Baptisms Down

Some encouraging news:

Baptisms in the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, have dipped to their lowest point in 60 years, according to a new report.

Last year, there were 332,321 baptisms in the church, which is 17,416 less than 2009, according to the report from Nashville-based LifeWay Christian Resources. There was only one baptism for every 48 Southern Baptists in the country in 2010. Sixty years ago, there one baptism per every 19 church members. In eight out of 10 years, the number of baptisms performed have declined.

Skipping ahead:

Church attendance and Sunday school enrollment declined in 2010. Membership, currently 16.3-million, is down for the fourth year in a row.

Donations to missionary work are down too. The denomination’s International Mission Board received $145.6 million during its annual drive last year — almost $30 million shy of its goal. The number of missionaries, which was 5,656 in 2009, dropped to 5,000 last year.

Those are still mighty big numbers, though.


  1. #1 hibob
    June 14, 2011

    Are people moving from the SBC to unaffiliated megachurches or elsewhere in the fundamentalist/evangelical group, or has there been an actual drop in the numbers of fundamentalists/evangelicals?

  2. #2 Jim Harrison
    June 15, 2011

    The evangelical denominations have a recurring problem. Their memberships swell at first because they offer the red-hot religiosity the more established churches are reluctant to provide; but as they become successful they find it harder and harder to maintain the requisite fervor/level of superstition. They get respectable; and, worse, their seminarians become better educated, which is the kiss of death since well-educated ministers shy away from preaching the crazier tenets of the faith or find themselves living a double life, saying one thing to themselves and another to their parishioners. The Southern Baptists have an additional problem now that they have finally apologized for their role in defending if not promoting slavery and then segregation.

  3. #3 Birger Johansson
    June 15, 2011

    At pharyngula, I found an interesting explanation of “revelation” in a historical context -it was never intended to be interpreted literally. Yet the fire and brimstone preachers consistently draw on a literal interpretation of this book, resulting in something even the ancients would have regarded as surreal drivel.

    SBC as it exists today will not accept anything else than a literal interpretation of this and other parts of the Bible (preferably in the King James version, ignoring the translation errors).
    This means SBC and similar organisations have painted themselves into a corner. By instisting on what may be called an anti-modern interpretation of their holy texts, their following will inevitably get smaller and smaller (unless they recruit massively from immigrants with a world-view consistent with that of hard-core baptists).
    — — — — —

    I had a funny idea: why not recommend disenchanted baptists to join the Alevi branch of the islamic faith? The Alevi are quite reasonable, as religions go (and are viciously repressed by their sunni neighbours in Turkey).
    Getting a copuple of million former baptists to join a branch of islam because southern baptism is too extreme would be hilarious, considering the islamophobia and stereotyping in the west .

  4. #4 waldteufel
    June 15, 2011

    Good news. Religion is still far too widespread in this country, but the numbers are at least heading in the right direction.

  5. #5 eric
    June 15, 2011

    hibob – hard to say. The PEW survey from a few years back seemed to indicate that Americans switch religions quite a bit (over 28% are not what they were raised as; if you count changing christian denominations as a switch, that number is 44%), that the % identifying with specific sects is going down, but the % identifying as nondenominational is going up.

    And ‘fundamentalist’ is a hard category to try and track because it is somewhat orthogonal to sect, which is what most religious identity surveys track. Example: one can be a fundie Catholic or nonfundie Catholic, but a survey of “what religion are you?” will probably only have ‘Catholic’ as a choice.

    For another take on the question, you might look at this. Draw your own conclusions. 🙂

  6. #6 Steve Reuland
    June 15, 2011

    “The church’s highest year of baptisms was 1972, when there was 445,725, but baptisms have largely plateaued since the 1950s.”

    The baptisms seem to be simply following demographic trends. The drop in membership however is probably meaningful.

  7. #7 g724
    June 15, 2011

    Beware of that word “non-denonminational,” it is also a codeword for “dominionist,” as in NAR (New Apostolic Reformation), AOG (Assemblies of God), and other truly extreme churches/sects/cults.

    While many people use the word innocently enough to mean something roughly similar to “non-dogmatic,” it is also a way to mask being a hardcore dominionist.

  8. #8 Traces
    June 17, 2011

    As someone who was raised Baptist during the “kick out the liberals” 80’s, I would have to say: duh.

    The SBC has a long history of antagonizing anyone who doesn’t toe the line (somehow, despite a policy of church autonomy) and backing the wrong side of history. It’s a church founded in 1845 in the defense of slavery which took until 1996 (or was ’97?) to admit that, hey, maybe we took the wrong side on that one. Examing the revisions to the SBC official history on this issue is pretty comical: no mention, no mention, no mention, no mention, maybe slavery had _something_ to do with it, Our bad. Anyhow, SBC churches are still almost exclusively segregated.

    You would think they would be self-reflective enough to realize they’re on the wrong side of the gay marriage issue, but self reflection is not their strong point. Based on past SBC history, I would guess that the SBC would admit fault ~ 2150. The nature of the organization drives out anyone of conscience or intelligence.

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