Baptizing the Dora Generation: Why Preschooler Faith Is So Controversial
Image: Gamma Man / Flickr
Baptism service at an SBC church in Virginia.

For the seventh year in a row, the Southern Baptist Convention, America's largest Protestant denomination, has seen a "heartbreaking slide" in baptisms. Last year saw the second-worst total of baptisms in 60 years, and this year the denomination lost more than 105,000 members and 188,000 Sunday worshipers, according to its Annual Church Profile.

SBC leaders were so grieved over its dwindling evangelistic effectiveness that they appointed a Pastors' Task Force last year to address the stark decline in evangelism and baptism.

While the number of baptisms is down for most age groups, "the only consistently growing group in baptisms is age five and under," the task force reported. Granted, baptisms in this group comprise a small number of the total number of baptisms, but the preschool age group saw a 96 percent increase from 1974 to 2010. In fact, this group had the strongest trend line over the 37-year period. Just behind the preschool group was the senior adult group (ages 60 and up), with a 67 percent increase. And is the approximately 4,000 annual baptisms of children under 6 a small figure? Consider that North American Mission Board president Kevin Ezell today announced that in the most recent year of reporting (2012), the SBC's 2010 church plants baptized 3,394 people.

There was, however, a 21 percent decrease in preschooler baptisms from 2005 to 2010. And in 2011, the Annual Church Profile adjusted its age grouping, now only providing stats for children 11 and under, youth (12–17), young adults (18–29), and adults (30 and up).

Credobaptist traditions like the SBC usually baptize children at the "age of accountability" or "age of reason." The Baptist ...

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