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Southern Baptists See Largest Single Year Drop in Church Membership in More Than a Century

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New research has revealed Southern Baptist congregations across the country reported a drop in membership for the 13th consecutive year. And this latest drop is a big one.

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) saw a decline of 287,655 members is the largest single-year drop in more than 100 years, according to LifeWay Christian Resources.

The total membership fell almost 2% down to 14,525,579 from 2018 to 2019, according to the Annual Church Profile (ACP) compiled by LifeWay in cooperation with Baptist state conventions. 

While the number of members dropped, the number of churches rose slightly. The number of churches grew slightly to 47,530, which was an increase of 74 from 2018. 

The SBC also faced difficulty in reporting the stats, partly due to obstacles caused by the pandemic and partly due to different methods of reporting by different regions.

Dr. Ronnie Floyd, the SBC Executive Committee's president, and CEO expressed concern with the length of time and effort needed to collect information from cooperating churches, as well as the lack of uniformity, which combine to prevent a complete statistical picture of the denomination, according to the Baptist Press

SBC state conventions set their own timelines to report the stats, which can range from several months to a year.

"In our high-tech world, our processes cannot have this much lag time," Floyd said. "It simply cannot take this long and be this complicated. It is past time for us to rethink and re-innovate the SBC Annual Church Profile process."

Floyd cautioned that "approximately 12,000 of our churches chose not to participate in any way in the ACP process," adding: "That definitely impacts our statistical data."

Attendance and Baptisms Down

According to Lifeway Research, SBC average weekly worship service and Sunday School or small group attendance each dropped by less than 1%. The average worship service attendance fell to 5,250,230, while average small group attendance declined to 3,236,196.

Baptisms fell by more than 4%, dropping from 246,442 in 2018 to 235,748 in 2019. In 2019, there was one baptism for every 62 Southern Baptists.

"These numbers are not able to tell the story of all the evangelistic efforts that many individuals and churches have put in this past year. They do indicate, however, that the efforts of the same number of people in a congregation on average are seeing fewer people come to Christ and being baptized," said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. 

"The Southern Baptist Convention is not immune to the increasing secularization among Americans that is seen in more of our children and our neighbors not having an interest in coming to Jesus," he continued. 

Giving Also Declined

Lifeway reports total SBC church receipts and undesignated receipts were both down in 2019 after two years of growth. Total church receipts reportedly fell 1.44% to $11.6 billion. Undesignated church receipts decreased by 0.01% to $9.6 billion. While congregations reported total mission expenditures of $1.1 billion and Great Commission Giving of $541 million.

Individual congregations voluntarily report their ACP data to their local Baptist associations and/or their state conventions. National statistics are compiled and released when all cooperating state conventions have reported.

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