The 2012 Annual Church Profile reported a drop of 5.52 percent in the number of baptisms in Southern Baptist churches, confirming a two-decade downward trend. The most recent accounting marked the first time since 1948 that baptisms dropped below 315,000.
From 1950-2011 Southern Baptists baptized an average of 379,711 people annually. Only twice during that time did the numbers dip more than 10 percent below that average. But in 2012 the decline was 13 percent off the average -- the worst drop in 62 years.
"Southern Baptists leaders are concerned," said Al Gilbert, NAMB's vice president of evangelism. "Our baptismal trends are all headed in the wrong direction. With a burden to penetrate lostness in North America, we must pray and think through what we can and should do to turn around this decline."
Gilbert is facilitating the group's sessions along with LifeWay Research President Ed Stetzer. In addition to the first meeting in Nashville, the task force will meet multiple times via conference calls and face-to-face meetings, with the goal of completing its work by May 2014.
Prior to the meeting Los Angeles pastor Benny Wong said one way churches will see increased baptisms is to narrow their concentration.
"We need to focus again on the most important mandate for the church today, which is the Great Commission," Wong said. "We need to observe the past to understand some issues, but the real need is to concentrate on the most important areas. In the past 20 years we have had some struggles as a church, but as we focus on the primary things, the so-called problems are not as important."
In its first 40 years, First Chinese planted five churches, Wong said. Following a long gap in planting, the church planted a new church four years ago with 12 people. It now has 200. A second plant just launched.
"There is no magic," Wong said. "It is not complicated. It is going back to the basics and following God's leading in obedience. If we only focus on the secondary issues, we will miss out on what is most important in the eyes of God."
Alvin Reid echoed Wong's thoughts.
"Obviously evangelism is of primary importance to Southern Baptists, and our primary means of evaluating evangelism is baptisms," Reid said. "It is not the best means, but it is the best one we have. We need some metrics to determine how we are doing.
"Anytime Southern Baptists have faced a major issue, they have called together leaders to address the challenge," Reid said. "This is certainly an important issue. This task force will actually attempt to accomplish something strategically. I have said for years that we as Southern Baptists should put on sackcloth and ashes and have an annual day of fasting and prayer on this issue."
Gilbert said the most recent ACP was the final catalyst in bringing the pastors' task force together.
"There has been a lot of discussion about this issue for years," Gilbert said. "Southern Baptists have talked about declining baptisms but haven't figured out a way to own it. I thought it was important to pull together pastors from different regions and backgrounds to address the issue. We want to dialog about how we can help take meaningful action."
Task force members include: Ted Traylor, pastor, Olive Baptist Church, Pensacola, Fla.; Jay Wolf, pastor, First Baptist Church, Montgomery, Ala.; K. Marshall Williams Sr., pastor, Nazarene Baptist Church, Philadelphia; Manpoong "Dennis" Kim, pastor, Global Mission Church, Silver Spring, Md.; David Galván, pastor, New Life Hispanic Baptist Church, Dallas; Carlos Navarro, pastor, Iglesia Bautista de West Brownsville, Brownsville, Texas; Andy Addis, pastor, CrossPoint Church, Hutchinson, Kan.; Roger Spradlin, pastor, Valley Baptist Church, Bakersfield, Calif.; Jeff Lovingood, Next Generation pastor, Long Hollow Baptist Church, Hendersonville, Tenn.; Benny Wong, pastor, First Chinese Baptist Church, Los Angeles; Keith Wieser, pastor, Resonate Baptist Church, Pullman, Wash.; Doug Melton, pastor, Southern Hills Baptist Church, Oklahoma City; Alvin Reid, Bailey Smith Chair of Evangelism, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; Wayne Jenkins, evangelism church growth director, Louisiana Baptist Convention; Milton Hollifield, executive director, Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.
Joe Conway writes for the North American Mission Board. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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