Signs of decline mount for Southern Baptists

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Baptisms fell to their lowest number in 60 years among Southern Baptists, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.

The new numbers are a sign that the denomination is in trouble, Baptist leaders say. “This is not a blip,” said Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research. “This is a trend. And the trend is one of decline.”

In 2010, Southern Baptists baptized 332,321 people, or 17,416 fewer than in 2009, according to a report released by Nashville-based LifeWay Research. This marks the eighth time in 10 years that baptisms have declined and the lowest number of baptisms since the 1950s.

The report was released in advance of the convention’s annual meeting, which opens Tuesday in Phoenix.

Membership also dropped for the fourth year in a row, leaving the denomination with 16,136,044 members. Giving to overseas missionary work also fell short.

Stetzer pointed to two factors for the baptism decline. Southern Baptists are getting older, meaning they have fewer children who are being raised in the faith. And, Southern Baptists have lost their enthusiasm for evangelism — the practice of bringing new people into the faith, Stetzer said.

“Baptists love to talk about evangelism as long as someone else is doing it,” Stetzer said.

The latest decline comes a year after Southern Baptists approved a major restructuring of their denomination, known as the Great Commission Resurgence. The new program is designed to channel more money into attracting converts.

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