The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) suffered its largest single-year decline in church membership in 2019, according to a church profile report conducted by LifeWay Christian Resources. Despite a slight uptick in new churches, the world’s largest Baptist denomination is experiencing the impact of the country’s growing secularization.
SBC Annual Church Profile
The convention’s Annual Church Profile found that the SBC lost approximately 288,000 members from 2018-2019. This is a decrease of around 2%, bringing total membership to around 14.5 million.
Although the number of new churches increased to 47,530 — an increase of 74 from 2018 — the total number of churches dropped by 477. The overall number of SBC congregations sat at 51,138 in 2019. The report did show that multisite congregations added 505 campuses.
The total SBC membership of 14.5 million is down by nearly 2 million from its peak of 16.3 million in 2006.
Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research, said no church, including those within the SBC, can fully protect itself from the outside world.
“The Southern Baptist Convention is not immune to the increasing secularization among Americans that is seen in more of our children and our neighbors not having interest in coming to Jesus.”
Other Church Metrics on the Decline
The profile also showed a decrease in baptisms, giving, and worship attendance:
- Average weekly worship and small group attendance fell around 1%. Worship sat at 5.25 million while small group/Sunday School attendance fell to 3.2 million.
- Baptisms dropped more than 4%, falling from 246,442 in 2018 to 235,748 in 2019. There was one baptism per 62 Baptist members.
- Total church receipts and undesignated receipts fell 1.5% and 0.01% respectively. SBC churches had previously experienced two years of financial growth.
Despite the unfortunate decrease, McConnell says the numbers are not indicative of the convention’s evangelical efforts.
“These numbers are not able to tell the story of all the evangelistic efforts that many… churches have put in this past year. They do indicate, however, that… fewer people [are] com[ing] to Christ…”
Fewer Americans Consider Themselves Christian
Last October, the Pew Research Center found that only 65% of Americans identify as Christian. The group of “religiously unaffiliated” — with include atheists and agnostics — grew to 26%. These numbers reflect a 12% decline of Americans that identify as Christian over the last 10 years.
Other data shows that fewer children who were raised in the SBC remain there as adults. This means the denomination’s decline is linked to retention rather than a loss in new converts. According to The Christian Post, “Younger Americans today are more likely… to be raised without a religious identity.”