By Karen L. Willoughby, Managing Editor
[img_assist|nid=7978|title=River Baptism|desc=Eight-year-old Simon Rucker was one of 57 children, teens and adults who participated in First Baptist Covington’s third annual mass baptism at Bogue Falaya Park. Photo by Mark H. Hunter|link=none|align=right|width=640|height=447]STATEWIDE – “This is the fourth year in a row of increased baptisms,” reports Wayne Jenkins, director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s evangelism and church growth team. “We’re moving in the right direction.”
In all, 11,438 peoples’ baptisms were reported by the 1,465 of the LBC’s 1,605 churches that turned in ACP – Annual Church Profile – surveys for the 2010-11 church year, according to information supplied by the Business and Information Services Team, which LBC Business Manager Dale Lingenfelter leads. Based on what the 146 non-reporting churches baptized last year, the true numbers could be over 12,000.
This is up from the 11,020 reported in the 2009-10 church year and the 10,221 reported in the 2006-07 church year, the first year of the upward trend.
“I think our churches are more focused now on reaching people,” Jenkins said. “We’re coming out of several years when our focus was on disaster relief, after [Hurricanes] Katrina and Rita. I think that’s part of it.
“I hope some of the emphasis we’ve had on GPS – God’s Plan for Sharing – has played a part,” Jenkins continued. “The most important element is pastoral leadership. I think our pastors are more focused on reaching people, and they’re leading their people to be as well.”
Almost 44 percent – 43.8 percent – of the baptisms were in churches with 500 or more resident members, and 50.37 percent of Louisiana’s 369,832 resident members counted in the latest ACP belong to those 146 churches.
The 496 churches with 150 to 499 resident members baptized 34.31 percent of the total, and they have about 35 percent of the LBC’s members. The 823 churches with 150 or fewer resident members baptized 21.89 percent of the total, though they have only 14.6 percent of the membership.
“Our smaller churches in one sense did an extremely effective job,” Jenkins said. “The bigger picture is that we averaged seven baptisms per church, and it used to be nine [baptisms per church.]”
ACP surveys in 1994 reported the high tide line in baptisms: 16,215, which was up from 15,508 in 1993, and from 15,217 in 1995. Before and after those dates, baptisms were in the 14,000s.
The year 1993 was a year of preparation before 1994’s simultaneous revivals around the theme of “Here’s Hope,” and 1995 was a follow-up year, Jenkins said.
“This shows the effectiveness of a coordinated effort,” the evangelism/church growth leader said. “Everybody’s awareness level was increased because of the emphasis on ‘Here’s Hope.’ People were praying and people were talking with their friends, coworkers and family members about the hope to be found in Jesus Christ, and the people responded. As we continue with the GPS initiative in 2012 and 2014, we have opportunities for more coordinated efforts.”
Baptisms dipped precipitously in 1996, to 13,803, almost as if they’d been worn out by the concerted effort to tell people “Here’s Hope,” but that down year was followed by four years of more than 14,000.
In 2001, churches reported 12,696 baptisms, a decided drop, but that was the year a major reporting change took place. Before 2001, if there was a year in which a church did not turn in their ACP, the same figures given for the previous year were used. As of 2001, only current-year ACP data was counted.
The number of baptisms dipped to a low of 10,221 in 2007, which was the year after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Since then, the numbers have inched upward.
Jenkins suggested three ways churches could reach – and baptize – more people:
“If a church had a quarterly event – most already have vacation Bible school, and some form of revival services – and make them all really evangelistic, and if they really worked through Sunday school/small groups to reach prospects for the Lord, and start new units, and if they have some form of evangelism training, then I think a church of any size could reach more people,” Jenkins said. “One small change could reap large benefits, such as making events you already have, intentionally evangelistic.”
as documented in 2011 ACP reports
(baptisms in churches With Resident membership
between 500 -10000)
First, Bossier City 387
Celebration Church, Metairie 347
East Bayou, Lafayette 231
Trinity, Lake Charles 231
Franklin Avenue, New Orleans 204
First, West Monroe 198
First, Haughton 187
Bellaire, Bossier City 146
First, Covington 122
Calvary, Alexandria 97
(baptisms in churches With Resident membership
Good Shepherd Hispanic, Metairie 91
Greater St Mary, Lake Charles 50
His Church, Pineville 41
Fellowship, Prairieville 40
First, Robeline 40
First, Port Barre 32
FBC, Rosepine 32
Calvary, New Orleans 42
Crossgate First, Robert 31
Northshore, Slidell 31
(baptisms in churches
With Resident membership between 0 and 149)
Standard, Olla 61
Bedico, Ponchatoula 42
Anacoco First, Anacoco 35
True Life, Slidell 31
Family of Grace, Alexandria 30
Iglesia Jesucristo es el Camino, Farmerville 26
Richey, Deville 22
Cross Band Cowboy, Loranger 22
Barataria, Lafitte 21
Friendship, Pollock 20
Sugartown, Sugartown 20
New Orleans Chinese, Kenner 20
Westside Community, Port Allen 19