Southern Baptists may find cause for hope in the latest Annual Church Profile report (ACP). The Southern Baptist Convention added more churches in 2015, due mostly to church planting efforts. Churches also experienced an increase in total giving.
However, according to the ACP report compiled by LifeWay Christian Resources in cooperation with state conventions, other key measures declined. Those included membership, average worship attendance, baptisms and missions giving.
A bright spot in the ACP data was the increase in churches. The number of churches affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) grew by 294 to 46,793, a 0.63 percent increase over 2014. This is the 17th year in a row the number of SBC churches has grown.
While the number of SBC-related congregations increased, reported membership declined more than 200,000, down 1.32 percent to 15.3 million members. Average weekly worship attendance declined by 1.72 percent to 5.6 million worshippers.
Southern Baptists also experienced a decline in baptisms, down 3.3 percent to 295,212. Reported baptisms have fallen eight of the last 10 years. The ratio of baptisms to total members decreased to one baptism for every 52 members.
“God help us all! In a world that is desperate for the message of Christ, we continue to be less diligent in sharing the Good News,” said Frank S. Page, SBC Executive Committee president and CEO. “May God forgive us and give us a new passion to reach this world for Christ.”
“The ACP report shows many faithful Southern Baptists continue to worship, share the Gospel, give generously, and live in community with other believers,” said LifeWay President and CEO Thom S. Rainer. “We praise God for these efforts every year.”
“While a decrease in baptisms is very disappointing, we don’t take for granted 295,000 baptisms,” he said. “We should rejoice with each of those individuals who chose to follow Christ.”
An increase in the number of churches, aided by Southern Baptists’ church planting efforts, is also something to celebrate, Rainer said.
"People underestimate the importance of momentum,” he said. “It only takes a few people in each church, being intentional about sharing their faith, for some new momentum to build.”
Giving and mission expenditures
Southern Baptists increased giving in 2015. Total and undesignated church receipts reported through the ACP increased 3.51 percent and 4.64 percent respectively.
Total missions expenditures declined by 2.03 percent to $1.2 billion, but the report shows four Baptist state conventions did not ask churches for this data – Alabama (for the first time), California, Georgia and Oklahoma. Great Commission Giving, which represents total giving to denominational causes, was down 3.81 percent to $613 million, with five state conventions not reporting that data – Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Southern Baptists of Texas (for the first time).
Giving through Southern Baptists’ Cooperative Program (CP) mission initiative is not included in the ACP annual report. Those totals are more accurately available through Baptist state conventions and the SBC Executive Committee, which processes the mission gifts. CP gifts forwarded from state conventions for SBC causes in fiscal year 2014-15 were 1.39 percent more than the previous year. CP gifts received by the SBC Executive Committee for the first eight months of the 2015-16 year were reported to be 6.13 percent above the year-to-date budgeted projection.
Individual congregations report statistics for the national ACP to their local associations and/or state conventions. National totals are compiled and released after all cooperating state conventions have reported.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Carol Pipes is editor of Facts & Trends at LifeWay Christian Resources.)