UPDATED 4:55 Friday, May 14. 2010
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Southern Baptists reported a 2.2 percent increase in baptisms in 2009, stemming a four-year decline, but membership in the denomination fell and the sagging economy led to a drop in missions giving, according to the Annual Church Profile (ACP) compiled by LifeWay Christian Resources in conjunction with Baptist state conventions.
Baptisms last year totaled 349,737, up from 342,198 in 2008, a year in which Southern Baptists recorded the fewest baptisms since 1987. Total membership fell 0.42 percent to 16.16 million, and Sunday School enrollment dropped 0.04 percent to 7.75 million.
While the baptism numbers are encouraging, they do not necessarily signal a reversal of fortune for the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, said Thom Rainer, LifeWay’s president and CEO.
“Every baptism is a celebration of another person finding new life in Jesus Christ,” Rainer said. “The fact that more people were baptized this year than last year gives us a reason to hope we’re on the right path. At the same time, we as Southern Baptists continue to show signs of drifting from our historic commitment to evangelism, as reflected in the fact that it still takes 46 Southern Baptists to lead one person to faith in Christ.”
Baptism symbolizes believers’ identification with Jesus in His death, burial and resurrection; their new life in Christ; and their anticipation of the day in which Christ will raise them from the dead, demonstrating His victory over sin and death. Therefore, the number of baptisms is a key measurement of Southern Baptists’ effectiveness in evangelism.
Rainer continued, “The decline in membership across our denomination, along with the drop in Sunday School enrollment, indicate that Southern Baptists continue to be distracted from — or indifferent toward — the command of Jesus to make disciples. I pray that these discouraging numbers sound a wake-up call to all of us.”
ACP data revealed a slight rise (0.36 percent) in the number of Southern Baptist churches, to 45,010, and an increase of 0.37 percent in primary worship attendance, to 6.21 million.
Giving to missions totaled $1.33 billion in 2009, a decline of 1.8 percent, reflecting the economic downturn. Through the denomination’s Cooperative Program (CP) and special mission offerings, local churches voluntarily pool funds to support mission efforts in their states, throughout the nation and around the world. For example, Southern Baptists support more than 10,500 missionaries who engage nearly 1,200 people groups throughout North America and around the world.
In addition, CP funds support six seminaries, the International Mission Board, North American Mission Board and other SBC entities (except for LifeWay and GuideStone Financial Resources, which are self-funding). At the state level, CP funds support a variety of ministries including children’s homes, disaster relief efforts, colleges and universities and much more.
Rainer pointed out that numeric/percent changes for certain categories, listed below, could not be completely figured for the 2009 ACP. Some state conventions did not ask for certain items to be reported, or asked in a way that gave results that were not comparable to totals reported in the 2008 ACP.
Impacted categories and their 2009 totals include:
— WMU enrollment: 726,031.
— Men/boys mission education enrollment: 397,541.
— Total tithes, offerings and special gifts: $10.83 billion.
To view a summary of statistical information for the SBC, go to http://www.bpnews.net/pdf/2009SBCStatsSummary.pdf.
To view a summary of statistical information state by state, go to http://www.bpnews.net/pdf/2009SBCStatsStateConvention.pdf.
Rob Phillips is director of communications for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.