Rawlings School of Divinity


Doctor of Philosophy


Rusty Small


student ministry, Southern Baptist Convention, baptism, Annual Church Profile, Generation Z, thriving, phenomenological, best practices


Educational Leadership


In 1972, the Jesus movement’s proliferation brought on the professionalization of student ministry into Southern Baptist churches. Over the last 50 years, the U.S. population has increased by 110 million, yet student ministry baptisms in the Southern Baptist Convention continue to decline. Despite recent efforts by The Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee to reverse the downward trend of student ministry baptisms (ages 12–17), the phenomenon persists. The public profession of baptism remains as a strong indicator that an individual has been effectively reached with the Gospel. Operating under this premise that increased baptisms indicate effectiveness in student ministry, the researcher used the 2019 – 2020 Annual Church Profile to interview Thriving student ministries in the Southeast Region of the Southern Baptist Convention of Virginia. Thriving was identified as a student ministry with a top ten baptizing ratio. The researcher conducted nine in depth semistructured interviews with other thriving student ministers in the Southeast Region of the SBCV and discovered perceived best practices thriving student ministries are implementing to reach students more effectively. Common obstacles for connecting with Generation Z included: biblical illiteracy, technological distraction, and inauthentic examples. Effective strategies for reaching Generation Z included: teaching biblical truth, authentic connection, discipleship groups, and family partnership. Best practices for increasing Generation Z student baptisms included: gospel clarity, creating opportunities, intentional environments, diligent follow-up, and public celebration.