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Almost Half a Million Southern Baptist Members Left Last Year, but There's Also Good News

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A recently released Annual Church Profile report shows the total membership of the Southern Baptist Convention has fallen to its lowest number since the late 1970s. 

Lifeway Research, which conducted the church profile with the cooperation of Baptist state conventions, reports the current total membership of Southern Baptist congregations is 13,223,122, which is down from 13,680,493 in 2021. 

The 457,371 members lost is the largest single-year numerical drop in more than 100 years. In total, Southern Baptist churches have suffered membership declines of about 3% annually over the past three years.

"Much of the downward movement we are seeing in membership reflects people who stopped participating in an individual congregation years ago and the record keeping is finally catching up," said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research.

"Membership totals for a congregation immediately reflect additions as well as subtractions due to death or someone removing themselves from membership," McConnell explained. "But many congregations are slow to remove others who no longer are participating."

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The report also showed the number of SBC congregations is also on the decline. 

The SBC saw 416 fewer churches and 165 fewer church-type missions associated with the convention in 2022 than in the previous year. Meanwhile, the trend toward multi-site congregations was reflected in the report with 585 campuses connected to churches with a larger, primary location. 

Report Shows Increase in Attendance, Giving, and Baptisms

But the annual profile also had some good news for the SBC.  For the second year in a row, baptisms and giving increased among Southern Baptist congregations. In-person worship service and small group attendance also rebounded. 

Following the COVID-19 pandemic, SBC congregations saw the return of new in-person worshippers. More than 3.8 million individuals attended a Southern Baptist congregation on an average weekend in 2022, a 5% increase over the 3.6 million who did so in 2021, Lifeway reported. 

Six states averaged more than 200,000 attendees each weekend in Southern Baptist congregations: Texas (438,865), Georgia (378,520), Florida (362,808), North Carolina (310,722), Tennessee (262,249) and Alabama (207,232), according to the research firm. 

Small group participation also grew overall, climbing 4% (almost 100,000 people) in 2022. A total of 2.3 million individuals were part of in-person Sunday School classes or small groups at a Southern Baptist congregation on the average weekend, according to Lifeway.

As more people gathered in person, they witnessed more baptisms. In 2022, Southern Baptist congregations baptized 180,177 people, a 16% increase over 2021, the profile said.  

"Everything we do at NAMB is focused on helping Southern Baptist churches advance the gospel," Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board (NAMB), told Lifeway. 

"I'm encouraged by the increase in baptisms, although I know we are far from where we would like to be. In some states, 30% or more of baptisms are coming from churches started since 2010. We must remain focused on starting new, evangelistic churches and on replanting dying churches, but to really see a positive turnaround, established churches must lead the way by reaching and baptizing the lost. NAMB is here to help any church that wants to be more engaged in evangelism."

Lifeway also noted the state conventions that collected financial information showed giving also increased among SBC congregations. 

In 2022, undesignated receipts totaled more than $9.9 billion, an almost 2% increase over 2021. 

"The increased generosity among churches is a high point in the Annual Church Profile. In a season where pennies are having to be pinched and spending is strategic, church members are demonstrating an increased dependence upon their faith in God," Willie D. McLaurin, interim president and CEO, of the SBC Executive Committee told Lifeway. "I am thankful for local Southern Baptist pastors that are equipping their members in biblical stewardship and casting a vision to reach the world for Jesus."

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