Southern Baptist membership, baptisms decline in 2007

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- The number of people baptized in Southern Baptist churches fell for the third straight year in 2007 to the denomination's lowest level since 1987, while total membership dropped by nearly 40,000.

Baptisms last year dropped nearly 5.5 percent, according to an annual report released by LifeWay Christian Resources, the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Total membership last year was 16,266,920, down less than one percent 2006.

Local Baptist pastors say they aren't alarmed, times have changed and that there are a variety of reasons.

"Its a different culture, different music they like, and debates on contemporary and or traditional in churches, that may have something to do with it. I think in the Baptist area the fact Baptists have been so divided in recent years has depleted our energy and not allowed us to focus on what the Bible teaches us to focus on."

Dr. Larry Fields with Central Baptist Bearden adds that he believes all individual denominations need to look at ways to be more affective.

The decreasing number of followers in the nation's largest Protestant denomination coincides with declines at other mainline Protestant churches. Meanwhile non-denominational churches are gaining and ranks of the unaffiliated are growing.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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