Southern Baptists (and Republicans): old, white and in decline?

The evangelical Protestant revival has been one of the most dynamic religious and social movements in the United States in the last three decades. According to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, one in four U.S. adults now count themselves as followers of this faith tradition.


So it may come as a surprise to some non-American readers of this blog that the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) – with 16 million members, America’s largest evangelical denomination and the country’s second largest after the Catholic Church — is ringing the alarm bells of decline.

Its research arm LifeWay Research released the following projections this week at the convention’s annual meeting in Kentucky:  it said its numbers would fall nearly 50 percent by 2050 “unless the aging and predominantly white denomination reverses a 50-year trend and does more to strengthen evangelism, reach immigrants, and develop a broader ethnic base.”

“Using U.S. Census projected population figures, SBC membership could fall from a peak of 6 percent of the American population in the late 1980s to 2 percent in 2050,” said LifeWay director Ed Stetzer.

The SBC in 1951 enjoyed robust annual growth of four percent and still had two percent in the early 1970s but in recent years it has been falling about 0.6 percent per year.

Southern Baptists hold meet amid falling baptisms

SBC President Frank Page and President George Bush, 11 Oct 2006/Larry DowningAmerica’s largest evangelical denomination, the 16-million strong Southern Baptist Convention, is holding its annual meeting in Indianapolis on Tuesday and Wednesday against the backdrop of a decline in the number of yearly baptisms.

This is serious stuff indeed for a group that places much emphasis on the conversion experience, the acceptance of Jesus as a person’s savior and the rite of passage that goes with this acceptance: a public immersion in water or baptism.

In April the SBC released its latest baptism numbers — figures it tracks closely, underscoring the importance attatched to them.

Southern Baptists see more converts than dunkings

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).