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U. S. study points to importance of childhood Christian education

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A national survey of Southern Baptists worshipers found that nearly nine out of 10 church respondents had made a profession of faith in Christ, and the most popular age for making such a commitment was 12. Also, while most Southern Baptists are willing to share their faith, only about one in four are intentional about doing so — but 14 percent had led someone to faith in Christ during the previous year.

The findings on conversion and witnessing among Southern Baptists come from a survey of 2,000 Southern Baptists who were part of a larger group participating in the broader “U.S. Congregational Life Survey” in April 2001. A total of 91 percent of the respondents were church members or regular participants.

Phil Jones, director of research services for the North American Mission Board, said the survey of worshipers found that only 88 percent could affirm they “have had a conversion experience — that is, a turning point in your life when you committed yourself to Christ and accepted Him as your Lord and Savior.” The others responded either “no” (5 percent) or did not answer at all (7 percent).

The survey suggests, Jones said, that “a call for commitment should be an essential part of every worship service. While most people in Southern Baptist worship services have already made a decision for Christ, one of eight in attendance has not done so.”

The age of conversion in the survey ranged from ages 3 to 91, with age 12 marking both the middle of the distribution and the highest percentage (17 percent) of respondents. The second most popular year for professions of faith was age 10, with just over 8 percent of respondents.

“Beyond age 12, the percentage of conversions steadily decreases,” Jones said. “The conclusion is that beyond age 12 the likelihood of a conversion experience decreases. Seventy-five percent of conversions occur at age 20 and younger, and 90 percent of conversions occur at age 32 and younger.”

The rate of conversions also appears to drop off even more significantly after about age 40, according to a graph of survey results.

“This clearly illustrates the importance of nurturing children and youth in the faith,” Jones said. “Two-thirds of worship service attendees who have a personal relationship with Christ indicate that their relationship was established during these formative years.”

On the question of willingness to share their faith, 52 percent said they “mostly feel at ease talking about my faith and do so if it comes up,” while 28 percent “feel at ease talking about my faith and seek opportunities to do so.”

The survey found 15 percent “find it hard to talk about my faith in ordinary language,” while 3 percent said “I do not talk about my faith; my life and actions are sufficient. Another 2 percent gave no response, while a fraction of a percent said they had no faith so the question was not applicable.

In a finding that Jones found surprising considering other statistics, 45 percent of Southern Baptist members said they had talked with someone about becoming a Christian in the last year.

“Obviously some of these Southern Baptists had talked to others about Christ even though they had not previously indicated on the questionnaire that they feel at ease talking about faith and that they intentionally seek opportunities to do so,” he said. “Either witnessing opportunities naturally arose for them, or they overcame their initial reluctance.”

The result is that 14 percent of Southern Baptists members reported they led someone to make a commitment to Christ in the past year. Among Southern Baptists nationally, Jones said, that translates to 600,000 who helped lead someone to Christ.

Other witnessing experiences reported over the past year included cultivating a friendship with the intention of helping the person find Christ (37 percent), sharing written materials with an unsaved person (34 percent) and bringing an unsaved person to Sunday School or a church service (27 percent).

“Overall, three of four Southern Baptists were actively engaged in witnessing activities during the prior year,” Jones said.

A follow-up question that asked if individuals had been either formally or informally trained in sharing their faith revealed that 52 percent had received such training.

“In general, persons who have received training are twice as likely to be comfortable in sharing their faith, roughly twice as likely to engage in witnessing activities, and about four times as likely to have led someone to faith in Christ within the last year,” he said.

For the full research report titled “Conversion and Witnessing Among Southern Baptists” and other findings of the U.S. Congregational Life Survey, visit www.namb.net/research.

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  • James Dotson