An unmotivating letter encouraging more baptisms

A recent letter from the Evangelism Division of our state convention reminds pastors that it is time again to prepare to turn in the Annual Church Profile (ACP). The ACP is a statistical record that covers the 12 months beginning in October of each year. One of the most carefully watched statistics in the number of baptisms recorded. That number, more than anything else, is used by denominational leaders to judge a church’s effectiveness or vibrancy. The letter reminds me why I have so much antipathy about the way the whole ACP process works.

Here are two paragraphs:

As you know, our baptism counts are very important.

Numbers are important because they represent souls lost and headed for Hell that are now headed for Heaven. It is time that we get serious about baptizing as many as we can these next two weeks to close out the 2005-2006 year.

There are just a few weeks left in the year.

These last two weeks prior to that Sunday are critical in seeking out those who need to follow the Lord in scriptural baptism. Search the names of those who have come to know Christ in homes or by making public decisions at the church. Follow up on them immediately and encourage them to be baptized as soon as possible. …

I wish I could believe that every baptism represents a genuine conversion. But I am much to much of a realist to allow myself to be swept away by such a fantasy. In fact, any honest assessment of baptism statistics indicates that a significant percentage of those baptized in SBC churches do not last long. That is, there is little evidence that they persevere in the faith. Because this is so, my exuberance is unavoidably muted when baptism numbers are reported.

It really puts me in an awkward position. There is joy in the presence of the angels of God when one sinner repents and every believer ought to share in that joy. But, based on the evidence, 100 reported baptisms does not mean 100 sinners who repent. Maybe it means only 30%. It could mean less than 10%. At least, that is what the the observations of one the North American Mission Board’s “soul-winning evangelism associates” suggest.

According to a Baptist Press report, Jack Smith told people at the “On Mission ’99” conference held at the Ridgecrest Conference Center in 1999 that his informal studies showed that “only about 30 percent of baptized believers typically are active in Sunday school a year later. When actual retention rates of new Christians are considered from the time of their decision, the percentage often drops to the single digits.”

When this is the typical fruit of typical evangelism–the kind that focuses more on getting decisions than making disciples–it is impossible to think of every reported baptism as a person rescued from hell.

Until this problem is addressed, then the ACP reporting of baptisms only serves to perpetuate sham numbers that tell us very little about how many disicples have been added to our churches in the previous 12 months.

So, pardon me if I am not motivated by these kinds of letters.

Tom Ascol has served as a Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, FL since 1986. Prior to moving to Florida he served as pastor and associate pastor of churches in Texas. He has a BS degree in sociology from Texas A&M University (1979) and has also earned the MDiv and PhD degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. He has served as an adjunct professor of theology for various colleges and seminaries, including Reformed Theological Seminary, the Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary, African Christian University, Copperbelt Ministerial College, and Reformed Baptist Seminary. He has also served as Visiting Professor at the Nicole Institute for Baptist Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. Tom serves as the President of Founders Ministries and The Institute of Public Theology. He has edited the Founders Journal, a quarterly theological publication of Founders Ministries, and has written hundreds of articles for various journals and magazines. He has been a regular contributor to TableTalk, the monthly magazine of Ligonier Ministries. He has also edited and contributed to several books, including Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry, The Truth and Grace Memory Books for children and  Recovering the Gospel and Reformation of Churches. He is also the author of From the Protestant Reformation to the Southern Baptist ConventionTraditional Theology and the SBC and Strong and Courageous. Tom regularly preaches and lectures at various conferences throughout the United States and other countries. In addition he regularly contributes articles to the Founders website and hosts a weekly podcast called The Sword & The Trowel. He and his wife Donna have six children along with four sons-in-law and a daughter-in-law. They have sixteen grandchildren.
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