By Carol Pipes
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Southern Baptists experienced growth in the number of churches affiliated with the convention in 2013, while other key measures declined, according to the Annual Church Profile (ACP) compiled by Lifeway Christian Resources in cooperation with Baptist state conventions.
The number of churches in the Southern Baptist Convention grew by 91 to 46,125, a 0.2 percent increase over 2012. SBC churches also reported 4,789 church-type missions last year, a decline of 203 from 2012. However, some state conventions no longer use the designation of church-type mission, which may have impacted the total.
While the number of SBC churches increased, reported membership of those churches declined by 136,764, down 0.9 percent to 15.7 million members. Primary worship attendance declined 2.21 percent to an average of 5.8 million Sunday worshippers.
For the second year in a row, Southern Baptists experienced a decline in baptisms, down 1.46 percent to 310,368. Reported baptisms have declined seven of the last nine years. However, the decline in 2013 is not as sharp as the previous year’s decline. In 2012 baptisms declined 5.5 percent.
“I am grieved we are clearly losing our evangelistic effectiveness,” said Thom S. Rainer, president and CEO of Lifeway Christian Resources. “I continue to pray for revival and a renewed passion for the Great Commission in our churches. May God renew all of us, including me, with a greater heart for the lost.”
Commenting on the annual summary, Frank S. Page, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, cited Old Testament prophet Amos: “Woe to you who are at ease in Zion.” (Amos 6:1)
“That warning in the Book of Amos is a clear call to the people of God who have lowered their guard, relaxed their vigilance, and reduced their commitment and passion for the things of God,” Page said. “That very same thing can be said of our modern-day churches as we yet again see a disappointing decline in our ability to reach our continent for Christ.”
Page said he is thankful for an increase in the number of churches, but lamented a “lack of passion for reaching people for Christ. The numbers of people in our continent are increasing dramatically while our evangelistic efforts are failing in many places and in many ways.”
“God help us realize the great needs that are before us and the great opportunities that are there. Lord, forgive us of being at ease in Zion,” he said.
Giving and mission expenditures
Total and undesignated church receipts reported through the ACP decreased 2.7 percent and 1.4 percent respectively. Total mission expenditures reported by churches also declined by 1.5 percent in 2013. However, reported Great Commission Giving increased 4.5 percent from $744 million in 2012 to $777 million in 2013. This is only the third year churches have been asked to report Great Commission Giving as a reflection of each church’s financial gifts to local, state and national SBC missions causes.
Giving through Southern Baptists’ Cooperative Program (CP) mission initiative is not included in the ACP annual report, because those totals are more accurately available through Baptist state conventions and the SBC Executive Committee, which processes the mission gifts. CP gifts forwarded from state conventions for SBC causes in fiscal year 2012-2013 were 1.92 percent below the previous year. CP gifts received by the SBC Executive Committee for the first seven months of the 2013-2014 year were reported to be 0.58 percent behind the same period the year before.
While several categories of the ACP reflected a decline in 2013, totals for various categories were affected by the fact that not all state conventions asked churches for the information in a way that would allow proper year-to-year comparison.
Statistics for the national ACP are reported by individual churches to their local association and/or state convention. National totals are compiled and released after all cooperating state conventions have reported.