Decade of Missouri baptism data mixed

JEFFERSON CITY – Ten years of baptism reporting by Missouri Baptist churches revealed some bright spots in the midst of overall declines.

“Some tend to think that children are all that are being reached for Christ in Missouri,” said Mark Snowden, Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) Evangelism/Discipleship Strategist. “This report gives us reason to celebrate otherwise. At nearly 55 percent, children make up a big chunk, but it’s not overwhelming.”

Data from the Annual Church Profile changed in 2010, so the last three years of the report did not match the first seven years. Some 5 percent did not provide a breakdown by age groups. The report totaled 9,236 baptisms by age group, but a grand total of 9,706 baptisms were reported in 2013.

In 2013, MBC baptisms age-reporting-categories formed quadrants. See the Pie Chart graph. All children aged 17 and under made up 53 percent, but that means just under half of MBC churches baptized a significant number of adults as well as children (4,100+). The largest grouping is still ages 11 and under at 32 percent.

“Missouri Baptists should take note of one segment in particular,” said Snowden. “Those who are 18 to 29 years old – roughly the heart of the Millennial age group. We saw the fewest baptisms there. Last year they were just 16 percent of the total baptisms in the state.”

LifeWay changed groupings in 2011, so there was only a three year-report on the new categories. A glance at the three-year chart shows all four reporting age categories relatively flat-lined or declining. Ages 11 years and under are clearly in decline, but still have relatively more baptisms. Missouri Baptists are not keeping up with the increases in population growth.

The Baptism-by-Age reporting years 2004 to 2010 show negative trend lines across every reporting category.

Snowden pointed out that “at a meeting of State Evangelism Directors last fall, Ed Stetzer, who is the president for LifeWay Research, told us that the only positive growth category across the SBC had been ages 5 and under. However, in Missouri, ages 5 and under was the smallest baptism category and clearly in slight decline.”

In 2010, the last reporting year for the Under 6 category, there were 83 children baptized under age six. Children ages 6-8, 9-11, and 12-17 clearly accounted for more than half of MBC baptisms. Ages 30 to 59 was the largest single age group of baptisms by MBC churches.

“It’s easy for churches to see a bump in their baptisms and get excited,” Snowden said. Snowden is quick to point out that those looking at baptism totals should keep in perspective that more than half of Missourians are unclaimed by any religious group and 4.5 million are not born again.

Snowden listed several things that churches can do to address baptisms, especially among young adults:

Churches need to pray for the lost in their communities. Jesus said to pray that God would send more workers to the harvest (Luke 10:2). Churches can conduct a Solemn Assembly and cry out to God to bring spiritual transformation, especially among the Millennial generation.

Church leaders can examine how members are witnessing to the lost by age groups. The church may have many workers and events like VBS among children, but are there as many workers and events among young adults?

Churches are encouraged to make disciples who can make disciples. New believers know many lost people. What is in place to train new believers in different age groups to become witnesses? How can we go with them to share their new faith in Christ?

Snowden is available to help churches develop evangelism strategies. In Georgia, a study revealed that churches in that state that had a plan increased baptisms 60% over those that did not have a plan. “One church decided it was going to baptize in the first six months what they had baptized the previous year – and they exceeded that goal because they had a plan in place,” he said.

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