Although the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) continues to experience declines in attendance and baptisms, giving increased by $82 million last year. The just-released Annual Church Profile (ACP) report provides an overview of 2018 statistics for America’s largest Protestant denomination.
The increased giving (totaling $11.8 billion) is one bright spot in the big-picture report. Another is double-digit growth in the number of Southern Baptist congregations within four state conventions: two in Texas, one in Virginia, and the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention.
Only three-fourths of SBC churches participated in the 2018 ACP, which is compiled by LifeWay Christian Resources and state conventions.
Because the ACP relies on voluntary reporting, it doesn’t tell the whole story, says Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. But denominational leaders say it’s valuable because it points to areas needing improvement.
Southern Baptist Giving and Missions Are Both Up
This is the second year in a row that the SBC saw an increase in total church receipts and undesignated receipts. Mission expenditures reached $1.17 billion, and Great Commission Giving was at $572 million. Donations to the denomination’s Cooperative Program weren’t included in the totals.
“I was encouraged by the slight increases in giving,” says SBC President J.D. Greear. “I look forward to ongoing discussions about our generosity and how our systems can best aid in effective partnership toward the Great Commission.”
The increases come as the denomination faces a sexual abuse scandal and looks for ways to improve safety and restore its reputation.
Membership, Attendance, and Baptisms Are Down
SBC membership, now at 14.8 million, is at its lowest since 1987. That’s a decrease of 1.28 percent (192,404 people) from last year. Membership, which peaked in 2006 at 16.3 million, has now declined for the 12th straight year.
Average weekly attendance at SBC churches declined 0.43 percent, to 5.3 million. The number of churches in the denomination ticked downward by 0.19 percent, to 47,456.
“Facts are our friends, even when the facts themselves are unfriendly,” says Adam Greenway, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. “Heartbreaking to see these ACP declines. We must do better as Southern Baptists. God help us.”
Baptisms are at an all-time low in the denomination, at 246,000 last year. That’s a drop of three percent from 2018, though the decline slowed from the nine percent experienced in 2017. “Like many, I am discouraged to see 7,000 less baptisms this year,” says Greear. “It is the Lord who saves, but this information should spur us on even more to be intentional in evangelism.”
Although the new ACP “contains news that concerns us greatly,” says SBC Executive Committee president and CEO Ronnie Floyd, “we need to celebrate every life who was positively impacted by the Gospel.” He says the denomination must “press reset spiritually and strategically.”
“Urgency is not an option for any of us as Christ-followers,” Floyd adds. “People need Jesus, and they need Jesus now. Our generation of Baptists must believe and determine now that we will do whatever it takes to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every person in the world and to make disciples of all the nations.”