The Baptist exception

Christians in the Global South now dominate every major Protestant tradition—except one.

When I wrote The Next Christen­dom back in 2002, I was quite proud of the wide range of global churches and Christian traditions that I covered. I did not notice a curious omission in my index: no mention of Baptists. The absence provoked one exasperated Bap­tist colleague to complain, semiseriously, “We spent how much on foreign missions last year, and this is what we get?” That gap was not intended as a slight or insult on my part, but it does point to a curious aspect of the modern Baptist tradition.

Fifty or a hundred years ago, Christian denominations were heavily concentrated in Europe or North America. Since that time, those bodies have expanded worldwide to the point that Global South believers now predominate, and they usually aspire to make their distinctive voices heard. Name any major Protestant tradition, and that is more or less its modern history. Baptists represent the conspicuous exception to this rule. As in previous generations, Baptists remain heavily concentrated in one Global North region, namely the United States, where they still constitute the largest Protes­tant tradition.

Estimates of the number of Baptists worldwide vary enormously—far more widely than for most churches. Guesstimates for the total of believers range anywhere from 50 to 110 million, taking all theological shades together. The most accurate figure lies in the lower part of that range.