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Leader Says Baptists Share Blame for Lagging Evangelism

c. 2007 Religion News Service SAN ANTONIO _ The Southern Baptist Convention opened its annual meeting Tuesday (June 12) with a call for personal repentance to help reverse declining baptisms. Members of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, which failed to meet a recent goal of increasing the rate of baptisms in its churches, may have […]

c. 2007 Religion News Service

SAN ANTONIO _ The Southern Baptist Convention opened its annual meeting Tuesday (June 12) with a call for personal repentance to help reverse declining baptisms.

Members of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, which failed to meet a recent goal of increasing the rate of baptisms in its churches, may have only themselves to blame, said SBC President Frank Page.

“Do you want to know why our baptisms continue to languish in a day andtime when people are receptive to the gospel, in a day and time when people can be reached and they will listen?” asked Page, pastor of a church in Taylors, S.C. “It’s because we’ve not been right before God.”

Recent church statistics show that baptisms in 2006 dropped 1.89 percent, to 364,826, from 2005. That’s far short of the goal of 1 million baptisms set by the Baptists’ immediate past president, Bobby Welch, in 2004.

In addition, the Baptists’ research arm recently concluded that only 22 out of more than 43,000 congregations met various criteria on baptisms, worship attendance and church growth over a 10-year span to qualify as “standout” churches.

Page, citing a lack of humility and unity, urged Baptists to seek God for transformation.

“I have seen a factionalism that deeply disturbs me and I have asked Baptists across this land, `Though we have serious, sometimes significant differences, would you take my hand and work with me in the winning of the lost to Jesus and the winning of this world to Christ?”’ he said. “Would you do that with me?”

Thousands of delegates, known as messengers, gathered in the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center applauded in agreement.

Morris Chaplain, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, sounded the same theme in his remarks.

“We must come together in one spirit over the core beliefs that we hold in common and learn to engage in healthy debate,” he said. “Otherwise _ and here is the tragedy _ we shall spend our time arguing among ourselves while thousands, even millions, die without a Savior.”

In recent months, Southern Baptists have debated such issues as the appropriateness of individuals speaking in tongues, as well as other matters of doctrine and theology.

Another area of concern, raised by critics within and outside the denomination, is whether Southern Baptists are doing enough to address the issue of sexual abuse.

Wade Burleson, an Enid, Okla., pastor, on Tuesday asked the denomination’s Executive Committee to conduct a feasibility study about creating a database of Southern Baptist clergy and staff who have “(been) credibly accused of, personally confessed to, or legally been convicted of sexual harassment or abuse.” He said such a system might prevent further abuse.

Delegates voted to refer the issue to the Executive Committee for a report at next year’s meeting.

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File photos of Frank Page are available via https://religionnews.com