“The diversity represented in the SBC positions us for expanded cooperation and Gospel advance.”
The portal records that ethnic minority fellowships have a combined 11,287 congregations, making up nearly a quarter (22.3 percent) of the SBC. If they were separate state conventions:
- the African American fellowship would be the third largest, behind the Baptist General Convention of Texas and North Carolina
- the Hispanic convention would be fourth, behind the BGCT, North Carolina and Georgia
- the Asian American fellowship would be 10th, larger than Mississippi, South Carolina and Missouri.
The site includes interactive graphics that break down the research. Among the ten largest SBC associations, for instance, only Jacksonville has a majority of churches made up of one ethnic group (White Anglo). The other nine have no ethnicity exceeding 47 percent. A slider graphic also shows the change in the number of ethnic minority congregations across the country since 1990.
“According to our research on Ethnic Diversity Index (EDI), we, as Southern Baptists, are more diverse than we think we really are,” Nguyen said.
“In 1990, the EDI of SBC was 2.0 while the U.S. EDI was 5.4, with EDI=10 being the highest. In 2019, SBC EDI was 4.6 while the U.S. EDI was 7. In the 30-year span, SBC EDI gained 2.6 percentage points while the U.S. EDI gained 1.6 percentage points, a whole 1 point less than the SBC.
“This means that, while SBC is still less diverse than the U.S., it grows faster in diversity than the U.S.”
‘A Long Way to Go’
While growth has occurred in diversity, the site also records the substantial decrease in baptisms among Southern Baptists over the last 20 years.
From 2000-2010, Hispanics were the only group to record an increase in baptisms at 12.5 percent. The SBC overall showed a 20.1 percent deficit in that time frame. According to the site, Southern Baptists reported a 62.8 percent drop in baptisms from 2010-2020, the highest decrease being among African American (82.6 percent) Native American (71.3 percent) and Hispanic (67.6 percent) congregations.
It’s difficult to overstate how the COVID-19 pandemic, societal unrest and the rising temperature over political discourse affected churches in 2020. Many congregations didn’t meet in person for several months, with numerous minority ethnic congregations choosing to gather only online for more than a year.
That is reflected in baptism numbers. In 2010, churches reported 332,321 baptisms, with that figure dropping to 246,442 in 2019. While still a 25.8 percent decrease, it shows the impact 2020 levied on baptism statistics for the decade.
Despite many churches not gathering in person, pockets of growth in the number of congregations continued among Asian Americans and Other Ethnics.
“The not-so-good-news is that COVID magnified the fragility of some of our ethnic groups,” Nguyen said. “The Hispanic group, for example saw the steepest drop in baptisms between 2019 and 2020 with a decrease of almost 64 percent and a decrease of 25 percent in worship attendance.”
A similar pattern occurred among Hispanic congregations during the economic recession of 2009. “We need, in the SBC, to help the most fragile groups build resilience and sustainability,” Nguyen said.
Todd Unzicker, executive director for North Carolina Baptists, expressed appreciation for the portal, while noting the challenge it spells out for Southern Baptists.
“I thank God for this new resource,” he said. “The studies show us that while Baptists have seen some improvement in the last 20 years, we all have a long way to go to be a Revelation 5 people.
“We must reflect not only the beauty of the coming Kingdom but also look like our mission field. The latest U.S. census tells us that 52 percent of people under the age of 18 are non-Anglo. We must reach this next generation.”
Kentucky Baptists’ executive director, Todd Gray, echoed those comments.
“The increasing diversity in Southern Baptist churches is one of the great untold stories of our convention,” he said. “The numbers reflect a Great Commission commitment to reaching everyone with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“We are seeing a similar trend in Kentucky as an increasing number of our church plants are in diverse communities. As America becomes more diverse, so are our churches, and I’m excited for the future of the SBC. The faces in the congregations may change, but our message will always be the same – that there is salvation in no other name but Jesus.