America’s largest Protestant denomination witnessed a decline in its membership for the seventh year in a row in 2013, according to a report that was released by the Southern Baptist Convention’s publishing arm Lifeway Christian Resources on May 28.
The report said the current membership in the Nashville-based SBC is 15.7 million, which is approximately 1 percent less than the 15.9 million figure in 2012. Additionally, weekly attendance at the church seemed to have reduced by more than 2 percent in 2013, being clocked at 5.8 million each week on an average through the year.
The report also stated a 1.5 percent decrease in the number of baptisms that took place.
Baptisms are an important step for Protestants as it serves as a strong commitment to evangelism. SBC has been worried about its declining membership and changing trends over the last few years. So much so that a task force was convened to study reasons for the 5.5 percent drop in baptisms in 2012.
As the pastors from SBC released their report in May, they requested readers to pray for a “spiritual awakening in our churches and our nation.”
“I am grieved we are clearly losing our evangelistic effectiveness,” said Lifeway President and CEO Thom Rainer.
However, according to David Key, director of Baptists Studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, the declines are inevitable as they mirror the overall decline in Protestant church membership that started a few decades ago. He said that SBC has resisted the trend until recently though the numbers reveal that the denomination has been out of sync with the dominant culture for a long time.
Despite a decline in membership, the total number of SBC-affiliated churches increased in 2013.