Baptists Without Baptisms?

By Terry Mattingly Modified: June 28, 2013 at 2:42 pm •  Published: June 28, 2013
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-- It's impossible to ignore the fact that the fastest rising statistic in American religion -- among those who attend church -- is the percentage of people who attend nondenominational Protestant congregations. In previous generations, some of these megachurches would have had Southern Baptist signs out front.

The charismatic flocks in the Assemblies of God are growing as well, noted Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research. Meanwhile, evangelism efforts remain strong in the SBC's growing number of African-American and Latino congregations. "It seems that the decline is largely in our predominately white churches," he said.

-- Southern Baptists are strong in the rural Sun Belt and, while population growth in Southern states remains strong, Americans are increasingly moving to big cities and their suburbs.

-- A key question Stetzer and Rainer agreed deserves study is: How many SBC churches have stopped requiring baptism by immersion for those who move their memberships from churches that use different baptism rites?

-- Another unanswered question: To what degree have birthrates fallen in Southern Baptist congregations? A decline would affect the number of baptisms among children and teens.

-- SBC leaders would, if pressed, have trouble finding as many as 6 million of the nearly 16 million people whose names are on membership rolls in their churches. Why? Too often, churches have focused on mere "incantation evangelism" that expects people to recite a few "magic words" that prove they are Christians, said Rainer. That brand of faith is not enough.

"We have baptized too many members who seem to show no evidence of salvation," he said. The millions of missing members are "certainly not the kinds of believers who win other people to true faith in Christ."

(Terry Mattingly is the director of the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and leads the GetReligion.org project to study religion and the news.)

(EDITORS: For editorial questions, please contact Kendra Phipps at kphipps@amuniversal.com.)

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