NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) —
Southern Baptists reported a 2.2 percent increase in baptisms in 2009, stemming
a four-year decline, but membership in the denomination fell and the sagging
economy led to a drop in missions giving, according to the Annual Church
Profile (ACP) compiled by LifeWay Christian Resources in conjunction with
Baptist state conventions.
Baptisms last year totaled
349,737, up from 342,198 in 2008, a year in which Southern Baptists recorded
the fewest baptisms since 1987. Total membership fell 0.42 percent to 16.16
million, and Sunday School enrollment dropped 0.04 percent to 7.75 million.
While the baptism numbers
are encouraging, they do not necessarily signal a reversal of fortune for the
nation’s largest Protestant denomination, said Thom Rainer, LifeWay’s president
“Every baptism is a
celebration of another person finding new life in Jesus Christ,” Rainer said. “The
fact that more people were baptized this year than last year gives us a reason
to hope we’re on the right path. At the same time, we as Southern Baptists
continue to show signs of drifting from our historic commitment to evangelism,
as reflected in the fact that it still takes 46 Southern Baptists to lead one
person to faith in Christ.”
Rainer continued, “The
decline in membership across our denomination, along with the drop in Sunday
School enrollment, indicate that Southern Baptists continue to be distracted
from — or indifferent toward — the command of Jesus to make disciples. I pray
that these discouraging numbers sound a wake-up call to all of us.”
ACP data revealed a slight
rise (0.36 percent) in the number of Southern Baptist churches, to 45,010, and
an increase of 0.37 percent in primary worship attendance, to 6.21 million.
Giving to missions totaled
$1.33 billion in 2009, a decline of 1.8 percent, reflecting the economic
downturn. Through the denomination’s Cooperative Program (CP) and special
mission offerings, local churches voluntarily pool funds to support mission
efforts in their states, throughout the nation and around the world. For
example, Southern Baptists support more than 10,500 missionaries who engage
nearly 1,200 people groups throughout North America and around the world.
In addition, CP funds
support six seminaries, the International Mission Board, North American Mission
Board and other SBC entities (except for LifeWay and GuideStone Financial
Resources, which are self-funding). At the state level, CP funds support a variety
of ministries including church health ministries, children’s homes, disaster
relief efforts, colleges and universities and much more.
To view a summary of
statistical information for the SBC, go to http://www.bpnews.net/pdf/2009SBCStatsSummary.pdf.
To view a summary of
statistical information state by state, go to http://www.bpnews.net/pdf/2009SBCStatsStateConvention.pdf.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Phillips
is director of communications for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern