NASHVILLE (BP) – Annual Church Profile data collected for 2020 by Lifeway Christian Resources shows the staggering impact of COVID-19 but also the faithfulness of Southern Baptists to give to missions even when many couldn’t gather for in-person worship for much of the year.
Importantly, the number of cooperating Southern Baptist churches grew to 47,592 even with a pandemic raging across the country and the globe. The increase was fueled by 588 new church plants across the United States during 2020, according to stats provided by the North American Mission Board. Other highlights of the report include church membership totaling more than 14 million members and weekly worship attendance for reporting churches totaling more than 4.4 million.
“COVID-19 clearly impacted in-person attendance,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. “Throughout much of the year, churches tried to find the right balance of both in-person and online events. More congregations participated than we expected, showing they value sharing their experience and telling the collective story of Southern Baptists.”
Ronnie Floyd, president of the SBC Executive Committee, added: “We greatly appreciate the efforts by churches and state conventions to collect ACP data for 2020. For us even to have some data on our churches is amazing after the year we had. But based on the very limited data we were able to obtain due to a global pandemic, we know this is an incomplete picture of the reality of our Convention and how God is working in and through Southern Baptists.”
For example, ACP data from this year was unable to capture information related to online ministry efforts of churches across the SBC.
“This past year was one none of us ever expected to lead through. Churches across the country were unable to meet in person for several weeks – some for many months, and some only recently returned to in-person worship,” Floyd said. “Pastors and church leaders innovated by moving worship services online, many for the first time.”
As COVID-19 protocols often stopped or limited Sunday School and small group attendance, churches worked to create new ways to maintain community and ministry to their congregation. Worship events and small groups in parking lots and parks, drive-by events, and small groups meeting via zoom had an immeasurable impact.
McConnell noted strong indicators that worship attendance could rise in 2021. A recent study by Lifeway Research found 91 percent of Protestant churchgoers plan to attend church in-person as much or more once COVID-19 is no longer an active threat to people’s health.
The report also highlighted the financial faithfulness of Southern Baptists. In a year marked by economic uncertainty and volatility, churches collected more than $11.5 billion. Southern Baptist churches sacrificially invested more than $683 million in Convention missions efforts through the Cooperative Program and offerings such as the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering.
This giving fueled the Convention’s cooperative missions work by providing the support to stay engaged and even adapt to new ministry opportunities. The impact of Southern Baptists’ continued financial commitment to missions is profound. For example, IMB’s 2020 Annual Statistical Report celebrated a number of areas in which the Gospel advanced in spite of the pandemic. Gospel engagements were up by approximately 30 percent to more than 750,000, resulting in a dramatic increase in professions of faith from the previous year to 144,000. The number of international church births increased from 12,000 in 2019 to 18,000 during 2020.
Southern Baptist churches also found ways to share the Gospel and even baptize new believers in the midst of the pandemic. Even though churches across the country were unable to hold in-person services and outreach events such as Vacation Bible Schools, summer camps, and other evangelistic events, more than 123,000 baptisms were reported by the Southern Baptist congregations. Countless more people were impacted and salvation decisions were made during services and events streamed through the internet.
“It may take years for us to know the full effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on our churches,” Floyd said. “There are lessons to be learned from 2020 as we put it behind us – such as the vital need for corporate worship, the value of being creative in developing ways to share the Gospel, and how much local communities need our churches to minister in difficult circumstances.
“It is time now to reach toward the future. At the SBC Annual Meeting next month, we will fully unveil Vision 2025. This new vision for Southern Baptists places a strategic emphasis on turning around teenage baptisms in our Convention and an even greater commitment to sending missionaries and planting churches.”
The ACP is compiled by Lifeway Christian Resources in cooperation with Baptist state conventions. Individual congregations voluntarily report their ACP data to their local Baptist associations and/or their state conventions. National statistics are compiled and released when all cooperating state conventions have reported.