(RNS) The number of baptisms by Southern Baptists — who consider the rite a gauge of their evangelism success and a key element of their faith — has dropped to the lowest rate in two decades.
The denomination, which also saw a slight decrease in membership numbers, recorded 342,198 baptisms in 2008, a decrease of 1.1 percent from the previous year, according to LifeWay Christian Resources, a division of the Southern Baptist Convention that compiles annual statistics.
The baptism rate is the lowest for Southern Baptists since 1987 and represents the fourth consecutive annual decline, demonstrating a continuing challenge for the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.
“The numbers simply tell us that Southern Baptists are not reaching as many people for Christ as they once did,” said Thom S. Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay, in an April 23 announcement of the new statistics.
“I pray that all of our churches and our entities will become totally focused on obeying Christ’s commission so that our convention will truly experience a Great Commission resurgence.”
Total membership in the denomination fell to 16,228,438, a drop of
38,482 members, or 0.2 percent.
Despite the economic downturn, Southern Baptists increased their support of missions by 2.3 percent last year.
LifeWay produces the Annual Church Profile by compiling information from state conventions affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.
By Adelle M. Banks
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