If you’re looking for a Southern Baptist church, you’re most likely to find one in the South. If you want to find a growing Southern Baptist church, however, you might want to try the Northeast.
Analysis of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Annual Church Profile (ACP) by Lifeway Research revealed the convention is made up of mostly smaller churches dotting the southern United States. Still, more than 1 in 5 churches are outside of the South. And the only region where Southern Baptist churches are growing numerically is in New England. Additionally, churches started since 2000 are the most likely to be currently growing.
“The trends revealed in this analysis confirm that Southern Baptists must prioritize church planting in our effort to reach people for Christ,” said Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board. “As we do that, not only will we see lives changed with the gospel, we will also grow our base of churches which will expand our Great Commission efforts throughout the world. I’m grateful for every church that is planting new churches, but we need even more to take up this challenge.”
Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research, noted that the largest Protestant denomination is growing in the least Protestant region of the U.S. “While it’s easiest to achieve high percentage growth in areas with fewer Southern Baptists to begin with, the growth is a sharp contrast to numerical declines throughout much of the country,” he said.
General picture of Southern Baptist churches
The Southern Baptist Convention mostly reflects its name, as 78% of its churches are in the South. Far fewer are in the Midwest (10%), West (9%), Northeast (3%) or U.S. territories (less than 1%).
Not quite half (45%) of churches are in suburban areas with a population of at least 2,500 but less than 50,000. The remaining percentage are split between urban areas (28%) with at least 50,000 in population and rural places (27%) with less than 2,500. Churches in the Northeast and West are more likely than those in the other regions to be in urban areas, while churches in the Midwest and South are mostly in rural and suburban places.
Most Southern Baptist churches (52%) were founded since 1950, including 23% that were started since 2000. Another 21% began between 1900 and 1949, while 27% trace their founding to before the 20th century.
The newest group of churches, those founded since 2000, make up an increasingly larger percentage of all Southern Baptist churches, climbing from 19% of churches in 2017 to 23% in 2022.
“Southern Baptists are the most prolific starter of new churches, but older churches continue to close at a slightly faster pace,” said McConnell.
Almost 3 in 4 churches (73%) have an average worship service attendance below 100, including 46% who have fewer than 50 for a typical service. One in 5 (19%) are between 100 and 249, while 5% average between 250 and 499. And 3% usually have at least 500 for their weekend worship service. Churches in the Northeast (53%), Midwest (55%) and West (53%) are more likely than those in the South (43%) to have an average worship service of fewer than 50 attendees.