The Southern Baptist Conference (SBC) has misplaced over one million members previously three years, with back-to-back years of the COVID-19 pandemic following a decade-plus of decline.
SBC membership fell to 13.7 million in 2021, its lowest in additional than 40 years, in response to the denomination’s Annual Church Profile, launched on Thursday.
Membership within the nation’s largest Protestant denomination dropped from 14.8 million in 2018 and its peak of 16.3 million in 2006, and church attendance continued to dwindle throughout the pandemic too.
One space of promise for Southern Baptists is their key metric: baptisms. After falling by half in 2020, baptisms had been up by 1 / 4 final 12 months. SBC church buildings baptized 154,700 folks in 2021, nonetheless considerably decrease than 236,000 a 12 months earlier than the pandemic.
“The explanations that baptism numbers matter to us is as a result of they signify conversion,” mentioned Adam Blosser, who pastors Goshen Baptist Church in Spotsylvania, Virginia.
His congregation of round 100 didn’t baptize any new believers in 2020, after they shut down for the primary few months of the pandemic earlier than spending a lot of the 12 months gathering exterior. In 2021, the church held some baptisms once more—however Blosser says not at a stage he’s happy with.
Like many churches in the US, Blosser’s congregation in Virginia noticed regular, beneficiant giving even when church rhythms had been disrupted. Final 12 months, Blosser estimated, might have been the largest annual providing within the church’s historical past.
Throughout the SBC, giving ranges have climbed at the same time as membership tendencies downward. Church buildings reported taking in $11.8 billion in 2021, much more than the 12 months previous to the pandemic.
The Annual Church Profile represents the 70 % of SBC-affiliated church buildings and state conventions who select to report their statistics; it’s not a whole image. And for the previous two years, it’s captured statistics within the midst of COVID-19 disruptions which have resulted in additional church buildings purging membership lists and extra churchgoers attending on-line or under no circumstances.
Membership numbers have fallen 7 % since 2018, with the church dropping 409,000 members in 2021 and 436,000 in 2020. The 12 months earlier than the pandemic, the decline of 288,000 church members had been the biggest annual drop in a century.
The report requested about on-line attendance for the primary time in 2021 and located that greater than 1.4 million Southern Baptists are worshiping digitally each week.
“In some methods our church buildings throughout the panorama have nonetheless been feeling the results of COVID-19 and individuals who haven’t come again but. They’re staying on-line for a wide range of causes,” mentioned Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary president Adam Greenway.
“I feel 2021 is a snapshot of the start of a post-COVID restoration, however actually not the completion of that. Hopefully whereas we now have time in 2022, we’ll take these numbers and that may once more inspire us and mobilize us to do higher.”
Southwestern’s three-year-old Center for Church Revitalization, Greenway mentioned, focuses on investing in current congregations to assist reverse the tendencies towards decline.
Each years of the pandemic, the SBC’s North American Mission Board has reported a bump in church crops, together with 735 planted final 12 months.
Willie McLaurin, the interim president of the SBC Govt Committee, told Lifeway that he was happy with church buildings which have stored up evangelism, however that “extra people nonetheless want to listen to the life-changing gospel of Jesus.”
Blosser, the pastor in Virginia, prompt that given the SBC’s dimension, the denomination’s tendencies might mirror broader tendencies and rigidity factors throughout evangelical church buildings.
“I’m not involved with the numbers of the Southern Baptist Conference,” he mentioned, “as a lot as I’m folks coming to religion in Christ.”
In March, Pew Analysis Middle reported that solely two thirds of standard churchgoers had been again to attending in individual and the extent had been plateaued for months.