Good attendance tempered by fewer baptisms
For IBSA churches, 2015 was a year of ups and downs: giving and attendance were up, but baptisms were down.
“It seems clear to me that being a Baptist here in Illinois, indeed being a Christian in America, is becoming increasingly counter-cultural,” IBSA executive director Nate Adams said. “We no longer reach people and grow churches simply by opening the doors on Sunday morning.”
A rebounding economy and continued emphasis on missions giving may be behind a 1.53% increase in Cooperative Program giving to $6,230,082 (reported prior to completion of the annual audit) and a 10% hike in the Mission Illinois Offering last year at $403,595, according to the tallies of the Annual Church Profiles submitted by IBSA churches.
Total membership is up by more than 1,000 in IBSA churches (to 193,972), and worship attendance is up by almost 5,000 (7.3%) over the previous year. But baptisms declined by 2.4% to 4,400. That’s down 105 from the previous year, and down from recent averages around 5,000 per year.
On the positive side, the number of churches reporting baptisms was 591, up 29 churches from the previous year; and the number reporting zero baptisms was down by 25 churches to 366.
“The need has never been greater to live out 1 Corinthians 9 and become all things to all people to reach some, while also living out Romans 12 and refusing to be conformed to the culture in which we find ourselves,” Adams said.
Another bright spot in the 2015 ACP report is participation in missions and leadership development: Just under 24,000 volunteers from IBSA churches were mobilized for missions projects in Illinois and worldwide. And IBSA trained 8,932 leaders from 592 churches in a variety of ways, for a total of 20,203 personal training sessions.
And in a new reporting category, IBSA set a goal for 2015 of at least 100 new Bible study groups; churches blew past that goal and started 229 groups.
“One way to summarize those two contrasting pictures of our mission here in Illinois might be to simply say that fewer people are doing more with less,” Adams concluded. “Another way might be to say that some churches are doing well, while others are struggling. My primary concern is that, in total, our churches’ cumulative statewide impact on lostness in Illinois is not growing, at least not numerically.”
And with at least 8 million people in Illinois who do not know Jesus Christ personally, there’s plenty of room for improvement.
IBSA has targeted five areas for kingdom growth in 2016, rolled out at the Annual Meeting in November: evangelistic prayer, witness training, outreach events, expanded VBS, and new groups. A study in the Midwest showed that churches engaging in these activities were more likely to lead people to faith in Christ and to grow disciples. The IBSA Church Resources Team is assisting all churches that want equipping in these areas.
Look for a full report on baptisms and the evangelistic activity of IBSA churches in a future issue of the Illinois Baptist.
If total membership and worship attendance have increased at a time when baptisms have decreased, could this be showing a trend of people who have fallen away returning to the Church?
I’m not sure where to go with that, but it is something to consider when thinking about outreach.