SBC loses over 450K members in 2022; largest drop in membership in 100 years

Messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting June 15-16, 2021, cast ballots for several motions and elections throughout the two-day event in Nashville, Tenn.
Messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting June 15-16, 2021, cast ballots for several motions and elections throughout the two-day event in Nashville, Tenn. | Eric Brown

The Southern Baptist Convention lost more than 450,000 members in 2022, marking the largest drop in membership in a century, according to recently reported statistics.

Lifeway Christian Resources released a report on Tuesday noting that while baptisms and worship attendance rose last year, approximately 457,000 people left the largest Protestant denomination in the United States.

According to Lifeway, total SBC membership went from approximately 13.68 million members in 2021 to 13.22 million members in 2022, noting that the “457,371 members lost is the largest single year numerical drop in more than 100 years.”

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“In total, Southern Baptist churches have suffered membership declines of about 3% annually the past three years,” stated Lifeway, adding that the 2022 membership was the lowest SBC membership number since the late 1970s.

The current membership is well above the approximately 7 million reported in 1950, though it is a few million below the peak membership of approximately 16.3 million reported in 2006.

The 2022 SBC Annual Church Profile Statistical Summary also reported that there are 416 fewer member congregations in the SBC, going from 47,614 in 2021 to 47,198 in 2022. 

The 416 number would have included both churches that had to be closed down and congregations that decided to leave the SBC for various reasons. 

The report drew from the Annual Church Profile, which was compiled by Lifeway in cooperation with Baptist state conventions.

The report also had multiple positive signs for the SBC, with 2022 seeing a 16% increase in baptisms, a 5% increase in in-person worship attendance, a 4% increase in small group attendance and a 2% increase in giving to SBC congregations.

In total, the SBC baptized 180,177 people in 2022, which was nearly 60,000 more than the 123,160 baptized in 2021. However, it remains well below the peak number of 445,725 baptized in 1972.  

Lifeway Research Executive Director Scott McConnell was quoted in the report as saying that he believed much of the membership decline could be attributed to recent record updates on membership.

“Much of the downward movement we are seeing in membership reflects people who stopped participating in an individual congregation years ago and the record keeping is finally catching up,” said McConnell.

“Membership totals for a congregation immediately reflect additions as well as subtractions due to death or someone removing themselves from membership. But many congregations are slow to remove others who no longer are participating.”

In contrast to most Protestant denominations in the United States, the SBC had experienced growth in its numbers going throughout the latter half of the 20th century and into the early 2000s.

In more recent years, however, the SBC had gradually declined in its numbers, reflecting the overall trend of decline in affiliation among religious groups in the U.S.

Earlier this month, for example, the Presbyterian Church (USA) released its annual statistics, which found that they had experienced a decline of over 53,000 members in 2022, dropping their total membership to approximately 1.140 million members.

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