Statistics compiled from churches belonging to Southern Baptist Convention for the association's Annual Church Profile for last year show declining numbers in several key areas, including membership, average attendance, baptisms and total monetary giving. Despite some positive news shown by an increase in the amount of membership churches, SBC Executive Committee President Frank Page expressed his discouragement.
"When I first heard the report of our ACP, I said, 'God forgive us and God help us.' We are thankful for every person won to Christ and every person enrolled in Bible study and discipleship and involved in missions," said Page, as reported in a Baptist Press article by the communications director for LifeWay Christian Resources.
"We are thankful for the millions who are a part of worship in our Southern Baptist churches," he said. "However, my heart breaks when we realize the overall decline in our numbers."
The ACP, compiled by LifeWay Christian Resources in cooperation with Baptist state conventions, showed that the number of churches in the SBC grew by 270 to 46,034, a 0.6 percent increase over the previous year. SBC churches also reported 4,992 church-type missions last year, 40 more than in 2011, although some state conventions no longer use that designation which may have impacted the total.
Although the number of SBC-affiliated congregations grew, reported membership of those churches declined by more than 100,000, down 0.7 percent to 15.9 million members. Primary worship attendance declined 3.1 percent to 5.97 million Sunday worshippers.
LifeWay Christian Resources states that although baptisms were a bright spot in the 2011 report, increasing 0.7 percent, the report for 2012 shows a decline of 5.5 percent to 314,956 people. Reported baptisms have declined six of the last eight years with 2012 recording the lowest since 1948. The ratio of baptisms to total members increased to one baptism for every 50 members.
"While we celebrate every new baptized believer represented by these numbers, fewer reported baptisms is heartbreaking," said Thom S. Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay.
"Southern Baptists cannot rest on what God accomplished through us in prior years. The message of the gospel is alive, relevant and powerful today, and the Great Commission task of sharing it should excite and embolden us as Christians," Rainer said.
Page added, "Let's get perspective on this. Where are people won to Christ? Where do people go to church? Everything depends on the local level. It is where everything of significance occurs.
"The questions that every Southern Baptist must answer are, 'What am I doing for the Lord? Am I winning more or less people to Christ? Am I giving more or less to missions? Am I being faithful in my support of my church?'"
Although LifeWay said changes in monetary giving to SBC congregations are difficult to assess because not all Baptist state conventions gather the same data, the research group reported that the total and undesignated receipts reported through the ACP were down 2.4 percent and 1.5 percent, respectively. Total mission expenditures were also down, but the amount of giving to Southern Baptist mission causes increased by more than $48 million (7 percent) to $744 million.