Here come the Baptists

Southern Baptists are going north in search of souls to save.

The Southern Baptist Convention, which has already spent millions in its efforts to expand its reach, intends to spend more to plant churches in — get ready — New England.

It will be a tough sell.

New Englanders are known for being less than welcoming to Southern institutions, and few institutions are more Southern than Southern Baptists.

Moreover, New England is heavily Roman Catholic, a faith that stays with adherents from cradle to the grave. Born a Roman Catholic, you die a Roman Catholic.

Undeterred by these obstacles, Southern Baptists have been quietly starting churches in those northern regions. In the past decade, the SBC has spent roughly $5 million to start 133 new churches there. That is a 70 percent increase and brings the regional total to 325. Encouraged by this growth, the SBC has appropriated another $800,000 for this year.

Pretty impressive.

Nevertheless, undetermined is how many more Baptists will join that denomination’s flock because of these new churches.

Scott Thumma, a professor at Hartford (Conn.) Seminary, is skeptical. While he notes that church attendance is up, last week he told the Associated Press that attendance is not growing as fast as Baptist churches are opening. In other words, there are a lot of empty pews.

However, starting a church to attract a following has long been a Baptist strategy, and with a charismatic minister and a well-organized outreach, the pews usually begin to fill.

It will be interesting to follow this undertaking. If it is successful in the most un-Southern (some might even say anti-Southern) region of the country, Baptists will not only have spread their faith, they will have shown that being Southern Baptist is not necessarily a national handicap.

That might put an end to all the talk about dropping “Southern” from their name.

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