NASHVILLE (BP) — My upcoming career change means — for the first time in a long time — I won’t be employed by an SBC entity (although I’m still a Southern Baptist). In other words, my long history of being the bearer of bad news as the denominational stats guy is coming to a close.
But, facts are still our friends. And, the SBC Annual Church Profile has been a bearer of unwelcome facts for a long time.
As I look back over my years of tracking SBC statistics, a few things are worth saying on the way out.
Dispelling the myth
Several years ago, our team brought attention to the fact that the SBC was in a long-term trend that would involve long-term decline. It was — and remains — a multi-decade decline, and it is accelerating. I wrote about it in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2012. As I had noted, “The membership decline of the SBC is not a matter of debate. It is a matter of math.”
I had to write that (and I used that exact phrase at the SBC Pastors’Conference at that time) because some in the SBC claimed the decline wasn’t real. Articles were written to demonstrate there was no decline, as if math has some nefarious motive. But there was a decline that is continuing.
Although the number of congregations in cooperation with the SBC increased last year, membership declined more than 200,000, down 1.32 percent to 15.3 million members. Additionally, average weekly worship attendance declined by 1.72 percent to 5.6 million worshippers.
We also experienced a decline in baptisms, down 3.3 percent to 295,212. Reported baptisms have fallen eight of the last 10 years.
So, even though the number of churches continues to increase, the number of people attending SBC churches continues to decline, and the number of people baptized in SBC churches continues to decline.
It isn’t a pretty picture.
Now that the decline is unmistakable, some are blaming the percentage of churches reporting their ACP numbers. Doing so is just another way to refuse to face reality.
The reporting percentage this year is about the same as last — and the numbers continue to decline. SBC President Ronnie Floyd is correct in his analysis and warning, “Be careful in your assessments, evaluations and statements. Yet, let’s be honest with ourselves; these trends are unhealthy and undeniable, demanding immediate action.”
And, now, as Chuck Kelley, president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, predicted a few years ago, Southern Baptists are shrinking faster than United Methodists.
Change is needed. And praying for an awakening without making the needed change, and engaging in the needed work, is basically asking God to do what He called us to do.
There are issues that still must be addressed.
Although generational division isn’t as evident nationally today, it still abounds in many places across the SBC. Join me at many state Baptist conventions and you’ll see.
Many younger believers have left the SBC, but they aren’t leaving the faith or becoming Wiccans. They are becoming nondenominational evangelicals who still believe like us but now want to go on without us.
We should continue to ask why.
The SBC needs to determine how to help all generations engage in the mission of God, together, before the Southern Baptist Convention grays even more.
Read more at BAPTISTS: Reflections of the stats guy.