Home Christian News Growing Southern Baptist Churches More Likely in Northeast, Among Newer Churches

Growing Southern Baptist Churches More Likely in Northeast, Among Newer Churches

The Southern Baptist Convention is increasingly comprised of the smallest churches. From 2017 to 2022, the percentage of Southern Baptist churches that were below 50 in worship attendance grew from 36% to 45% of the convention.

For most Southern Baptist churches, most of their worship attendees are also in a Sunday school class or small group Bible study. Still, 35% of churches have fewer than 50% of those who gather for worship also participating in a small group. Almost 2 in 5 churches say their participation rate runs between 50% to 74%. Slightly less than 1 in 5 (18%) report 75% to less than 100% are involved in a small group. Around 1 in 10 (9%) have 100% or more involvement.

The smallest churches, those with fewer than 50 in attendance for a worship service, are the most likely to have 25% or less of their congregation involved in small groups (21%). They are also among the most likely to have at least 100% participating (10%).

An increasing number of Southern Baptist churches have few small group participants. From 2017 to 2022, the percentage of churches that had fewer than 25% of their worship service attendees involved in a small group jumped from 5% to 16%, a 219% increase.

2022 Lifeway Research study found the average U.S. Protestant church had 44% of attendees involved in a small group, down from 50% in 2008.

“Declines in Sunday School and small group participation is not a short-term problem. It also does not bode well for the future,” said McConnell. “Having a higher percentage of your attendees attending small groups each week is one of four measures that predict higher worship attendance five years down the road.”

Mostly declines but pockets of growth

The most recent Annual Church Profile of the Southern Baptist Convention highlighted continued membership decline since 2006, falling to 13,223,122, the lowest number since 1978. The analysis comparing 2017 and 2022 indicates declines in most types of churches with occasional areas of membership and attendance growth.

Membership in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont churches together grew by 1% from 2017 to 2022. Every other area saw a numerical decline for Southern Baptist churches.

The regions with the smallest declines were the Mid-Atlantic—New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania—which fell 5%, and the East South Central—Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee—which dropped 7%. Every other area had a double-digit percentage decrease over the past five years, with the largest decline happening in the Pacific region—Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington—which fell 22%.

“The West has the most churches with declining membership. And the Pacific portion of the West has the most dramatic declines among reporting churches,” said McConnell. “California churches had particularly low reporting on the ACP in 2022, making their numbers less reliable.”