A pastor walks into a cafe. The barista asks: “why the long face?”

We all know the joke: a horse walks into a bar, the bartender points out the fact that horses literally have long faces. Obviously horses are incapable of human speech (with the exception of one in a TV programme from before I was born), but if horses could speak, and if a horse was a pastor, to the barman, or barista in this case, in response to “why the long face?” the horse might say: “not now Dave, I’ve just read the latest Year Book stats.”

Within the Baptist movement of churches which I am part of, we have a publication that comes out each February with church and pastor details, reports and statistics. In my current work I open my copy several times a week, which I suspect makes me a high-user of this book.

On page 114 of the recent 2018 edition you will find this quotation: “…this year we celebrated the lowest number of baptisms since they were first recorded in 1972.”

Firstly, I’m curious that we didn’t start recording baptisms until 1972. Secondly, I need to point out the celebration mentioned wasn’t about such a low number, but about the fact there were actually baptisms: even if just one person has decided to participate in this public ritual and declaration to follow Jesus, it is worth celebrating.

Within Baptist churches, 778 people were baptized last year. Our recorded peak was in 1986, with 1817 people taking the plunge.

People in our current secular/post-secular/post-Christendom/post-Christian (however you define it) context appear to take a long time to warm up to the idea of following Jesus. Think of the people who were baptized in your church community over the last year – where did they come from? What are their stories? How many were young people from in-house-church families? How many were, until recently, not Christianised at all? In Billy Graham’s day, it seems 90 minutes may have been all that was needed to go from not-following-Jesus, to joining the queue at the baptismal pool. Today, a decade might not be out of the question for the same process to happen in a person’s life. There’s a paradigm shift right there!

If that is the case, what might this mean as we participate in the commission Jesus gave to his disciples? (Matthew 28, NRSV) 16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Dr Mike Crudge

Director, Centre for Lifelong Learning

Mike blogs at mikecrudge.com