For 14 years in a row, statistics for Southern Baptists, the country’s largest Protestant denomination, are still declining. In 2020, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) saw crucialcomponents falling, including membership, attendance, donations, and the total number of congregations.
Another crucial component for the SBC is baptism, which has bottomed to the lowest level since the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918. For 2019, they reported 235,748 baptisms. But for 2020, baptisms dropped to almost half of that, with only 123,160 reported. The COVID-19 pandemic likely affected this category. There were fewer baptisms reported than the previous year for the ninth year in a row.
A new report from Lifeway Research — a renowned evangelical research firm — released on April 23, 2021 shows membership declined by nearly 436 thousand members since 2019 and 2.3 million from 2006.
However, new church plants increased by 588 in the US and 18,000 abroad in the last year. The Southern Baptists managed an increase in church planting and maintained fairly even levels of donations despite COVID-19 shutdowns in 2020. All in all, Southern Baptists are still trying to grapple with yet another year of decline.
Much of the Southern Baptist decline is the continued decline of Christianity over the past few centuries. But there are reasons behind the SBC’s decline that are worth looking at – in part for schadenfreude and in part so the rest of us can avoid them. https://t.co/8OSUScda3z
— John Beckett (@utaoDruid) May 27, 2021
The executive director of Lifeway Research, Scott McConnell, said the higher death rate due to COVID-19 was one of the main factors that caused an overall decline in membership by three percent, along with fewer congregations and fewer members baptized.
“Socially distant behavior is helpful for containing a pandemic, but it hindered meeting new people, inviting people to church, and helping them take a step of obedience to be baptized,”
McConnell said. “The last year Southern Baptists saw this few people follow Christ for the first time was 1918 and 1919 when the influenza pandemic was sweeping the world.”
The SBC often attempts to confound the statistics from Lifeway Research within their “Sneak Peek” articles and “Annual Reports” published in the Baptist Press(BP) which is their uncontested propaganda PR outlet. SBC leaders used this approach within their 2021 Annual Report.
BP is funded by the Cooperative Program (CP), which ultimately comes from members’ tithings. The CP is the SBC’s unified plan of donations, and where the cooperating churches give a percentage of their undesignated receipts to the State Baptist Convention.
In 2020 when the pandemic caused churches to close, resulting in fewer churches reporting, they still received a steady flow of tithings overall. National CP giving was reportedly $11.5 billion, less than a one percent decline from the previous year.
SBC leaders meet in Nashville this month for their first annual meeting since the pandemic. They are expected to address the declining trends and the recent debates regarding how they deal with race, women, abuse, and politics.
“A convention perpetually at war with itself cannot do what God has called it to—pursue the Great Commission,” advised J.D. Greear, the outgoing president of the SBC. “There are voices calling us [to] come to Nashville to divide even further over things beyond the scope of our statement of faith and therefore best left to the autonomy of churches. This will surely send us even further into decline.”
“We desperately need a great movement of God among our people for which these statistics should drive us all to our knees in prayer,” he added. “The data also underscores the indispensable need for providing the best theological education to prepare the next generation of pastors and church leaders for the challenges of ministry today.”