Southern Baptist churches reported fewer members, worship attenders, and baptisms in 2018, according to the latest Annual Church Profile (ACP) report compiled by LifeWay Christian Resources in cooperation with Baptist state conventions.
Church membership declined by 192,404, down 1.28% to 14.8 million members, while average weekly worship attendance declined by 0.43% to 5.3 million worshipers. Southern Baptist congregations baptized 246,442 people in 2018, a 3% decline from the 254,122 reported in 2017. (The decrease in baptisms follows a 9.49% decline the previous year.)
Several state conventions experienced growth in baptism numbers, including Illinois, where churches celebrated 3,676 baptisms in 2018, an increase of 6.8% over the previous year.
“While this report contains news that concerns us greatly, we need to celebrate every life who was positively impacted by the gospel,” said Ronnie Floyd, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee.
“As we look forward,” he said, “it is time to press reset spiritually and strategically in the Southern Baptist Convention. Prioritizing and elevating the advancement of the good news of Jesus Christ into every town, city, and county in America, as well as to every person across the world, must be recaptured by every church.”
Christianity Today (CT) noted membership in Southern Baptist churches fell to its lowest point since 1987. And new data from the General Social Survey found just over half of people who were Southern Baptists at 16 still are as adults, Ryan Burge wrote for CT online.
“For much of the ’80s and ’90s, Southern Baptist kids were pretty likely to grow up to become Southern Baptist adults: Seven in ten maintained their SBC identity into adulthood in surveys conducted between 1984 and 1994,” Burge wrote.
“That has declined precipitously. In the most recent surveys conducted between 2015 and 2018, just over half of those raised Southern Baptist were still with the SBC. In other words, nearly half of Southern Baptists kids leave and never come back.”
Gains in giving
Southern Baptist congregations saw an increase of more than $82 million in overall giving in 2018. Congregations reported total mission expenditures of $1.17 billion and Great Commission Giving of $572 million.
Great Commission Giving measures all undesignated and designated gifts to Southern Baptist causes. Giving through the Cooperative Program, the SBC’s main channel to support missions and ministry, is not included in the ACP statistical summary. Those totals are available through Baptist state conventions and the SBC Executive Committee, which processes the mission gifts.
Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research, noted that while the ACP offers a snapshot of the Southern Baptist Convention, it does not tell the whole story. Just over three-quarters (76%) of Southern Baptist churches participated in the 2018 ACP by reporting at least one item on the profile, while almost a quarter of churches did not report any information. In Illinois, 97% of IBSA churches completed an ACP in 2018.
– From Baptist Press, with additional reporting by Christianity Today