A report released by the Southern Baptist Commission this week suggests that the country's largest denomination outside of the Roman Catholic Church is struggling to bring in new members from the Millennials and younger age group demographic.
According to the Pastors' Task Force on SBC Evangelistic Impact & Declining Baptisms, 25 percent of Southern Baptist churches baptized no new members in 2012, while 60 percent reported no baptisms for youth between the ages of 12 and 17. Also indicative of the denomination's struggle to attract Millennials were the 80 percent of churches which reported baptizing one or zero adults between 18 and 29.
Ed Stetzer, the President of the Southern Baptist-linked Lifeway Research, who worked on the team headed by Al Gilbert, the Vice President of Evangelism at the North American Mission Board which created the report, suggested the denomination had not focused enough on intentionally reaching non-Christians.
"I think a part of it is, Evangelicals love evangelism — it's in their name — but they love it when someone else is doing it," Stetzer told The Christian Post. "...I think that's true in all denominations. There's not this passion for evangelism that I think is necessary for us to reach an increasing mission field."
He added, "We definitely want to recognize that we have an increasing mission field, but we still have kind of an unengaged mission force. We need, we must have, Christians who are going to share the Gospel with their neighbors. There are some, but there are just not enough."
In addition to needing to raise up new evangelists within the ranks, Stetzer said that Southern Baptists also had room to improve in how they engaged culture.
"I wish that the Southern Baptist would regain their historical passion for evangelism but do it in ways that are appropriate for the culture which we find ourselves in today," said Stetzer, quipping that "if the '50s come back, a lot of Southern Baptists churches are ready to go."
"The problem is that the Gospel isn't from the '50s and the gospel needs to be proclaimed in the new millennium," he continued. "I think if Southern Baptists could and would return to the roots of evangelistic passion that's a plus. If they get stuck in cultural expressions of the past, that's a negative."
The task force attributed the denomination's declining numbers to five outlying problems: pastors overwhelmed with day-to-day church operation, ministries neglecting consistent personal evangelism, insufficient attention to discipling church members to intentionally evangelize, youth and young adult ministries ineffective at "winning and discipling the next generation to follow Christ," and not measuring success in terms of winning new Christians.
To remedy these issues and the declining numbers the task force made five suggestions: praying for spiritual awakening, pastoral modeling of personal evangelism, creating a disciple-making culture in churches which lead church members to share the gospel themselves, equipping parents and church leaders to more effectively teach youth, and more robustly celebrating baptism.
Stetzer points to the irony present in today's Christian community. "There's a lot of Evangelicals, but there's not a lot of evangelism and that's a problem," he said.