The Southern Baptist Convention has about 15.5 million members, and baptized just over 305,000 people in 2014. That’s a baptism rate of 2% for the SBC.
When one breaks that down to the local church, that number is even less appealing. At a 2% baptism rate, that’s breaks down to:
- 1.6 baptisms per year for the average church (average Sunday AM attendance is 80)
- 6.6 baptisms per church per year (at 46,499 total SBC churches)
This can change. This will change.
Southern Baptist leaders are trying to address the decline in personal evangelism. My own alma mater, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, is also working hard to reverse this trend. I applaud their actions and pray that God blesses their faithful service.
Two percent isn’t acceptable. I believe that churches should strive for a 12% baptism rate (a number cited by Thom Rainer in 2013).
What is a Baptism Rate Anyway?
I know some of you may be wondering what is meant by the term “baptism rate.” Basically, it the ratio of baptisms to members, but expressed as a percentage. This can be calculated per week, month, or my preference, per year. Here’s how it works out using the numbers listed above:
- Expressed as a ratio
305,000:15,500,000 = 61:3,100 (or basically 1:51, 1 baptism for every 51 members)
- Expressed as a fraction & percentage
305,000/15,500,000 = 0.02, or 2%
So, the baptism rate simply refers to how many baptisms as a percentage of the membership. Unless stated otherwise, I always speak in terms of the total number of baptisms in a year.
Baptism Rate is an Indicator, not a Goal
A baptism rate of 2%, to be direct, is pitiful. However, our goal is not merely to increase the number of baptisms or the baptism rate. Rather, this percentage is one indicator of how much Southern Baptists are evangelizing.
Is the baptism rate a fool-proof or comprehensive indicator? Certainly not. However, it is a reasonable and viable overall measure. The philosophy—or more accurately, the biblical principle—behind it is that as God’s people do God’s evangelistic work, God will bless them (cf. Acts 2 & 4).
A 12% Baptism Rate is Achievable if We are Faithful
Depending on whom you ask, experts will cite all sorts of numbers regarding the ideal baptism rate. Sometimes the numbers are excessively low or unrealistically high. Whatever the source of the number, it is my view that the percentage should be both realistic and challenging; 12% meets both criteria.
12% is Realistic
When developing 1X Evangelism (coming very soon), one of the questions I was asked was how a church leader can know if the people actually are evangelizing. While numerical gain isn’t the goal, there must be some way to determine, overall, if the members are actively sharing Jesus.
I told him to look at the baptism rate. Based on the 1X method, a church can, and I believe should, achieve a 12% baptism rate. That means that the number of people baptized in a year would be equal to 12% of the active membership. In this case, the church has over 2,000 active members and is averaging a baptism rate of around 10-15 percent.
He asked how I came up with the 12%. Here’s how I get it:
- If 10% of members evangelize one person each month, and…
- If 10% of those evangelized accept Jesus and are baptized, then…
- The result is a baptism rate of 12%
Take a church of 100 active members. If 10% evangelized someone each month, that’s 10 people evangelizing each month, reaching 120 each year. If 10% of those reached got saved and were baptized, that’s 12 people baptized. Now just do some basic math: 12 baptism / 100 members = 12% baptism rate.
It is realistic to hope 10% of Christians will have a gospel conversation with at least one person each month. Based on Scripture, I believe it is also realistic for 10% of those reached to come to Christ by the blessing and power of the Holy Spirit. Thus, a 12% baptism rate is achievable, but it requires we be faithful.
12% is Challenging
While a 12% baptism rate is achievable, the SBC is currently far below that, sitting at a 2% baptism rate. Clearly, Southern Baptists, who have historically held the Great Commission as foundational to the denomination, are not as evangelistic as we can be or should be. That can change! That will change!
It is challenging because we are not there. It is challenging because it requires we refocus our efforts not on making members comfortable, appeasing the world, or capitulating to the latest social fads or cultural worldviews. Rather, we must renew our zeal for Jesus, become gospel-centered, and make the gospel mission of Jesus the mission of our churches.
It is challenging because it requires prayer and perseverance. It requires humility and honesty. It requires boldness and bravado.
Are you up to the challenge?
Now, a few words of caution…
First, faithful obedience is the goal. Whatever the baptism rate, our mission is never about achieving some magical number. Rather, it is about getting more people doing evangelism more often.
Second, the baptism rate is only one indicator, participation levels are more important indicator. While the baptism rate can indicate evangelistic effectiveness, a more vital indicator is the number of members actively sharing Jesus monthly, weekly, daily. This one of the great strengths of the “1X method.”
Third, numbers are never, never, never the goal. Numbers have their purposes but they are never the goal. We are not called to increase our numbers, but to increase our faith, to increase our service, to increase our holiness. We are called to be gospel-centered, not numbers-centered. As said above, numbers are indicators only.