Baptist statistics: Baptisms, membership decline; worship attendance, giving increase

Lisa Misner —  July 9, 2018

By Baptist Press

The Southern Baptist Convention expanded by more than 270 churches in 2017. More people showed up for weekly worship services, and congregations gave more generously in a strengthening economy. However, reported baptisms and membership declined as fewer churches participated in the SBC’s Annual Church Profile (ACP).

Longstanding patterns continued to dominate the ACP, which is compiled by LifeWay Christian Resources in cooperation with Baptist state conventions.

-The number of churches cooperating with the Southern Baptist Convention grew for the 19th consecutive year, reaching 47,544. That’s a 16.3% increase in churches since 1997.

-Membership fell for the 11th consecutive year, to 15 million. Since 2006, Southern Baptist congregations have lost about 1.3 million members.

-Baptisms also declined, as they have for eight of the past 10 years. Congregations reported baptizing 254,122 people—26.5% fewer than in 2007. The latest ratio was one baptism for every 59 church members.

“It’s heartbreaking to be baptizing fewer people for Christ, even though Southern Baptists have nearly 2,900 more churches than we had a decade ago,” said LifeWay President Thom S. Rainer.

“Yet a quarter million baptisms is not an insignificant number. We praise God for every individual who has come to Christ and followed him in baptism. It is my prayer that God would embolden Southern Baptists to share the gospel with their friends and neighbors.”

Fewer churches reporting

The ACP numbers don’t tell the full story of baptisms or other measurables among Southern Baptist churches. Despite the best efforts of associations and state conventions across the country, 26% of churches did not participate, said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. The percentage of SBC churches that participated by reporting at least one item was 74%, down from 80% in 2013 and 77% in each of the last three years. (In Illinois, 95% of IBSA churches submitted an ACP for 2017.)

For that reason, reported totals do not include all of the activity within Southern Baptist life, though the summary does include adjustments in some categories for non-reporting congregations. This summer, LifeWay Research plans to release statistical analysis of the current state of the SBC that includes estimates of the congregations that did not report.

Despite the lower participation rate, the ACP report shows increases in some areas:

-Average attendance at weekly worship services climbed 2.3% to 5.3 million, an increase of nearly 120,000.

-States outside the South reported some of the strongest signs of growth. California now has 47 more congregations and Michigan has 24 more congregations than the previous year. Those figures include churches along with church-type missions—congregations that are not fully independent or self-sustaining.

-Non-Southern states are now home to 21.3% of Southern Baptist churches and 32.2% of church-type missions.

-Reported baptisms nearly doubled in Colorado and rose 31% in Iowa, 17.6% in Alaska, and 13.4% in New Mexico. In North and South Dakota, weekly worship attendance grew by 20.8% while baptisms climbed 34.8%.

Overall, Southern Baptist churches reported 4,376 church-type missions last year, down 2.6% from 2016. The count of churches and missions combined is 51,920 congregations.

Giving & mission expenditures

Southern Baptists saw an increase in overall giving of almost $267 million. Total and undesignated church receipts reported through the ACP increased 3.3% and 2.3% respectively.

Reported mission expenditures fell by about $4 million in 2017. However, the numbers are not directly comparable since there were changes in how many and which state conventions collected this statistic.

Congregations reported total mission expenditures of just under $1.19 billion.

Individual congregations voluntarily report their ACP data to their local Baptist associations and/or their state conventions. National statistics are compiled and released when all cooperating state conventions have reported.

– From Baptist Press

Lisa Misner

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Lisa is IBSA Director of Communications. A Missouri native, she has served at IBSA for 21 years.