Southern Baptists see more converts than dunkings

February 6, 2008

Baptism in the River Jordan, 8 Nov. 2007/Eliana AponteEvangelists in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) have noticed an interesting trend as they make in-roads into traditionally Catholic strongholds such as the Hispanic community.

Many new converts are reluctant to go through the public baptism ceremony — a key ritual in the evangelical “born-again” experience which involves immersion in water.

“Baptism is the thing that is looked at as severing the relationship with their past,” said Don Cass, the Director of Evangelism for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBCT).

“We have more converts than baptisms … For example the Catholic people, when they give their life to Christ to become a Baptist, they may place their faith in Jesus and then a year later get baptised. Because baptism in their minds severs their relationship with their culture,” he told Reuters at the SBTC’s annual “Empower Evangelism” conference in the Dallas suburb of Euless.

Converts baptised in the Jordan River, 17 Oct. 2005/Gil CohenBut Cass said this reluctance to “take the dunk” was not just restricted to the Hispanic community, which is regarded as a “growth area” by Southern Baptists and other evangelical Protestants. “It’s getting more and more a challenge to get Anglos to follow through with baptism as well… many will do it, it just takes them awhile to make their decision,” he said. He said it was a trend that had become noticeable in the past few years.

SBC baptism numbers had a slight decline in 2006 compared to 2005 (the 2007 numbers have not been finalised yet but Cass said indications were that they would be up in Texas). In 2006, new baptism numbers for the overall Southern Baptist convention were 364,826 compared to 371,850 the previous year.

The SBC with about 16 million members is America’s second largest denomination, after the Roman Catholic Church, and is by far the largest of the country’s evangelical groups.

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