinist to find one of the elect, somehow, some way, or get out of the ministry. (Actually, the only data I’ve seen on baptism rates for Calvinistic vs non-Calvininstic ministers and churches show that they are about the same, both pathetic.)
- I’m for any attempt at evangelism, even those that aren’t all that productive: house-to-house, large crusades, small crusades, revivals, relationships, Starbucks and sharing, (wine and witnessing?)…you can be creative.
- Ronnie Floyd has an action point on reaching teens. I’m all for it. What’s the alternative?
- NAMB is doing big motivational events. I’m all for that. What’s the alternative to that?
- Continuing to emphasize ethnic, immigrant churches and programs. They have higher birth rates.
And I’ll go on record as predicting an increased number of baptisms either this reporting year or next.
The first person who says, “Well if churches would just report (only about 3/4 of SBC churches do this) we’d probably have a lot more baptisms, gets a free meringue pie in the schnozz.