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

Declining, plateaued or growing

Grouping churches according to their percentage change in membership since 2017 gives a picture of which types of churches are most likely to be growing and which must overcome the trends surrounding them. Those who saw an increase in total membership of 10% or more are classified as growing, a decrease of 10% or more are considered declining and those in between are plateaued. Overall, 18.5% of Southern Baptist churches are growing, 42.5% are plateaued and 39% are declining.

Newer Southern Baptist churches are more than twice as likely to have grown than churches started before the 21st century. More than 2 in 5 of those founded since 2000 are growing churches (42%). The younger the grouping a church falls into, the less likely they are to be plateaued, ranging from 52% of those founded before 1900 to 22% of those founded since 2000. Churches founded in the 20th century are the most likely to be declining—45% of those started between 1950 and 1999 and 39% of those that began between 1900 and 1949.

Specific analysis was conducted on churches started within the past five years. At least two-thirds of Southern Baptist churches founded in those years are either plateaued or growing. Within the 2017-2021 time frame, the longer a church has existed, the more likely it is to be a growing congregation. For those founded in 2021, 33% experienced at least 10% growth by 2022, while 2 in 3 churches planted in 2017 (67%) are currently growing.

The largest churches are the most likely to have grown. More than a quarter of churches with an average attendance of 500 or more (26%) report a membership increase of more than 10% in the past five years. Those churches are also among the least likely to have declined (35%).

Churches in larger population areas do not automatically equal growth. Southern Baptist churches in urban areas are the most likely to have grown since 2017 (22%), but those churches are also the most likely to have declined (46%). In fact, the likelihood of a church growing and declining increases moving from a smaller population grouping to a larger one. While rural churches are the least likely to have grown (16%), they are also the least likely to have declined (35%).

Similar extremes are also found in the regions of the country. Southern Baptist churches in the Northeast (36%) and the West (29%) are the most likely to have grown, but they are also the most likely to have declined (46% and 47% respectively). Churches in the South (45%) and Midwest (40%) are the most likely to have plateaued.

“It is increasingly difficult for a church to see growth today,” said McConnell. “Southern Baptists have never had more declining churches and fewer growing churches than we see today. As the majority of churches decline, they have fewer resources to invest in ministry. But the God who gave past growth is no less capable today.”

For more information, view the ACP Church Statistics report and the ACP Church Performance report.

This article originally appeared here.