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Southern Baptist church membership nearly 15.9 million, up from ’98

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Membership in Southern Baptist churches registered an increase in 1999, after the 1998 total that marked the first decline since 1926.

The new total of 15,851,756 is an increase of 122,400 or 0.78 percent, according to figures from the Annual Church Profile (ACP).

Baptisms registered an increase of 12,078 or 2.97 percent, for the third consecutive year of baptisms above 400,000. The 1999 total of 419,342 tops the 1997 total of 412,027 and the 1998 total of 407,264.

In spite of the increase in Southern Baptist church membership, the 15.8 million total remains slightly below the all-time high of 15,891,514 members reported in 1997.

The ACP is compiled by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention from church reports routed through local Baptist associations and state conventions.

Cliff Tharp, constituent information coordinator at LifeWay, said he feels last year’s membership decline “likely was impacted by affiliation and data collection issues.

“With an increasing trend of churches moving away from traditional affiliation patterns toward greater variety in their affiliations, we have found greater challenges in seeing that everyone is counted and counted only once,” Tharp observed.

Similarly, he said this year’s totals for three areas — Discipleship Training, Woman’s Missionary Union and Brotherhood — have been affected by submission by some state conventions of data that is not comparable to ACP criteria.

In addition to church membership and baptisms, other increases were reported in total tithes and offerings and special gifts, $7,259,074,765, a 5.38 percent increase. Of that amount, undesignated receipts totaled $5,607,034,479, an increase of 3.43 percent. Total receipts were $ 7,772,452,961, a 4.30 percent increase.

Sunday morning worship attendance increased 0.36 percent from 5,398,692 in 1998 to 5,418,348 in 1999.

Sunday School enrollment dropped slightly from 1998’s total of 8,147,939 to 8,147,457 for 1999, a 0.01 percent decrease.

Music ministry enrollment/participation dropped by 165,643 persons or 9.04 percent to a total of 1,666,949.

The three areas affected by differences in reporting methods among some states showed declines, with totals possibly affected by those methods:

— Discipleship Training enrollment/participation dropped 51,316 or 22.12 percent to 1,976,309. The 1998 total of 2,537,625 was the highest enrollment for the program since 1965.

— Woman’s Missionary Union enrollment declined by 81,705 or 8.24 percent to 909,527.

— Brotherhood enrollment/participation for 1999 was 445,057, down by 80,598 or 15.33 percent.

Totals in two categories — value of church property and church-type missions operated by churches — also represented decreases from 1998, but data was not reported by all states.

(BP) chart comparing 1999 and 1998 statistics is available in the BP Photo Library. Chart title: ’99 STATISTICS.

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  • Charles Willis