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News

Pastor task force addresses declining baptism rates

May 12, 2014
Pastors’ Task Force on  SBC Evangelistic Impact & Declining Baptisms
North American Mission Board church planter Patrick Coats (right) baptizes Andrew Fellas, a new member of Miami’s Kingdom Covenant Baptist Church, where Coats pastors. NAMB photo by Ted Wilcox

By Joe Conway 

ALPHARETTA – 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.

“Southern Baptists’ downward spiral in baptisms is the fruit of our spiritual lukewarmness,” said task force member Ted Traylor, pastor of Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola, Fla. “I am greatly encouraged by the stirring I see among us toward spiritual awakening and the need for the a 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.”

“I am grateful for this endeavor’s commitment to renew the passion for evangelism that ultimately begs the question, ‘How then should we proceed?’” said task force member Manpoong “Dennis” Kim, pastor of Global Mission Church in Silver Spring, Md.

Task force member Roger Spradlin, pastor of Valley Baptist Church in Bakersfield, Calif., 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,” said Spradlin.

From 1950-2011 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 62 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.”

“The recommendations are unanimous,” Gilbert said, “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.”

Joe Conway writes for the North American Mission Board. For the full report, a summary of recommendations, a video challenge and more information, visit http://www.namb.net/baptismtaskforce. 

Related Resources

Pastors’ Task Force on SBC Evangelistic Impact & Declining Baptisms  

Download the Full Task Force Report  

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