Reflecting on the unstoppable decline of the Baptist Church

Baptists are to the decline in the US.New research finds that Baptists have lost a quarter of their market-share, and this is likely going to continue (or even hasten).

Darren Sherkat’s new book Changing Faith provides a thorough assessment of why Americans switch faiths. Tucked into Sherkat’s novel is among the most important changes in American faith of the past forty years: the decline of Baptists.

Sherkat uses the General Social Surveys to examine the patterns of switching faiths in America. He finds that since the 1970s, Baptists in the U.S. have decreased by a quarter, from 21 percent of Americans to only 16 percent.

The great news for Baptists is they’re faithful. Seven-in-ten of those raised Baptist are still Baptist as adults. Their faithfulness is only around 60 percent— at best.

The major problem for Baptists is straightforward: the 30 percent who leave are not being replaced. Similar churches, however, have found double digit increases. Nondenominational and similar churches have done even better, with a 77% gain from switching.

Baptists, like all faiths, are losing members who are leaving religion completely. But this really isn’t the major source of Baptist declines.

Among those individuals who have left a Baptist church, only one-in-five are no longer religious.

There isn’t a simple explanation for why people switch churches. Sherkat finds that switching is due to changes. Changes in where people reside. Changes in life like union or raising kids. Changes in social status when compared with others in one’s faith.

And when folks switch, there is a “flow of the saints” (a term coined by Reginald Bibby and Merlin Brinkerhoff).

People seldom make important changes. They have been prone to switch to your church similar to their own. Baptists will probably switch to non-denominational evangelical church or to some reasonable Protestant church like United Methodist.

The challenge facing Baptists is that there is less “circulation” because of a more powerful current heading from Baptist churches than there is flowing back in.

The fall of Baptists is likely to increase. The reasons that individuals are switching aren’t going away. As their numbers drop, you’ll find fewer youth being raised Baptist.

Unlike Catholics, pentecostals, and some other groups, Baptists are unlikely to find increases from immigrants. People might continue to move within the U.S., which means more Baptists dwelling strongholds in the South.

As a result, the prognosis for Baptists isn’t strong unless they can find a way to bring other Christians into the Baptist fold.

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