Southern Baptists Down to Lowest in 30 Years

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While giving is up, membership, baptism, and church numbers continued to drop in 2018.

A boost in giving—up to $11.8 billion total—and major church growth in Texas was not enough to fend off more than a decade of declines among the Southern Baptist Convention last year.

The nation’s biggest Protestant denomination isn’t as big as it used to be, according to its Annual Church Profile (ACP), released today. Membership fell to 14.8 million in 2018—its first time below 15 million since 1989 and the lowest it’s been since 1987.

“Facts are our friends, even when the facts themselves are unfriendly,” said new Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Adam Greenway. “Heartbreaking to see these ACP declines. We must do better as Southern Baptists. God help us.”

Compiled by LifeWay Christian Resources, the ACP is based on self-reported data from about three-fourths of SBC churches, so it’s not a comprehensive picture but is still used to capture overall trends in the denomination. For more than 10 years, the trajectory hasn’t looked good.

In 2018, baptisms dipped by 3 percent, not as dramatic as the previous year when they were down 9 percent. Overall, Southern Baptists’ namesake practice has reached a historic low of 246,000 baptisms a year—around how many people were dunked by the denomination back in the 1940s, when it was less than half its current size.

The slight increases in worship attendance and total number of churches in the previous report did not continue their turnaround in 2018. Attendance saw a tiny decline of 0.43 percent to 5.3 million weekly worshipers, and churches are down by 88 to 47,456.

Still, “four state conventions saw double-digit growth in the number of Southern Baptist congregations,” Baptist …

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