With a few exceptions, annual baptisms reported by Kentucky Baptist churches have been in decline since at least 1980. In that year, Kentucky Baptist churches reported 20,457 baptisms with approximately 213,000 people attending worship services in those churches.
Based on these numbers, Kentucky Baptists were baptizing at a very healthy rate of just over a 10:1 ratio of worshippers to baptisms. In 2016 those numbers had dropped to 13,802 baptisms with 222,641 worship attenders which has our churches baptizing at a ratio of 16:1. While there are many reasons for a decline in baptisms by Kentucky Baptist churches, there are also many ways to try and reverse the trend.
One of these ways involves the 70 local Kentucky Baptist associations. Warren Association in Bowling Green, while not the largest association in the state, has led the way in baptisms. In fact, each year Warren Association churches fill up several slots in the Top 20 baptizing churches and the Top 20 baptisms per capita. What is their secret?
Several years ago, an effort was started by then DOM Jeff Crabtree, and continued by current DOM John Mark Toby, to try and impact baptisms in the association. They started praying for the churches in the associations who had not baptized anyone in recent years. They also asked some of their leading pastors to reach out to, and encourage, those pastors who had not recently seen people receive Christ and follow in believers' baptism.
They started tracking baptisms throughout the year by asking churches to report on their baptisms, not just once a year through their ACP report but also every month or so.
The biggest difference-maker was when they began to celebrate those smaller churches who started seeing people trust Christ and become baptized. Large church pastors would call pastors in smaller churches and rejoice with them over baptisms. They shared baptism numbers at their annual meeting and celebrated those who had not baptized the previous year but who had done so in the current year.
What happened in Warren Association is that the pastors became a team working together, instead of individuals competing. When they realized they were on the same team, then they began to celebrate together and work together.
How can Baptist associations, and associational directors of missions take the lead in their associations to help churches reach and baptize more people? Here are five actions to consider:
1.Assemble an association evangelism team: The team should consist of 3-5 evangelistic pastors in the association. The reason to use pastors is because of the principle of example: "As goes the leadership so goes the followship." This team must be made up of, and led by, evangelistic leaders who are being used of God to reach others.
2. Schedule and promote evangelism training events: The association evangelism team should be involved in scheduling and promoting the type of events that can help other leaders be more intentionally evangelistic. Kentucky Baptists' evangelism team can help in this area and can be contacted by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.