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Decline in baptisms, increase in churches; ‘urgency of the moment’

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–The number of baptisms in the Southern Baptist Convention in 2010 fell by nearly 5 percent, according to the Annual Church Profile (ACP) compiled by LifeWay Christian Resources in cooperation with Baptist state conventions.

Southern Baptist churches reported 332,321 baptisms in 2010, down from 349,737 in 2009, a 4.98 percent decline. Total membership in 2010, reported at 16,136,044, represents a 0.15 percent decline from 2009 and is the fourth straight year of decline.

“I am saddened to see this report which seems to indicate a lack of passion for winning our world to the Lord,” said Frank Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee and a former convention president. “That will turn around when we repent of our sins and seek the power of our Lord in our evangelistic efforts.

“I am convinced that we are doing many good things but will see this situation change only when the churches and people of the SBC return Evangelism to the top priority of our Kingdom activities,” Page said.

Thom S. Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay, said, “I pray that all of us will see the urgency of the moment. We must make the Great Commission the heart of all we do and say. These latest numbers should be received with a broken spirit and a God-given determination to reach people for Christ.”

The report did, however, indicate a key positive change: The number of churches in the Southern Baptist Convention rose to 45,727, an increase of 1.59 percent from the 45,010 reported in 2009.

“I do find encouragement in the increase in the number of churches,” Rainer said. “Hopefully a church planting trend in our convention will lead to the Gospel of Christ being shared with more people than ever before.”

Primary worship attendance in SBC churches mirrored the decline in overall membership, declining 0.19 percent to 6,195,449 in 2010.

“As Southern Baptists, so much of our identity comes from missions involvement and a passion for the Great Commission,” Rainer said. “We certainly pay attention to categories such as missions expenditures because this not only supports our missionaries but also the training of our future pastors and church leaders through our convention-affiliated colleges and seminaries.

“As we look upon fields white unto harvest, we should be ever aware that it is critical that we proclaim Christ to our neighbors and those we come in contact with on a daily basis,” he added. “It is critical for our churches to not just get people in the door, but to also train them and disciple them in how to share their faith.”

The Cooperative Program (CP) of the SBC, a voluntary contribution from local churches, supports mission efforts in individual states, throughout the United States and around the world. CP also funds six seminaries, the International Mission Board, the North American Mission Board and other SBC entities (except for LifeWay and GuideStone Financial Resources, which are self-funding).

While several categories of the ACP reflected decline in 2010, totals for various categories were affected by the fact that not all state conventions asked churches for all the information in a way that would allow proper year-to-year comparison.

For example, total mission expenditures in 2010 totaled $1.3 billion, down from $1.33 billion in 2009, with one state convention not reporting these figures. Total tithes, offerings and special gifts received in Southern Baptist churches totaled $10.68 billion, a decline of $153 million from 2009, but again with a state convention not asking churches for this information.

Impacted categories and their 2010 totals include:

— Total tithes, offerings and special gifts: $10,680,023,357

— Undesignated receipts: $8,911,796,522

— Total receipts: $11,720,820,320

— Total mission expenditures: $1,302,479,654

— Value of congregational property: $42,509,449,468
Russ Rankin is manager of editorial services for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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