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SBC baptisms up in ’04, among several ACP gains

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Recently compiled statistics for the Southern Baptist Convention in 2004 show a reversal in recent downward trends in key categories such as baptisms and membership. These are “encouraging signs that the denomination may be heading in the right direction,” said LifeWay Christian Resources President James T. Draper Jr.

“I think there is a lot we can take from these statistics that is positive and shows a turnaround from where we’ve been the past three years,” Draper said. “The increase in baptisms is slight, but an increase of more than 10,000 over the previous year is encouraging.”

According to the Annual Church Profile (ACP), information gathered by LifeWay Christian Resources, baptisms totaled 387,947 in 2004, compared to the 377,357 for 2003, which marked a fourth consecutive year of decline.

Draper noted that the current SBC emphasis on baptizing a million people during 2005 wasn’t initiated until last summer’s annual meeting in Indianapolis and only allowed churches who accepted the challenge to be a part of the initiative for a short time before the end of the reporting year. Draper said he would be “surprised if we didn’t see a considerable jump” in baptisms when information is gathered for 2005.

With a net increase of 441 new churches, the SBC total stood at 43,465 at the end of the year, up from 43,024 in 2003. Total membership increased by 62,444 for a total of 16,267,494.

Other key areas with increased enrollment were Sunday School (8,206,440, up 12,554), men and boys mission education (423,207, up 4,601) and discipleship training (2,237,345, up 235,785).

Draper was most pleased about the discipleship increase.

“One thing we’ve been hearing from pastors, associations and state conventions is the need for discipleship renewal,” he said. “This really reflects what I’ve been hearing as well from the younger leaders I’ve been meeting with across the country the past several months. They realize the need to get their church members grounded doctrinally, and discipleship studies are the way to do that. I see this as a very positive trend for individuals, churches and our denomination.”

Draper also pointed out that total offering receipts were up $522,666,407 to more than $10 billion dollars. The most encouraging aspect of the increase, he said, was the amount going toward total mission expenditures — an 8.84 percent increase over last year, with receipts rising more than $97 million dollars to nearly $1.2 billion. The statistics also show that 11.7 percent of total receipts are missions-related.

“I’m excited to see such a significant amount of our receipts being designated for missions endeavors,” Draper said. “I hope this reflects a trend that we as a denomination are recapturing our roots of being an evangelistic and missions-oriented people. The most important thing we as a people can do is share the Gospel with the peoples of the world and lead them to a saving faith in Jesus Christ.”

WMU enrollment increased 115,626 to a total of 967,831.

Music ministry enrollment declined by 68,054 or 4 percent. Draper said it is hard to know exactly why music ministry enrollment had declined, but speculated it may be indicative of a trend in churches to move away from formal choirs and more toward praise and worship groups that are comprised of fewer people.

The year’s statistics include reports from one new state convention affiliated with the SBC, the Dakota Baptist Convention, which previously had fellowship status.

“Overall I think this is a good report,” Draper said. “Last year I felt there was a real urgency with the declines we were seeing in some key categories that reflected a denomination that had lost its focus. I’m hoping these figures reflect the beginning of a growing trend indicative of a denomination focused on reaching people for Christ.”