FRESNO — While California Southern Baptist Convention led the way in the Southern Baptist Convention for the largest numerical increase in the number of baptisms in 2018 over the previous year, baptisms in the SBC declined during the same period.
CSBC reported 12,212 baptisms for 2018, an increase of 2,653, or 27.75 percent, compared to the previous year. That figures represent the largest numerical and percentage increases by any state Baptist convention. CSBC was one of only five conventions nationwide to post an increase in baptisms; others included Southern Baptists of Texas, Florida, North Carolina and Colorado.
Southern Baptist congregations baptized 246,442 people in 2018, a 3 percent decline from the 254,122 reported in 2017. Southern Baptists saw a 9.5 percent decline in baptisms from 2016-17. In 2016, Southern Baptists reported a 4.89 percent decline in baptisms from the previous year.
Bill Agee, CSBC executive director, said he is pleased that “California churches are focusing on the important things of the Kingdom.”
He believes the increase in baptisms ultimately is the ministry of CSBC churches, but said it also is “directly related to the ministry of each CSBC team to empowering the vision of churches.”
“I believe the baptism increase is a result of church planting efforts, evangelism projects and revitalization focusing on baptisms as an indicator a church is moving in the right direction. We also can’t discount our emphasis on small churches, the majority of congregations in California and across the SBC.”
CSBC efforts to heighten the awareness of its team initiatives — evangelism, church revitalization, church planting and small churches — Agee noted, “help our congregations keep the priority of sharing the gospel and reaching people in the forefront of what we do. That puts us in a place where God will bless the efforts of the churches.”
He also declared, “Nothing ever happens without intentionality and accountability. The Convention’s team approach highlights our purpose to encourage churches and keep their focus on sharing the gospel and reaching people.
“Our church planting efforts certainly contribute,” he added. “Our efforts can’t go unnoticed,” referring to the 70 CSBC church starts reported in 2018.
Agee said he thinks many California Southern Baptists are unaware that the 70 represents 11.2 percent of the 624 new church plants reported by the North American Mission Board in 2018 in the United States and Canada.
Agee also stressed that it’s not enough just to plant churches. “The opportunity to see even more baptisms is great if each church will step up and baptize at least one person next year.”
Baptisms are a key element in Agee’s “Step Up Challenge” to be revealed at the CSBC annual meeting in October, encouraging churches to do more, not only related to baptisms, but also church planting, missions “going” and giving to the California Mission Offering (see story page 3).
Another key to showing the true number of the ministry of baptisms and other growth areas is the Annual Church Profile, a partnership between associations, state conventions and LifeWay Christian Resources, which compiles the information annually.
Agee noted that while only about 36 percent of CSBC churches submitted an ACP for 2018, the national participation rate was 77 percent. “Imagine what our baptism number could/would have been if more churches had participated.”
Nevertheless, he added, “We are thankful to God that we have seen a reversal of reported baptisms by CSBC congregations. They are to be congratulated for their efforts.”