Considering how rough things have been at work as of late, this bit of news cheered me considerably:
For most of four decades, Southern Baptists could boast of rising membership even as more moderate and liberal Protestant denominations lost members in droves.
But with membership slightly down last year, and flat for the past five, Southern Baptists face a growing anxiety about their future as they gather for their annual meeting Tuesday in Indianapolis.
“We have peaked,” Southern Baptist statistician Ed Stetzer wrote in an online commentary on the latest statistics from 2007. “…For now, Southern Baptists are a denomination in decline.”
What worries Southern Baptist leaders even more than the membership numbers is a steady decline in the conversion ritual that gave their denomination its name — baptisms.
Annual rates of baptisms have steadily declined not only in recent years, but also during the past 35 years. In 2007, Southern Baptist churches reported 345,941 baptisms. That’s down 12% from 2002 and 22% from 1972.
It goes without saying that the Southern Baptists are a long way from becoming extinct, but anytime their numbers shrink is cause for optimism in my book. It’s enough of a decline that church leaders are starting to get worried so that’s reason enough to hope.