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US Southern Baptists’ effort to baptise 1 million not meeting target

A year-long effort by the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, to baptise 1 million persons is falling far short of its goal.

As of 16 March, two weeks from a 1 April midpoint for the drive, the denomination noted that 1555 persons, fewer than 1 per cent of the target, had been baptised, the Washington-based Religion News Service (RNS) reported.

Still, Southern Baptist Convention President Bobby Welch said he was "extraordinarily encouraged" by reports from churches.

"What we’re hearing from our Baptist associations across the country is overwhelmingly positive," Welch told Baptist Press, the daily national news service of Southern Baptists. He said he had "never heard so much positive talk about witnessing, winning and baptising as I’m hearing now."

Baptism is central to the tenets of the 16 million strong denomination and the denomination-wide baptism campaign has been a cornerstone for the SBC for several years. Unlike denominations that baptise infants, the Southern Baptists hold that only believers who profess their faith in Christ can be baptised.

SBC officials quoted by RNS said they were not worried about the apparent slow start to the effort since many local Baptist churches only report baptisms at the end of the denomination’s administrative year on 30 September.

Jay Johnston, an official with the denomination’s publishing arm, which is helping coordinate the baptism drive, said he is optimistic the campaign will have its successes, even if 1 million are not baptised.

"If we don’t get a million people, we don’t lose," Johnston said. "Nobody loses because of the opportunity of getting people out and sharing their faith in Jesus Christ."

Still, he noted the denomination has never baptised more than 500 000 persons in a single year.

(c) Ecumenical News International