New research into several questions that often dominate Southern Baptist debates – from the rise of Calvinism and prevalence of elders in congregations to speaking in tongues and baptism practices – offers some hard numbers to inform those discussions.
The issues in question, and the results uncovered by the survey, show that Southern Baptists have strong opinions in several areas. LifeWay Research, a division of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, conducted the study during the spring among a sample of 778 Southern Baptist pastors.
LifeWay Research previously reported a rise in the number of self-identified five-point Calvinists among recent seminary graduates. In the new survey, LifeWay Research asked Southern Baptist pastors if they were "concerned" about this increase, asking them to agree or disagree with the statement, "The rise of Calvinism among recent seminary graduates concerns me."
Among Southern Baptist pastors, 27 percent strongly agreed and another 36 percent somewhat agreed with the statement indicating that they were "concerned." Sixteen percent strongly disagreed with the statement and another 17 percent somewhat disagreed. The remaining 5 percent indicated they "don't know."
Speaking in tongues
In a LifeWay Research release in 2007, half of Southern Baptist pastors answered "yes" to the question, "Do you believe that the Holy Spirit gives some people the gift of a special language to pray to God privately? Some people refer to this as a private prayer language or the 'private use of tongues.'" In the new survey, LifeWay found that practice is much less common than is the belief in its existence. Among Southern Baptist pastors, only 4 percent said they "personally speak in tongues or have a private prayer language," while 95 percent said they did not and 1 percent "don't know."
Pastors also were asked about their church's practice of receiving members who were baptized or sprinkled in other churches. The question was, "Our church admits people into membership of our church who have been sprinkled or baptized in the following ways (without requiring baptism in OUR local church)."
A full 92 percent of Southern Baptist pastors said they would not require baptism of new members who were immersed after conversion in another church that has the same beliefs as a Southern Baptist church.
If the candidate for membership had been immersed after conversion in another Southern Baptist church, 84 percent of Southern Baptist pastors said they would not require baptism.
If the prospective new member had been immersed after conversion in another church that does not believe in eternal security, 26 percent of Southern Baptist pastors said they would not require baptism.
If the prospective new member had been immersed after conversion in a church that believes baptism is required for salvation, 13 percent of Southern Baptist pastors said they would not require baptism.
If the prospective new member had been baptized by sprinkling or pouring after conversion, 3 percent of Southern Baptist pastors said they would not require baptism prior to admittance into membership.
If the prospective new member had been baptized as an infant by sprinkling, pouring or immersion, 1 percent of Southern Baptist pastors said they would not require baptism.
"Baptism is always an important question for a denomination that values baptism so much that the word 'Baptist' is included in their name," said Ed Stetzer director of LifeWay Research. "The results here are interesting. First, there is a small percentage of SBC churches that do not accept the baptism from other SBC (or like-belief) churches. Second, more than one-fourth of SBC pastors indicate they would receive into membership someone baptized in a church that does not believe in eternal security, possibly including such churches as a Free Will Baptist or an Assemblies of God church.
"Finally, and I am guessing most surprising, one-eighth indicate their church would accept a baptism from churches that believe baptism is required for salvation, possibly including such churches as a Church of Christ," he said.
'Southern' in the 'Southern Baptist Convention'
Among Southern Baptist pastors, 7 percent strongly agreed – and another 20 percent somewhat agreed – with the statement, "Having the name 'Southern' in the 'Southern Baptist Convention' is a hindrance to the work of SBC churches." Forty-one percent strongly disagreed with the statement while 27 percent somewhat disagreed and 5 percent "don't know."
To further clarify opinions on the denomination's name, Southern Baptist pastors were also asked their level of agreement with the statement, "Having the name 'Southern' in the 'Southern Baptist Convention' is a hindrance to the work of SBC churches outside of the South." As the focus shifted to Southern Baptist congregations outside the convention's historic strongholds, 16 percent of Southern Baptist pastors strongly agreed and 26 percent somewhat agreed, while 29 percent strongly disagreed and 21 percent somewhat disagreed. The remaining 9 percent "don't know."
Who makes decisions
In a related study conducted in 2007 among 405 Southern Baptist senior pastors, LifeWay Research asked, "Which of the following best describes the primary decision-making process at your church?" Among the pastors polled, 42 percent said their church was congregation-led, while 30 percent said their church was pastor-led.
The other options and responses, in descending order of frequency include: Committee- or team-led (6 percent); deacon-led (4 percent); elder-led (4 percent); led by a board or council other than elders (3 percent); staff-led (2 percent); and trustee-led (0 percent). Seven percent responded "other."
Scott McConnell, associate director of LifeWay Research, explained, "I think some will be surprised that so few SBC churches actually utilize elders to lead the decision-making process. Southern Baptist pastors primarily see their church as either congregational- or pastor-led.
"For the purpose of this study, pastors indicated who led their church's 'primary decision-making process,' which is not the same as 'final authority,'" McConnell noted. "So some may be pastor-led while still requiring the approval of the congregation or other groups of leaders. In the end, most Southern Baptist churches are primarily led by the congregation or the pastor in their decision-making."
When the survey results were sorted by average primary worship attendance, a significant difference became apparent in the primary decision-making process. The larger the church the less likely they are to be congregation-led. While the congregation may still be a part of the decision-making process in a large church, the leadership of this process shifts toward smaller leadership groups.
In churches with average primary worship attendance of 250 or more, 8 percent identified "staff-led," compared to 2 percent in churches under 250 in attendance. By the same token, only 24 percent of churches with average primary worship attendance of 250 or more identified "congregation-led" as the primary decision-making process, compared to 45 percent of churches under 250 in attendance.
This decision-making question was included in a telephone survey in 2007. The survey provides 95 percent confidence that sampling error did not exceed +4.9 percent. All of the other questions were included in an online survey of 778 Southern Baptist senior pastors in 2008. While the number responding to individual questions varies, the sample size provides 95 percent confidence that sampling error did not exceed +3.5 percent.