The loss of an additional 77,786 members from the Southern Baptist Convention in 2016 concludes a decade-long decline that has ultimately resulted in a total loss of 1 million members, according to new statistics released in LifeWay Christian Resources’ Annual Church Profile Report.
According to the report, average giving, baptisms and weekly worship attendance also declined in 2016, in addition to memberships. New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, which compiles and analyzes historical data, reports that these numbers indicate the “lowest number of baptisms since 1946, the lowest membership since 1990 and the lowest worship attendance since 1996.”
Frank S. Page, SBC Executive Committee president and CEO, told Baptist Press, “Virtually everyone who sees these figures will react negatively and lament the poor state of our churches, our lack of evangelistic fervor and our increasingly irrelevant programs. Indeed, we all should.”
While the overall decline is bad news for the SBC, the report indicated a few bright spots. In 2016, the Convention added 479 churches, increasing the total number of churches to more than 47,000. Additionally, Southern Baptist churches baptized 280,773 people last year. LifeWay president and CEO Thom S. Rainer believes there is reason to celebrate in spite of the declining numbers.
“We would be remiss in not giving thanks for every baptism and every new follower of Christ,” 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.”
Chuck Kelly, NOBTS president, agrees with the ongoing need for effective evangelism. “We must live distinctively if we are to be fruitful in reaching people for Christ,” Kelly said in a letter regarding the state of the SBC. “Southern Baptists must be intentional in seeking opportunities to have gospel conversations with people outside the walls of the church.”
He added, “The true bad news is that when you put last year in the context of all previous years, it indicates the SBC is in the midst of a decline that shows no signs of slowing down or turning around.”
As leaders and members of the SBC gather in Phoenix this week, the decline in numbers is sure to be on everyone’s mind. Doubtless they will spend time coming up with a solution for what they have labeled ineffective evangelism.