Headline findings from the Baptist Union of Great Britain’s latest statistical returns are featured on the front page of the current issue of the Baptist Times (dated 19 February 2010). The results, which cover the years 2002-08 are mixed. Hence the newspaper’s headline: ‘Encouraging and positive, disturbing and alarming’.
On the upside, church attendance on the first Sunday in December rose by 3 per cent to 154,000 during these years, roughly in line with the growth in population. The actual number of churchgoers is probably somewhat higher than this figure as some Baptists will worship less than weekly and some will attend church on a day other than a Sunday.
Another piece of good news for the Baptist Union is the increase in teenagers attending Baptist churches (up by 9 per cent) or otherwise in contact with it (up by 21 per cent). However, retention appears to remain a problem since young adults (aged 20-25) in contact declined by 16 per cent during this six-year period.
Likewise on the downside, church membership fell by 7 per cent, baptisms by 23 per cent and children under 14 in contact with Baptist churches by 8 per cent. The number of members in 2008 was 139,000, considerably less than the total of Sunday church attenders, and a far cry from the halcyon days of the Free Churches when adherents would have exceeded members several times over.
Commenting on the figures, Rev Jonathan Edwards, General Secretary of the Baptist Union, described the falling number of baptisms as ‘deeply alarming’. He added: ‘It is widely acknowledged that people today are increasingly reluctant to make long-term commitments.’