By Carol Pipes
Southern Baptist congregations saw an increase of more than $82 million in overall giving in 2018, according to the latest Annual Church Profile (ACP) report. However, other key metrics declined slightly in 2018, including baptisms, membership, average worship attendance and total number of Southern Baptist churches.
The number of churches cooperating with the Southern Baptist Convention declined by 88 to 47,456 or 0.19 percent. Southern Baptists also reported 4,085 church-type missions last year, a decline of 291 or 6.65 percent. The number of churches and missions combined is 51,541 congregations. The ACP is compiled by Lifeway Christian Resources in cooperation with Baptist state conventions.
“Part of the Annual Church Profile process is for associations and state conventions to connect with each congregation and to confirm they still exist and are cooperating together in ministry,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. “This year several states put extra effort into identifying and confirming cooperating churches, revealing the decrease in the number of congregations.”
Four state conventions saw double-digit growth in the number of Southern Baptist congregations. The Baptist General Convention of Texas added 44 congregations, the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention grew by 31, the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention added 22 congregations, and the SBC of Virginia grew by 20. Those figures include churches along with church-type missions — congregations that are not fully independent or self-sustaining.
Although Southern Baptist congregations reported increased giving, reported membership of those congregations declined by 192,404, down 1.28 percent to 14.8 million members. Average weekly worship attendance declined by 0.43 percent to 5.3 million worshipers.
McConnell noted that while the ACP offers a snapshot of the Southern Baptist Convention, it does not tell the whole story. Seventy-six percent of Southern Baptist churches participated in the 2018 ACP by reporting at least one item on the profile. Almost a quarter of churches did not report any information.
“The percent of churches reporting in 2018 is up two percentage points from 2017 but lower than the three previous years (2014-2016) when we had 77 percent participation,” he said.
As in previous years, reported totals do not include all of the activity of Southern Baptist congregations, though the summary does include adjustments in some categories for non-reporting congregations.
Baptism decline slows
Southern Baptist congregations baptized 246,442 people in 2018, a 3.02 percent decline from the 254,122 reported in 2017. Southern Baptists saw a 9.49 percent decline in baptisms from 2016-2017. In 2016, Southern Baptists reported a 4.89 percent decline in baptisms from the previous year.
“Seeing our neighbors or children follow Christ in believer’s baptism has never been something to take for granted,” McConnell said. “Every baptism reported signifies change that only the Holy Spirit can bring about. Southern Baptists are blessed to have seen these lives transformed. We pray God will continue to move and that He would empower us to share the Gospel with more people in the coming year.”
Ronnie Floyd, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, agreed, “While this report contains news that concerns us greatly, we need to celebrate every life who was positively impacted by the Gospel.
“As we look forward,” he said, “it is time to press reset spiritually and strategically in the Southern Baptist Convention. Prioritizing and elevating the advancement of the good news of Jesus Christ into every town, city and county in America, as well to every person across the world, must be recaptured by every church. Urgency is not an option for any of us as Christ-followers. People need Jesus and they need Jesus now. Our generation of Baptists must believe and determine now that we will do whatever it takes to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every person in the world and to make disciples of all the nations.”
Several state conventions experienced growth in baptism numbers this past year. State conventions with the largest increases in baptisms in 2018 were the California Southern Baptist Convention, which grew by 2,653 to 12,212; the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, which grew by 2,092 to 21,563; the Florida Baptist Convention, which grew by 1,245 to 26,162, the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina grew by 469 to 17,511; and the Colorado Baptist General Convention grew by 353 to 1,834.
Giving & mission expenditures
Total church receipts and undesignated receipts were both up for the second year in a row. Total church receipts reported through the ACP increased 0.7 percent to 11.8 billion. Undesignated church receipts increased 0.87 percent to $9.6 billion.
Congregations reported total mission expenditures of $1.17 billion and Great Commission Giving of $572 million.
Giving through the SBC’s Cooperative Program is not included in the ACP statistical summary. Those totals are available through Baptist state conventions and the SBC Executive Committee which processes the mission gifts.
Individual congregations voluntarily report their ACP data to their local Baptist associations and/or their state conventions. National statistics are compiled and released when all cooperating state conventions have reported.
CAROL PIPES (@carolpipes) is editor-in-chief of Facts & Trends.