SBC notes a drop in baptisms, attendance

June 10, 2011

The Southern Baptist Convention has reported declines last year in
several categories traditionally used as markers of denominational
vitality. Dips in baptisms, total church membership, worship attendance
and participation in Sunday school and other Christian education
programs were detailed in the 2010 Annual Church Profile.

Southern
Baptists reported 5 percent fewer baptisms in 2010 than in 2009—332,321
compared to 349,737. Total membership was counted at 16,136,044, a drop
of 0.15 percent and the fourth straight year of membership losses.

"I
pray that all of us will see the urgency of the moment," said Thom
Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, which released
the figures June 9. "We must make the Great Commission the heart of all
we do and say. These latest numbers should be received with a broken
spirit and a God-given determination to reach people for Christ."

When
the SBC ended its annual meeting June 15 in Phoenix, another statistic
noting a decline was an­nounced: the gathering was attended by 4,814
registrants, the lowest number since 1944.

One area that did show
increase in the LifeWay report was the number of churches, which rose
1.59 percent to 45,727. Rainer said he was encouraged by a
church-planting trend that could help stall the membership decline.

In
2009 baptisms had increased after four straight years of decline. The
record year for baptisms was 445,725 in 1972. While there are far more
Southern Baptist churches now, observers say baptisms have essentially
plateaued since 1950. In 2010 there was one baptism for every 48 members
of a Southern Baptist church. Sixty years ago the ratio was 1:19.

Convinced
in the 1970s that creeping liberalism would lead to decline similar to
that suffered in mainline denominations, the SBC leadership launched a
"conservative resurgence" to focus on conservative theology and
evangelism.

Affirming the movement for theological reform, two
years ago leaders launched a "Great Commission Re­surgence" aimed at
renewing evangelistic zeal. Part of that process included increased
focus of the North American Mission Board on starting new churches. —ABP