Saturday, May 2, 2009

Baptist Baptisms Continue to Sink

I saw this bit from the Washington Times and had to comment as it strikes very close to home for me.

Southern Baptist churches baptized fewer people in 2008 for the fourth year in a row to reach the lowest level since 1987, and membership in the country's largest Protestant denomination fell slightly as well.

In the past 50 years, the number of annual baptisms per church member - a key indicator of church growth - has dropped sharply. Southern Baptists baptized one person for every 19 church members in 1950, a ratio that dropped to 1 baptism for every 47 church members in 2008, according to the report.

Growing up, my entire extended family was Baptist. All my friends were Baptists. The whole town, really, was Baptist. I went to Baptist services, youth group functions, etc. on a fairly regular basis as a result.

Then stuff started to change. Everybody noticed that certain friends/family weren't coming to church there anymore. Turned out that people began noticing the zeal of the few Pentecostal folks in town and decided to check it out for themselves. They never came back.

The continued decline in the number of followers reflects a trend in other mainline Protestant churches. Non-denominational churches are gaining and the ranks of those unaffiliated with a church are growing.

"The numbers simply tell us that Southern Baptists are not reaching as many people for Christ as they once did," said Thom S. Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay.

I hate to tell him, but it isn't the Southern Baptists who have changed or gotten lazy or whatever. The people they are trying to reach or already have reached just aren't the same anymore.

Pentecostalism and the non-denominational movement have absolutely devastated the more mainline Protestant groups in this area. People have basically decided that their "personal relationship with Jesus" just wasn't personal enough at First Baptist, so they are moving on to the Holiness Apostolic Tabernacle First Spirit of Zion Church of God in Christ the Nazarene. That's where they can REALLY get to experience God.

This all points to the general lack of anyone thinking about what they are doing. The search for the deeper as embodied in experience alone has caused people to think of anything that hinders an experience as bad. Too much structure in the Baptist way is what I would hear all the time from Pentecostal and charismatic converts. Anyways, often obstacles to experience include suffering as Public Enemy #1. If there is unpleasantness, it isn't because God chastens those He loves. It's because you are either (1) cursed or (2) lacking in Faith/overwhelmed with negative thoughts that keep you from realizing your "anointing."

I think you are going to see this movement out of the Baptist faith really pick up steam in the next 5 years. Pray they all come to find the Church.

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