By Aaron Earls
BRENTWOOD, Tenn. — For the second straight year, baptisms and giving increased among Southern Baptist congregations. In-person worship service and small group attendance also rebounded, but total membership and the number of congregations slid.
The Annual Church Profile (ACP) compiled by Lifeway Christian Resources in cooperation with Baptist state conventions paints a complicated picture for the Southern Baptist Convention but contains some positive news. In 2022, baptisms increased by more than 16%, in-person worship attendance climbed by more than 5%, small group attendance grew by 4% and giving to Southern Baptist congregations ticked up by almost 2%.
The total membership of the Southern Baptist Convention, however, continued its downward trajectory. The current total membership of Southern Baptist congregations is 13,223,122, down from 13,680,493 in 2021. The 457,371 members lost is the largest single year numerical drop in more than 100 years. In total, Southern Baptist churches have suffered membership declines of about 3% annually the past three years.
“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 Scott McConnell, executive director Lifeway Research.
“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.”
Within the Southern Baptist Convention, multisite congregations reported 585 campuses in addition to their first location. The SBC saw 416 fewer churches and 165 fewer church-type missions associated with the convention in 2022 than in the previous year.
Rebounding attendance numbers
Emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, Southern Baptist congregations saw the return of additional in-person worshipers. More than 3.8 million individuals attended a Southern Baptist congregation on an average weekend in 2022, a 5% increase over the 3.6 million who did so in 2021.
Six states averaged more than 200,000 attendees each weekend in Southern Baptist congregations: Texas (438,865), Georgia (378,520), Florida (362,808), North Carolina (310,722), Tennessee (262,249) and Alabama (207,232).
Most states have more members of Southern Baptist congregations than people who attend on an average weekend. In the Iowa (3,464), Pennsylvania-South Jersey (2,564), New England (1,233) and Dakota (432) state conventions, however, more people are attending each week than are on the participating congregations’ membership rolls.
Small group participation also grew overall, climbing 4% (almost 100,000 people) in 2022. A total of 2.3 million individuals were part of in-person Sunday School classes or small groups at a Southern Baptist congregation on the average weekend.
Eight states had an average of 100,000 or more participants each weekend for small groups in Southern Baptist congregations: Texas (280,113), Georgia (232,016), Florida (210,306), North Carolina (189,800), Tennessee (148,214), Alabama (136,956), Mississippi (109,897) and Oklahoma (102,719).
On average, 61% of those who attend a Southern Baptist congregation on any given weekend are involved in a Sunday School class or small group. Mississippi (76%) and several state conventions outside of the traditional Southern Baptist region of the Southeast outperformed those numbers, including Oklahoma (76%), Montana (70%),Alaska (69%) and the Northwest Baptist Convention (68%).
Increase in baptisms and giving
As more people gathered in-person, they witnessed more baptisms. In 2022, Southern Baptist congregations baptized 180,177 people, a 16% increase over 2021.
“Everything we do at NAMB is focused on helping Southern Baptist churches advance the gospel,” said Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board (NAMB). “I’m encouraged by the increase in baptisms, although I know we are far from where we would like to be. In some states, 30% or more of baptisms are coming from churches started since 2010. We must remain focused on starting new, evangelistic churches and on replanting dying churches, but to really see a positive turnaround, established churches must lead the way by reaching and baptizing the lost. NAMB is here to help any church that wants to be more engaged in evangelism.”
States with the most baptisms in Southern Baptist congregations in 2022 were Florida (22,015), Texas (20,540), Tennessee (15,975), Georgia (15,021) and North Carolina (11,325).
In 2022, Southern Baptist congregations averaged one baptism for every 73 members. Several state conventions had a much lower ratio of baptisms to members, including seven who baptized at least one person for every 25 members: the Montana (1:14), Iowa (1:15), Pennsylvania-South Jersey (1:15), Dakota (1:16), New England (1:17), Michigan (1:21), New York (1:23), New Mexico (1:25) and Puerto Rico (1:25) conventions.
Among the state conventions that collected financial information, giving increased among Southern Baptists. In 2022, undesignated receipts totaled more than $9.9 billion, an almost 2% increase over 2021. Around 7 in 10 Southern Baptist churches (69%) reported at least one item on the 2022 ACP, similar to the 70% who reported in 2021.
“The increased generosity among churches is a high point in the Annual Church Profile. In a season where pennies are having to be pinched and spending is strategic, church members are demonstrating an increased dependence upon their faith in God,” said Willie D. McLaurin, interim president and CEO, SBC Executive Committee. “I am thankful for local Southern Baptist pastors that are equipping their members in biblical stewardship and casting a vision to reach the world for Jesus.”
Decreased online participation
As congregations drew more people in person, Southern Baptist congregations reported fewer people worshiping or attending small groups online in 2022. On average, just over 1 million people participated in an online worship service at a Southern Baptist congregation each week, down from more than 1.4 million in 2021. Online small group participation dropped by more than 58% to 82,404.
“More congregations reported declines in participation in online worship than growth,” said McConnell. “What for a season had become a necessity for continuing some semblance of corporate worship during the pandemic is now a ministry or form of outreach for many congregations.”
Aaron Earls is a writer for Lifeway Christian Resources.
About Lifeway Research
Lifeway Research is a Middle Tennessee-based, evangelical research firm that specializes in surveys about faith in culture and matters that affect churches. For more information, visit LifewayResearch.com.
About Lifeway Christian Resources
In operation since 1891, Lifeway Christian Resources is one of the leading providers of Christian resources, including Bibles, books, Bible studies, Christian music and movies, Vacation Bible School and church supplies, as well as camps and events for all ages. Lifeway is the world’s largest provider of Spanish Bibles. Based in Middle Tennessee, Lifeway operates as a self-supporting nonprofit. For more information, visit Lifeway.com.