Amid Declining Membership and Baptisms, Southern Baptists Prepare for 2014 Annual Meeting

Southern Baptist Convention President Fred Luter delivers his presidential sermon at the 2013 SBC Annual Meeting in Houston. (BP file photo by Thomas Graham)
Southern Baptist Convention President Fred Luter delivers his presidential sermon at the 2013 SBC Annual Meeting in Houston. (BP file photo by Thomas Graham)

For Southern Baptists, it’s happened again: Another annual report shows the denomination is losing members and baptizing fewer people.

The Rev. Fred Luter, outgoing president of the Southern Baptist Convention, thinks old-time methods to spread the gospel have met a culture that’s younger, more diverse and doesn’t necessarily see the pew — or even sin — as a priority.

“Our society is just not what it used to be,” said Luter, who admitted he’s discouraged by the reports. “When I grew up there was a challenge by parents in the home that our sons and daughters would be in church. It was a given. … That day and time is gone.”

Luter said he and others will address the issue at this year’s annual meeting, which takes place June 10-11 in Baltimore. But beyond calls for reversing the trend, there’s little sign of agreement on a way forward.

Though some have said the 15.7 million-member denomination needs to be more racially and ethnically inclusive, Luter, its first African-American president, thinks the main reason for decline is that all congregations need to take a role in evangelism.

“We have just not been very active in doing what we can to reach the lost and the unchurched in our nation,” said the 57-year-old New Orleans pastor.

Weeks before the denomination’s annual meeting, a task force charged with helping Southern Baptists “own the problem” released a report that noted these recent signs of trouble:

  • one-quarter of Southern Baptist churches reported “0 baptisms”
  • 60 percent said they had baptized no youth (ages 12-17)
  • 80 percent reported one or fewer young adult baptisms (ages 18-29)

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SOURCE: Religion News Service
Adelle M. Banks

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