Baptism Rates by State

These stats were posted at Thom Rainer’s blog.

Montana: 14.9 members for 1 baptism ratio
New York: 15.4 members for 1 baptism ratio
New England: 15.5 members for 1 baptism ratio
Dakota: 15.7 members for 1 baptism ratio
Iowa: 15.7 members for 1 baptism ratio
Pennsylvania-South Jersey: 16.9 members for 1 baptism ratio

Alabama: 59.2 members for 1 baptism ratio
North Carolina: 59.3 members for 1 baptism ratio
Texas: 65.2 members for 1 baptism ratio

I’ve not been able to source these stats other than in Thom’s blog, and he’s quoting an unnamed source, but he’s enough of an expert in his own right that these are surely correct.

Obviously, according to the stats, the deeper into the Bible Belt one goes, the less effective the church will be in terms of baptisms. In fact, a member of a Texan church is about 25% as likely to convert someone as a member of a church in the Northeastern US, which is notoriously unchurched. This seems backwards somehow.

I have some theories, but wonder what the readers think. Is it that —

  • Texas and other Southern states are so churched that members don’t know enough unchurched people to be as evangelistically effective?
  • Is it that having a church on nearly every corner takes away the feeling of urgency to convert the lost?
  • Is it the prevalence of the prosperity gospel? Some other false teaching?
  • Is it that the church leadership is so busy dealing with the demands of a big church that they don’t think to preach evangelism?
  • Is that the Southern churches are older and hence have powerful internal constituencies that resist needed change?
  • Is it something else?

What do you think?

Leave a Reply

  1. I’m not nearly as willing to accept these statistics as accurate, without knowing more about how they were collected. And even how the terms are defined.

    Intuitively, church attendance, as a percentage of the population is probably higher in the South than the Northeast. And the population in Montana is low enough that one large congregation might skew the statistic.

    So, at the very least, there are other statistics to evaluate, such as baptisms per 1000 of population or per 100,000 population.

    But further, the stat is meaningless by any measure, as an indicator of evangelism.

    How do you evaluate and calculate someone who accepts Jesus, but for whatever reason decides baptism is unnecessary to salvation. Does that mean the evangelistic effort failed?

    On the other hand, I baptize a Lutheran into a Church of Christ — is that really evangelism? Since the Lutheran believed in God well before this particular event.

    I think we need to be resistant to measuring evangelism by statistics

  2. If you take New York, New England, and Pennsylvania, you have lots of people from wide backgrounds pouring into those areas for education (undergrad, graduate, medical, law) and training (clerkships, internships, fellowships, residencies, etc). Thus, people are coming to you in droves. Also, most churches in that part of the country aren’t too big to begin with, except for some in NYC. This will affect the numbers but given enough new people, someone will be interested in Christianity. Next, you must remember that most churches there are structured with the ordained clergy handling the religious side and the lay leadership being responsible for the non-religious aspects. There are also a limited number of clergy who dare to want to go Into cities like NYC, Cambridge, Boston, New Haven, etc. as they won’t only be interacting with people who grew up in Christian churches, but will be working around people who are single, ultra-educated, agnostic/atheist, combine Eastern thought with some of Jesus’s teachings, and might themselves be asked if transcendental meditation can still be practiced if one becomes a Christian. Thus, only the best and most daring clergy will be the ones who get a call from a church there likely after they have served in other areas. The newly-ordained might become an associate in one of the churches but will likely have worked with a campus ministry in the area. Also, new members also probably know few people and so are more likely to accept and befriend a new person. Even longtime members know that people there come and go.

    Now in the South with some exceptions, most people are not transient, but permanent. Permanent people have their friends that they have likely had for decades and their churches have entrenched politics which means that any new growth is a feared dilution of the power of the entrenched. In most churches where you have a board, you have terms and term limits so they are always in need of people willing to serve and so leadership has a entry route. If you look at the South, where you had lots of Southern Baptists and cofC, leadership was obtained for life and there was a massive barrier to entry.

  3. To #1, not anymore. The Bible Belt, at least here in Texas, is more myth than reality–but we’re still in deep denial. Our local university did research and found that in our Central Texas county no more than 17% of the population connects with a congregation on a weekly basis. Our regional FCA director has found that in our local high school ~80% of the students in athletics have no church affiliation (and in small-town Texas, that’s a large cross-section of the student body).

    Here it is #2, #5, and the pervasiveness of a cultural Christianity that is completely disconnected from a real relationship with God, his people, or his mission.

  4. I too would be a little leery of taking these stats at face value without some upfront facts.
    Which churches were involved for one? Even the Baptist teach baptism and most house churches and most non-denominational churches as well.
    There might be a lot of these people who say they are church goers or have membership at a church, but rarely visit an assembly except on certain occasions. A lot of factors to consider.
    Polls are skewed by the questions asked and who are polled and the bias of the pollers.
    If asked by a conservative coC person they might exclude all those who haven’t been baptized for the remission of their sins as having really been baptized.

  5. Bring it home. Divide the number of baptisms at your church by avg attendees. What ratio does your church have?