Let Jesus into your heart, pray the sinner’s prayer… versus the truth:
“Brethren, what shall we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.”
Nation’s largest Protestant group faces ‘decline’
Baptisms fell to their lowest number in 60 years among Southern Baptists, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.
The new numbers are a sign that the denomination is in trouble, Baptist leaders say.
“This is not a blip,” said Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay. “This is a trend. And the trend is one of decline.”
In 2010, Southern Baptists baptized 332,321 people, or 17,416 fewer than in 2009, according to a report released by Nashville-based LifeWay Research. This marks the eighth time in 10 years that baptisms have declined and the lowest number of baptisms since the 1950s.
The report was released in advance of the convention’s annual meeting, which opens Tuesday in Phoenix.
Membership also dropped for the fourth year in a row, leaving the denomination with 16,136,044 members. Giving to overseas missionary also fell short.
Stetzer pointed to two factors for the baptism decline. Southern Baptists are getting older, meaning they have fewer children who are being raised in the faith. And, Southern Baptists have lost their enthusiasm for evangelism — the practice of bringing new people into the faith, Stetzer said.
“Baptists love to talk about evangelism as long as someone else is doing it,” Stetzer said.
The latest decline comes a year after Southern Baptists approved a major restructuring of their denomination, known as the Great Commission Resurgence. The new program is designed to channel more into attracting converts.
More converts would mean more baptisms, as Baptists baptize converts as a sign of a person’s newfound faith.
Baptist leaders say it will take time for the restructuring to pay off.
“The Great Commission Resurgence was never meant to be a quick fix,” said Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources.
Rainer said Baptists need to spend more time spreading the faith to nonbelievers. In the 1950s, he said, there was one baptism for every 20 Southern Baptists.
“Now, it takes 40 of our members to baptize one person,” he said.
The Rev. Frank Page, president of the convention’s Nashville-based executive committee, said that too many pastor and denominational leaders talk about the Great Commission — Jesus’ command to spread his message — in generic terms. But they rarely teach people how to talk to their friends and neighbors about Jesus in an effective way.
“You can talk about having a vision all day long,” he said. “But you have to show people how to put that vision into action.”
Baptist leaders also believe that attracting more minorities would help reverse the decline. About 19% of their churches are African-American, Hispanic, Asian-American or other minority congregations.
“We’ve got a long way to go for more ethnic diversity,” Rainer said. “We are still a very white denomination.”
Giving to mission work also has declined. The convention’s International Mission Board, known as the IMB, announced that the annual Lottie Moon missionary offering took in $145.6 million. Baptist leaders had hoped to raise $175 million.
Page blamed some of the shortfall on the poor economy.
“Our churches have been hit badly — and that’s had an impact,” he said.
Previous giving shortfalls have forced the IMB to shrink its missionary force. The number of missionaries dropped by about 12% from a high of 5,656 in 2009 to about 5,000 missionaries by the end of 2010.
Tom Elliff, president of the IMB, said that the mission board has an $8.3 million budget gap because of the giving shortfall. He said that $175 million goal included funds for expanding missionary programs over the organization’s current budget.
He doesn’t plan on cutting the number of missionaries.
“This is not a time for retreat,” Elliff said.
Isaiah 55:11 (KJV)
… So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: IT SHALL NOT RETURN UNTO ME VOID, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it…