NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Southern Baptists recorded the lowest number of baptisms in 74 years in 2018, according to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Annual Church Profile (ACP) statistical summary.
Conversely, Southern Baptist congregations saw an increase of more than $82 million in overall giving in 2018, according to the ACP report. However, in addition to baptisms, other key metrics declined, including membership, average worship attendance and total number of churches.
The number of churches cooperating with the SBC declined by 88, or .19 percent, to 47,456. Southern Baptists also reported 4,085 church-type missions last year, a decline of 291 or 6.65 percent. The number of churches and missions combined is 51,541 congregations. The ACP is compiled by LifeWay Christian Resources in cooperation with Baptist state conventions.
According to the 1945 SBC Annual, there were 24,165 Southern Baptist churches in 1944, which is less than half of the 51,541 churches and church-type missions recorded by ACP in 2018.
The Arkansas Baptist State Convention reported 1,533 churches and missions in 2018, compared to 1,546 in 2017, or a .84 percent decrease. Baptisms reported by the state convention in 2018 numbered 8,962 compared to 10,255 in 2017 or a 12.6 percent decrease.
“Part of the Annual Church Profile process is for associations and state conventions to connect with each congregation and to confirm they still exist and are cooperating together in ministry,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. “This year several states put extra effort into identifying and confirming cooperating churches, revealing the decrease in the number of congregations.”
Four state conventions saw double-digit growth in the number of Southern Baptist congregations. The Baptist General Convention of Texas added 44 congregations; the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention grew by 31; the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention added 22 congregations, and SBC of Virginia grew by 20. Those figures include churches along with church-type missions – congregations that are not fully independent or self-sustaining.
Although Southern Baptist congregations reported increased giving, membership of those congregations declined by 192,404, down 1.28 percent to 14.8 million members. Average weekly worship attendance declined by 0.43 percent to 5.3 million worshippers.
McConnell noted that while the ACP offers a snapshot of the Southern Baptist Convention, it does not tell the whole story. Seventy-six percent of Southern Baptist churches participated in the 2018 ACP by reporting at least one item on the profile. Almost a quarter of churches did not report any information.
“The percent of churches reporting in 2018 is up two percentage points from 2017 but lower than the three previous years (2014-2016) when we had 77 percent participation,” he said.
As in previous years, reported totals do not include all of the activity of Southern Baptist congregations, though the summary does include adjustments in some categories for non-reporting congregations.
Baptism decline slows
Southern Baptist congregations baptized 246,442 people in 2018, a 3.02 percent decline from the 254,122 reported in 2017. Southern Baptists saw a 9.49 percent decline in baptisms from 2016-2017. In 2016, Southern Baptists reported a 4.89 percent decline in baptisms from the previous year.
Ronnie Floyd, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, said, “While this report contains news that concerns us greatly, we need to celebrate every life who was positively impacted by the gospel.”
Several state conventions experienced growth in baptism numbers this past year. State conventions with the largest increases in baptisms in 2018 were the California Southern Baptist Convention, which grew by 2,653 to 12,212; the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, which grew by 2,092 to 21,563; the Florida Baptist Convention, which grew by 1,245 to 26,162; the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, which grew by 469 to 17,511; and the Colorado Baptist General Convention, which grew by 353 to 1,834.
Giving & mission expenditures
Total church receipts and undesignated receipts were both up for the second year in a row. Total church receipts reported through the ACP increased 0.7 percent to $11.8 billion. Undesignated church receipts increased 0.87 percent to $9.6 billion.
Congregations reported total mission expenditures of $1.17 billion and Great Commission Giving of $572 million.
Giving through the SBC’s Cooperative Program is not included in the ACP statistical summary. Those totals are available through Baptist state conventions and the SBC Executive Committee, which processes the mission gifts.
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.
This article was compiled from reporting by Baptist Press and Baptist News Global.