Baptist is a term describing a tradition within Christianity and may also refer to individuals belonging to a Baptist church or a Baptist denomination. The tradition takes its name from the conviction that followers of Jesus Christ should be immersed in water as a visible and public display of their faith. Baptists do not practice infant baptism.

Organizationally, Baptist churches operate on the Congregational governance system, which gives autonomy to individual local Baptist churches. Baptists traditionally have avoided the "top-down" hierarchy of episcopalianism which is found in the Roman Catholic, Anglican, and many other churches. However, Baptist churches will often associate in denominational groups such as the Southern Baptist Convention, National Baptist Convention, USA, Conservative Baptist Association of America, American Baptist Churches USA, American Baptist Association (Landmark Baptists), among others.

Both Roger Williams and his compatriot in working for religious freedom, Dr. John Clarke, are variously credited as being the founder of the Baptist faith in America.In 1639, Williams established a Baptist church in Providence, Rhode Island and Clarke began a Baptist church in Newport, Rhode Island. According to a Baptist historian who has researched the matter extensively, "There is much debate over the centuries as to whether the Providence or Newport church deserved the place of 'first' Baptist congregation in America. Exact records for both congregations are lacking."



There are over 90 million Baptists worldwide in nearly 300,000 congregations, with an estimated 47 million members in the United States. Other large populations of Baptists also exist in Asia, Africa and Latin America, notably in India (2.4 million), Nigeria (2.3 million), Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) (1.9 million) and Brazil (1.5 million).

According to a poll in the 1990s, about one in five in the U.S. claims to be a Baptist. U.S. Baptists are represented in more than fifty separate groups. Ninety-two percent of Baptists are found in five of those bodies—the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC); National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. (NBC); National Baptist Convention of America, Inc.; (NBCA); American Baptist Churches in the USA (ABC); and Baptist Bible Fellowship International (BBFI).


Only those people who are baptized members of a local Baptist church are included in the total number of Baptists. Most Baptist churches do not have an age restriction on membership, but will not accept as a member a child that is considered too young to fully understand and make a profession of faith of their own volition and comprehension. In such cases, the pastor and parents usually meet together with the child to verify the child's comprehension of the decision to follow Jesus. There are instances where a person makes a profession of faith but fails to follow through with believers' baptism. In such case they are considered "saved" but not a church member until baptized. If children and unbaptized congregants were counted, world Baptists may number over 100 million.

Recent growth

Baptists today are the second fastest growing Christian denomination in the world after the Pentecostals, largely because of the growth in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe in the last century.

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