Fewer Southern Baptists evangelize, researcher finds
BALTIMORE — From Billy Graham's roadside tent revivals to Jerry Falwell's TV ministries to Rick Warren's 20,000-member megachurch, Southern Baptists dominate the evangelical brand.
This is apt for the country's largest Protestant denomination, whose doctrine says nonbelievers are doomed to hell. Sharing one's story of coming to Christ and bringing others along are among a Southern Baptist's core responsibilities.
But as the group held its annual meeting last week in Baltimore, the top agenda item was this: The evangelicals are not evangelizing.
Baptisms have been going steadily down in the past decade for the first time since records started to be kept in the 1800s, according to the denomination's LifeWay Research. Other LifeWay research about devout Protestants generally shows other measures down as well, such as how often people look for ways to share the Gospel or to make intentional relationships with nonbelievers.
“I always resist the word ‘crisis,' but in this case, I think when your name is ‘Baptist' and you're named after baptisms, yes, this is a crisis,” said Ed Stetzer, a pastor and author who is president of LifeWay Research.
Thousands of Southern Baptists at the meeting approved a resolution vowing to revitalize the practice and prayed for forgiveness.
Eighty percent of Southern Baptist churches baptize only one person between ages 18 and 29 per year, said Fred Luter, outgoing president of the Southern Baptist Convention. “If we were working in a secular job with these kinds of reports, many of us would have been fired a long time ago.”