Home Christian News Southern Baptists Lost Nearly Half a Million Members in 2022

Southern Baptists Lost Nearly Half a Million Members in 2022

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Attendees pray during a worship service at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Anaheim, California, on June 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

(RNS) — The long, slow decline of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination continues.

Membership in the Southern Baptist Convention was down by nearly half a million in 2022, according to a recently released denomination report. Nashville-based Lifeway Research reported Tuesday (May 9) that the SBC had 13.2 million members in 2022, down from 13.68 million in 2021. That loss of 457,371 members is the largest in more than a century, according to the Annual Church Profile compiled by Lifeway.

Once a denomination of 16.3 million, the SBC has declined by 1.5 million members since 2018, and by more than 3 million members since 2006. The COVID-19 pandemic played a role in the downturn, as did the reality that as older members die off, there are fewer young people to replace them.

“SBC membership falls to lowest number since late 1970s” Graphic courtesy of Lifeway Research

The denomination has also been in a constant state of crisis in recent years, including a major sex abuse scandal, controversies over race and an ongoing feud over the denomination’s leadership and future direction.

Church membership rolls had also likely been filled with people who were no longer part of the congregation.

“Much of the downward movement we are seeing in membership reflects people who stopped participating in an individual congregation years ago and the record keeping is finally catching up,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research, in a statement about the report.

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“SBC membership continues decline, attendance rebounds post-COVID” Graphic courtesy of Lifeway Research

The denomination also lost 416 churches and another 165 “church-type” missions, according to the report.

Even as membership dropped, attendance at worship services continues to recover from pandemic lows. Attendance was up 5% to 3.8 million in 2022, after falling from 4.4 million in 2020 to 3.6 million in 2021, due largely to COVID-19 disruptions.

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Churches reported 180,177 baptisms for 2022, up 16% from 2021. Like attendance, baptisms took a steep hit during the pandemic, from 235,748 in 2019 to 123,160 in 2020. Baptism numbers then began increasing in 2021.