LifeWay surveys Lord’s Supper practices of SBC churches By Carol Pipes

NASHVILLE, Tenn.— The majority of Southern Baptist churches permit anyone who has put their faith in Jesus Christ to participate in the Lord’s Supper, according to a recent survey by LifeWay Research. The survey also revealed that 57 percent of SBC churches observe the Lord’s Supper quarterly.

“Denominational distinctives are often evident in how the Lord’s Supper is observed,” said Scott McConnell, director of LifeWay Research. “We sought to measure two attributes of Southern Baptists’ remembrance of Jesus’ death and resurrection: who may participate in the Lord’s Supper– with five distinct options listed– and the frequency it is observed.”

The survey of 1,066 SBC pastors found 96 percent of their churches allow individuals who are not members of that local church to participate in the Lord’s Supper. Only 4 percent restrict participation to local church members.

According to the survey, 52 percent of SBC churches offer the Lord’s Supper to “anyone who has put their faith in Jesus Christ.” Thirty-five percent say “anyone who has been baptized as a believer” may participate. Five percent of SBC churches serve communion to “anyone who wants to participate,” while 4 percent of churches don’t specify any conditions for participation.

“A single question cannot capture all the nuances of who churches allow to participate.  There are many descriptive phrases different people prefer,” McConnell said. “However, the choices provided address key attributes mentioned in the Baptist Faith and Message such as believer’s baptism and church membership. Today, many Southern Baptist churches may nuance their answers in different ways, but this gives a helpful picture of where SBC pastors are on the issue when choosing between the provided options.

“Clearly, though, this survey points out a difference between the beliefs expressed in the Baptist Faith and Message, and the Lord’s Supper practices of many Southern Baptist churches,” McConnell said.

Article VII of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 (SBC.net/bfm) lists baptism as a “prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord’s Supper.” Article VII also says the Lord’s Supper is for “members of the church.”

While quarterly observance of the Lord’s Supper is the norm for almost 60 percent of all Southern Baptist churches, a small 1 percent observes the Lord’s Supper weekly. Eighteen percent offer it monthly and 15 percent from five to 10 times a year. Another 8 percent conduct the Lord’s Supper less than four times a year.

The survey also found sharp regional differences in the frequency with which Southern Baptist churches conduct the Lord’s Supper. Pastors of churches in the Northeast (67 percent) and West (45 percent) are more likely to say they observe the Lord’s Supper monthly than pastors of churches in the Midwest (17 percent) and South (14 percent).

The majority of churches in the South (61 percent) and Midwest (58 percent) conduct the Lord’s Supper quarterly compared to churches in the West (29 percent) and Northeast (12 percent).

Methodology: These questions were asked as part of a mail survey of SBC pastors conducted April 1 – May 11, 2012 that included the option of completing it online. The mailing list was randomly drawn from a stratified list of all SBC churches. The 1,066 completed surveys were weighted to match the actual geographic distribution and worship attendance of SBC churches. The sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed +3.0 percent. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups.

Carol Pipes is editorial manager for LifeWay Christian Resources’ corporate communications team.

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tagged as , , in Christianity,Church Issues,Gospel,Southern Baptist,theology

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Zack September 17, 2012 at 4:00 pm

I feel like I’m pretty knowledgeable on the contents of the BF&M2K, but I’ll freely admit that I’d never noticed the specific language pertaining to who may partake in the Lord’s Supper. Learn something new every day.

2 Mark September 17, 2012 at 4:04 pm

Zack, many Southern Baptists do not seem to know what the BFM states about who may partake of the Lord’s Supper. Maybe because the Lord’s Supper is not emphasized much? Anyway, you’re not alone.

3 Drew Wales September 17, 2012 at 4:57 pm

This is depressing data. Is anyone else alarmed that only 35% of SBC pastors admit to following the BF&M 2000 on this issue? It only makes one wonder what other areas of the BF&M we ignore.

4 Steve Martin September 17, 2012 at 5:10 pm

I’m not a Baptist so forgiving me for chiming in when it may not be welcome. But I thought it might be interesting to someone how other churches handle it (who may receive the Lord’s Supper).

In our Lutheran church the pastor always announces that all baptized Christians who believe the Lord to be present in the meal, are welcome to come and receive it.

Anywho, that’s all I wanted to say.

Thanks.

5 M September 17, 2012 at 5:54 pm

What this article reveals is the authority structure of the Southern Baptist Denomination.
Mark and Zack: Having read the BFM 2000 as a former Southern Baptist, I understand where nuances like this could be missed while reading the document.
Drew: From my experience, most Southern Baptist churches no longer even emphasize the Gospel, so why would they care about orthopraxy in regard to the Lord’s supper?
As a side note, if any of you in this group of comments are pastors, I hope that you preach the Gospel instead of sermons on how to live well. If not, I pray that you will at least ask yourself why your sermon on life skills that should come from peer discipleship is more important than the risen Savior.

6 Drew Wales September 17, 2012 at 6:29 pm

M: where did you go once you left the SBC? Just curious.

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