Southern Baptists chilling out?

Now here is a story that ought to be on page one in major newspapers across what some people still call the Bible Belt. Take The Dallas Morning News, for example, or The Atlanta Journal-Counstitution. For years, conservative Protestants have chuckled in their Dr Peppers about the growth of their churches and the decline of the Oldline Protestants on the left. Now, Dr. Thom S. Rainer, dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, is coming out with a study that says the evangelistic fire seems to be fading, big time, in America's largest non-Catholic flock.

There is much in this report to chew on, and I need to see the whole study. But here are two jaw-dropping -- for those who have long studied the SBC -- reasons that Rainer proposes for the decline.

• “The churches of the SBC are not evangelistic because they have many unregenerate members.”

“Is it possible that we have significant numbers of non-Christians who have membership in our 43,000 churches?” Rainer asks. He answers, “If our research approximates eternal realities, nearly one-half of all church members may not be Christians. This issue may very well be a major factor in the evangelistic apathy in many churches.”

• “Only a small number of churches in the SBC have any significant evangelistic efforts.”

Rainer finds that 82 percent of all SBC churches baptized 12 or less persons during 2003. (The study was concluded before the recently released 2004 statistics were available.) He concludes, “Frankly, most Southern Baptist churches today are evangelistically anemic. The bulk of baptisms in the denomination is taking place in a relatively few churches.”

A nice twist. I ran into this Baptist story over at Amy Welborn's Open Book, one of the blogs of holy obligation for Catholics and those who like to follow Catholic trends. Is she more hip to Baptist news than the editors of major papers in the Southern Kingdom?

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