A recent analysis by the North American Mission Board (NAMB) revealed almost 75 percent of Southern Baptist churches that closed between 2016 and 2017 were in metropolitan areas with populations of more than 50,000.
“We’re closing churches where people live,” said Mark Clifton, NAMB senior director for church replanting, in a Facebook video March 11.
Many older metropolitan churches typically have buildings that were too large for the members that remained.
Sanctuaries that once sat hundreds of congregants cost too much to maintain utilities, insurance and upkeep, Clifton said.
They were also likely located in areas with constant turnover. If a church loses connection with its neighborhood, it has to intentionally refresh its outreach, he said.
According to Clark Logan, chief research officer for NAMB, 25 percent of 855 churches removed from the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Executive Committee’s directory were more than 50 years old.
Of the 855, 62.3 percent were from southern state conventions; 6.3 percent were in the Northeast; 17.8 percent in the Midwest; and almost 13 percent in the West. Three churches did not indicate location.
About 14 percent of churches that closed were in towns of 10,000-50,000 people that were also changing demographically, but not as rapidly as urban settings.
Only 11.7 percent of churches that closed were in rural areas with populations of less than 10,000. Clifton described these churches as still having “social validity.”
“The town can even really be depopulating and the church have 12-14 people in gathered worship, and it still has a role to play in the life of that community,” Clifton said in the video. “The building in that small town or open country is usually not very big, almost always paid for, easy to maintain … A little church in a rural area can be very tenacious.”
Logan told the Biblical Recorder there were no specific reasons provided for churches closing from 2016 to 2017, but NAMB worked with associational missionaries to find information for half of the congregations removed between 2015 and 2016. Of those 793 total churches, 25 percent permanently closed; another 25 percent were removed for reasons such as leaving the SBC, merging with another church or correcting errors in the database.
Logan said he expects this to change, since a reason code is now required for a churches’ SBC identification number to be removed.