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Retired SBC researcher Cliff Tharp dies

NASHVILLE (BP) — Cliff Tharp, Jr., who coordinated the annual reporting and analysis of the Southern Baptist Convention’s membership statistics, died Monday (March 11) in Richmond, Va. He was 70.

Tharp retired from LifeWay Christian Resources in 2008 as senior coordinator of the Annual Church Profile (ACP) process after serving the denomination 39 years. The ACP is the system the denomination’s 45,000 cooperating churches use to report membership, attendance, stewardship and leadership information.

Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, announced Tharp’s death at the opening of a meeting of statistical representatives from state Baptist conventions the day following his unexpected death — a meeting Tharp would have organized prior to his retirement.

“Much of what Cliff Tharp did is foundational to what we do today through LifeWay Research,” Stetzer said. “In our desire to serve our churches and be good stewards, we stand on his shoulders. Cliff taught me that facts are our friends. We would be a better convention if we loved facts like Cliff Tharp did.”

Tharp led conversion of the ACP process from a laborious manual system to web-based reporting focused on a few key statistics. His statistical analysis provided valuable information to SBC churches across the country and trend development and analysis to denominational leaders.

LifeWay presented each state ACP coordinator with a copy of Tharp’s book “Standing Out of Sight: A History of Denominational Statistics in the Southern Baptist Convention 1882-2009.”

Tharp held a bachelor’s degree from Samford University in Birmingham, Ala., a master’s from Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tenn., and a doctorate from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

Tharp and his wife Rose were longstanding members of First Baptist Church in Nashville but moved to Richmond, Va., following retirement to be near their daughter Stacey and her family.
Marty King is director of communications for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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  • Marty King