For several years, membership in Southern Baptist churches has been in decline. The American denomination hit its peak in 2005 with 16.6 million members, and since then, communities have seen a steady drop, hitting 15.8 million members in 2012. That's nearly one million members lost in roughly a decade—a period during which the overall U.S. population grew by more than 18 million.
But arguably, the more significant decline is happening within church communities: They're not performing as many baptisms anymore. The top baptismal year was 1999; since then, the ritual has become more and more infrequent, dropping by about 25 percent.
Baptisms Reported by Southern Baptist Churches (in thousands)
When the baptism numbers for 2012 were released last summer, the denomination's national organization, the Southern Baptist Convention, put together a "task force" on the sect's "evangelistic impact." Fifteen pastors and church staff members met over the course of eight months to do some soul-searching on their search for souls. Among other things, they concluded, "We have a spiritual problem."
Conversion is particularly theologically important for Southern Baptists. They aren't the only baptists in the United States, but they are the biggest group—they rank behind only Catholics in terms of numbers. More than 50,000 churches are united in the loose network that makes up the Southern Baptist Convention, which has a singular focus, according to its charter: "eliciting, combining, and directing the energies of the Baptist denomination of Christians for the propagation of the Gospel."