NASHVILLE, Tenn. (ABP) – The Southern Baptist Convention reported declines last year in several categories traditionally used as markers of denominational vitality, according to annual statistics released by LifeWay Christian Resources.
The 2010 Annual Church Profile showed dips in baptisms, total church membership, worship attendance and participation in Sunday school and other Christian education programs. Declines were also reported in giving categories, but some of that was attributed to the fact that not all Baptist state conventions asked churches for information in ways that make for year-to-year comparison.
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. “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.”
One area that did show increase 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 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 been 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 current 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 increasing focus of the North American Mission Board on starting of new churches. The agency’s new head, Kevin Ezell, will report on progress at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in Phoenix. The report of the North American Mission Board is scheduled at 4:50 p.m. on Tuesday, June 14. The convention is webcast live gavel-to-gavel on the convention website, sbc.net.