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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