The 2022 Annual Church Profile (ACP) paints a picture of churches reclaiming some of the ground lost during the pandemic and fighting to weather the challenges of economic inflation.
After two years of significant decreases in almost every church category, the 2022 ACP data showed that Illinois churches are experiencing renewed strength after the Covid-induced historic lows of 2020-2021. Significant year-over-year increases in four key areas of church reporting give reason to celebrate, but the numbers also confirm there is still much work to be done to return to pre-Covid levels.
Baptisms, Sunday morning worship attendance, Sunday school attendance, and Vacation Bible School enrollment all saw double-digit increases over the previous year. IBSA Executive Director, Nate Adams, described this as “encouraging news” after those numbers all saw precipitous drops between 2019 and 2021.
Churches reported 2,787 baptisms from August 2021 through July 2022. That was an increase of more than 40% over the previous year when many churches were meeting online at least part of the time. Sunday morning worship attendance also saw solid gains, reporting a total of 52,666 average in worship across 892 IBSA churches, church plants, and missions.
VBS enrollment also saw a large increase, up nearly 38% to 21,673. Historically, larger statewide VBS enrollment has been a contributing factor to increased professions of faith and baptisms in the following year’s reporting, so this offers good reason to hope for a continuing positive trend in next year’s numbers.
After two years of many Sunday school groups trying to meet virtually through Zoom or Facebook, a return to in-person opportunities drove a 19% increase in Sunday school attendance.
All these gains are encouraging but need context to paint a full picture. For example, worship attendance was up almost 6,000 people. While this is a nearly 13% increase from 2021, it is still 22% lower than 2019. This aligns with anecdotal reports from pastors the past year that about 20% of their pre-Covid worship attenders are missing.
Despite the good news of regained ground, not all categories rose in the 2022 report. Church giving data showed decreases in several financial categories.
The total reported undesignated giving to churches dropped 6.5% to $89,136,294. Giving through the Cooperative Program (CP), the Southern Baptist Convention’s primary means of support for missions and ministry, decreased 5.5%, ending the reporting year at $5,513,999.
Additionally, the Mission Illinois Offering, 100% of which remains in Illinois to fund strategic missions and ministries, saw the largest drop, with $308,951 given, down 8% over the previous year.
These decreases all reflect the difficult financial climate in 2022 that saw inflation begin to rise in February and ultimately peak at 8%.
While the Annual Church Profile data painted a more complicated picture, IBSA’s Church Needs Survey, collected October through December 2022, was more straightforward. Church revitalization and leadership development were again identified as the greatest areas of help needed by IBSA churches. These categories have ranked high in the annual survey for the past several years, and in 2020 prompted IBSA to begin shifting more staff and resources toward helping churches in these areas.
The survey results indicate that this shift is beginning to make a difference. The number of churches indicating that they need revitalization “now” or “urgently” has decreased 28% since 2018. While church renewal is slow work, the IBSA Health Team led by Scott Foshie is helping dozens of churches and local associations to turn the tide.
As churches experience increasing difficulty finding pastors or volunteer ministry leaders, IBSA continues to respond. Among churches that worked directly with IBSA for ministry help in 2022, expanding personal leadership capacity was rated as the most effective area of ministry assistance.
The lasting impact of the pandemic continues to be felt, but churches are reporting progress that promises a brighter picture.