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Southern Baptist denomination sees record drop in members

Churches in the Southern Baptist Convention lost a record 400,000 members in 2020.

The Annual Church Profile report shows membership in SBC congregations declined by 435,632, more than 50 percent higher than the 287,655 members the denomination reported losing from 2018 to 2019. While the number of SBC congregations increased slightly by 62 to 47,592 over the previous year, the decline in membership in 2020 continues a sustained negative 14-year trend that began when SBC church membership peaked at 16.3 million in 2006.

“Numerous church leaders have described their attempts to stay in touch with their congregation throughout the pandemic,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. “As congregations rediscovered the telephone, they also discovered some on their membership lists who moved away, joined another church or no longer wanted to be a member.”

baptist members

A nearly 50 percent baptism decline in SBC congregation also was reported for 2020.

“Socially distant behavior is helpful for containing a pandemic, but it hindered meeting new people, inviting people to church and helping them take a step of obedience to be baptized,” McConnell said. “The additional outreach through online methods did not make a dent in the smaller number of opportunities to share the gospel in person, including fewer Vacation Bible Schools, live events and weekly services to invite people to attend. The last year Southern Baptists saw this few people follow Christ for the first time was 1918 and 1919 when the influenza pandemic was sweeping the world.”

A recent study from the Pew Research Center reports that only 65 percent of Americans now identify as Christian. Those who identify as religiously unaffiliated — a group that includes atheists, agnostics and people who don’t identify with any religion — swelled to 26 percent of the population.

The problem is not unique to members of the Baptist denomination. Mainline denominations lost tens of millions of members even prior to Covid.

–Dwight Widaman | Metro Voice