Baptisms, membership decline even with more new churches

The number of churches cooperating with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) increased in 2016 but several key measures such as baptims and membership declined, according to the latest Annual Church Profile report (ACP).

The ACP, which is compiled by LifeWay Christian Resources in cooperation with Baptist state conventions, also reported a decline in average worship attendance and total giving.

The number of churches cooperating with the SBC grew by 479 to 47,272, a 1 percent increase over 2015. The number of Southern Baptist churches has increased the last 18 years. Southern Baptist churches also reported 4,492 church-type missions in 2016.

Although the number of cooperating Southern Baptist congregations grew, reported membership of those churches declined by 77,786, down 0.51 percent to 15.2 million members. Average weekly worship attendance declined 6.75 percent to 5.2 million worshippers.

Southern Baptist churches baptized 280,773 people in 2016, a 4.89 percent decline from the 295,212 reported in 2015. The ratio of baptisms to total members was one baptism for every 54 members.

‘Lack of engagement’

“We would be remiss in not giving thanks for every baptism and every new follower of Christ,” said LifeWay President and CEO Thom S. Rainer.

Southern Baptists have seen a decline in the number of baptisms for several years, he said. “It’s clear that evangelism and discipleship are waning. I don’t believe it is due to the lack of opportunities though. Instead there is a lack of engagement.”

Giving also down

Giving among Southern Baptists was down slightly in 2016. Undesignated church receipts increased 0.67 percent to $9.2 billion. However, total church receipts reported through the ACP decreased 0.73 percent to 11.5 billion.

Total missions expenditures also decreased 1.3 percent to $1.19 billion.

Giving through Southern Baptists’ Cooperative Program (CP) missions initiative is not broken out in the ACP annual report. Instead CP totals are reported by the SBC Executive Committee (EC), which facilitates the missions gifts to the SBC’s national and international missions and ministries.

With the release of the total number of churches through the ACP report, the EC has calculated the average CP percentage from the convention’s cooperating churches for 2015–2016 as 5.16 percent, down 0.02 percent from the previous year’s 5.18 percent, said SBC EC CEO Frank Page.

The states reported receiving a total of $475,212,293 in CP gifts in 2015–2016, of which $190,468,781, or 40.08 percent, was forwarded to the EC for distribution through the SBC CP allocation budget.

The ACP is an annual statistical report churches voluntarily provide to their local Baptist associations and/or state conventions. National totals are compiled and released after all cooperating state conventions have reported. (LifeWay)