Nashville, Tenn. | Southern Baptists experienced growth in the number of churches in 2016, according to the latest Annual Church Profile report (ACP). However, other key measures declined in 2016, including membership, baptisms, average worship attendance and total giving, according to LifeWay Christian Resources, which compiled the reports gathered by Baptist state conventions.
The number of churches cooperating with the Southern Baptist Convention grew by 479 to 47,272, a 1% increase over 2015. The number of Southern Baptist churches has increased the last 18 years. Southern Baptist churches also reported 4,492 church-type missions last year.
Although the number of cooperating Southern Baptist congregations grew, membership of those churches declined by 77,786, down 0.51% to 15.2 million members. Average weekly worship attendance declined 6.75% to 5.2 million worshippers.
Southern Baptist churches baptized 280,773 people in 2016, a 4.89% decline from the 295,212 reported in 2015. The ratio of baptisms to total members was one baptism for every 54 members.
“We would be remiss in not giving thanks for every baptism and every new follower of Christ,” said LifeWay President and CEO Thom S. Rainer. But, “it’s clear that evangelism and discipleship are waning. I don’t believe it is due to the lack of opportunities, though. Instead, there is a lack of engagement.”
Southern Baptists have seen a decline in the number of baptisms for several years. Rainer said while most churchgoers believe it’s their personal responsibility to share their faith, most never do.
“We should follow Christ’s example and pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers,” Rainer said. “Let us pray that God will send out the workers in our pews to engage those who don’t yet know him.”
Frank S. Page, SBC Executive Committee President and CEO, noted “virtually everyone who sees these figures will react negatively and lament the poor state of our churches, our lack of evangelistic fervor, and our increasingly irrelevant programs. Indeed, we all should.
“However, the stark reality of these numbers should cause each of us to look inwardly,” he said. “Am I sharing the gospel as I should? Am I developing relationships with family, friends, coworkers, and others with whom I can gain an opportunity to share the good news? Am I burdened for the lost and praying for their salvation?”