I just finished reading an interesting article on baptism on USAtoday.com dated 4/13/06:
In the article, the author, Cathy Lynn Grossman–defining “baptism” in the broadest terms (sprinkling-Holy Spirit baptism)–notes that the rate of baptisms is declining in all of the major denominations: The Catholic Church, Methodists, Lutherans, Assemblies of God, and the Southern Baptist Convention. The Southern Baptist Convention has seen its rate of baptisms drop about 35%.
The author spends the majority of the rest of the article trying to detail the reasons for the decline in the rate of baptisms, citing fewer babies (infant baptism), secularization, and interfaith marriage as the major reasons, but then–in the last few paragraphs–she notes a trend in non-denominational churches that is interesting.
Here’s how she ended her article:
Churches in the ’90s began actively courting church-wary people. These “seeker” churches often de-emphasized strict theology and practice, and gave a less prominent role to baptisms. “ We focused so much on the personal decision, the big deal of turning your life over to Christ, that the public, external identification – baptism – was less important in practice,” says the Rev. Brian McLaren, who co-founded the non-denominational Cedar Ridge Community Church in Spencerville, Md.Yet McLaren, who retired in January to write and lecture, sees change in the air, particularly when he looks at young church leaders such as the Rev. Rob Bell, 35, who Christianity Today once said “puts the hip in discipleship.”At Bell’s non-denominational Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Mich., where 12,000 worshipers gather weekly in a former mall, they roll in a portable tank every few weeks so baptismal candidates can witness their conversion to the whole congregation. “We are baptizing more people than ever,” because “people are desperate for something ancient and lasting and meaningful,” Bell says. (emphasis mine)Even if baptisms aren’t rising in numbers, they’re on the rise in significance, McLaren says.
For me, this was the real news in this article . . . and an encouragement to me.
At the congregation with which I serve, we have also found that “people are desperate for something ancient and lasting and meaningful”, so we continue to creatively emphasize and celebrate communion, offering, confession of Christ, public testimony, public reading of Scripture, preaching, praying, and baptism–and the people are responding.
It’s not an accident that the Christian Churches/Churches of Christ are one of the fastest growing religious groups in America. Our hermeneutic, our ecclesiology, our theology, and our methodology have all positioned us–at this important time in history–to continue to reach people in a dynamic way.