Published March 1, 2020
According to recent research on baptisms by age group in Southern Baptist churches, baptisms of 12 to 17-year-olds have been in decline since 1972. In that year, SBC churches recorded 126,127 baptisms of individuals 12-17-years old. In 2018, baptisms in that same age group had dropped to 57,552. From 2000 to 2018, we are showing a continual decline in baptizing those in that age group by 35,548 persons annually — a decrease of 38 percent. Why is this happening and what must we do?
Any concerned Christian observer of this trend could give a wide variety of reasons for the decline. Some might say these numbers reflect national trends on baptisms. Baptisms are in decline nationally, so the lower baptism numbers among students fits the trend. Others may offer the rise of a sports culture taking priority over family worship. If families are out of church more often, it stands to reason that the children in these families may decide that church, and therefore the gospel, is a low priority — therefore the student becomes closed to becoming a follower of Jesus. Some may point to theological issues; others would say that these numbers represent the practice of pastors and churches being more careful to counsel those making professions of faith than in times past. However, if the research points out that fewer teenagers are being saved in Southern Baptist churches, then what must be done?
Here are some practical suggestions:
1. Prioritize student ministry in the church. A priority in a church serves as a target we are trying to hit. Some have said that if we aim at nothing, we will hit it every time. With most Christian professions of faith and baptisms happening in the teenage years, there is wisdom in each Kentucky Baptist church having a plan for reaching children and students with the gospel.
2. Make certain the student ministry is intentionally evangelistic. The student ministries making the greatest evangelistic impact in the lives of teenagers are those that offer multiple opportunities throughout the year for students to hear the gospel and respond, as well as invite their friends to do the same.
3. Pray for students connected to your church. Some churches have an "Adopt-A-Student" prayer plan. This is an organized way for a church to assign the names of all the children and students connected to the families in their church to pray daily by name for those students. This can be a simple and effective way for a church to pray for the lost and unchurched students who have family in the church.
4. Encourage students who attend worship services. Everyone needs encouragement and we tend to get more of what we encourage. Each of us can make it a point to get to know and encourage the students who attend worship services.
5. Engage the services of your association and/or state convention. Your local Baptist association and Kentucky Baptist Convention has a wealth of resources — and people — who would love to help your church more effectively engage students and children with the gospel. If you don't know where to start, call me at (270) 889-4276 and I will help you find what you need, as will any KBC team member or local Baptist association worker.
6. Develop an evangelistic calendar. Spend the first quarter of each year finishing up your evangelistic plan for the previous year and developing your plan for the next 12 months. A plan is something you prioritize. If we wish to reach students with the gospel, then we must remember that "hope" is not a strategy. We need to be intentional about the most important business on earth—the business of reaching lost people for Christ.
7. Pray, pray, pray for children and students to be saved. There are times we need focused prayer. If your church has not experienced the baptism of children and teenagers recently, take it upon yourself to pray that God will bless your congregation with young people professing faith in Christ and following Him in believer's baptism.
Years ago, a pastor in western Kentucky had a congregation that had dwindled to 15 or 20 faithful people each Sunday. There were no children in the church. This pastor had such a burden for children that he prepared a children's sermon every Sunday. He was prepared to minister to children when the children finally started showing up. We need to get the water ready in our baptistries, turn on the baptismal heater and pray for God to fill that baptistry with those who are ready to follow Jesus. Together, with the power of the Holy Spirit, Kentucky Baptists can reach children, students and adults with the gospel.
Todd Gray is executive director-treasurer of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.
Not a subscriber? Want to see more content like this article?
Please subscribe to the Western Recorder print or online edition.
Already a subscriber? Login here.