The Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the country, lost another 435,632 members over the past year, according to an “Annual Church Profile” compiled by LifeWay Christian Resources. It comes a year after the denomination suffered its previous record decline in membership, which means things are only getting worse for them.
Couldn’t have happened to a more worthy organization.
Here are the numbers you want to hear:
In 2019, there were 14,525,579 Southern Baptists. In 2020, that number dropped to 14,089,947, a drop of 435,632 people. (In 2003, the SBC had a record high 16.3 million members.)
It gets better: Compared to the previous year, there were 112,588 fewer baptisms, 810,433 fewer people attending weekly worship, and 357,066 fewer people attending Sunday School/Bible Study/Small Group.
Obviously COVID is responsible for the bulk of that drop and the numbers will likely jump up next year, but the overall trend isn’t a good one for the SBC. (There is an important caveat: Only 69% of SBC churches took part in this survey, slightly lower than the year before, but the numbers are still fairly reliable according to the group behind the survey.)
Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research, said a number of factors likely contributed to the 3 percent decline in overall membership, including fewer congregations, fewer additions through baptism and other additions, likely higher deaths from COVID-19, and other reductions in the membership of individual Southern Baptist congregations.
“Numerous church leaders have described their attempts to stay in touch with their congregation throughout the pandemic,” McConnell said. “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.”
Thoughts and prayers.
It’s hard to feel much sympathy for a denomination that’s notoriously racist, sexist, and Trumpist.
So what’s causing the exodus? There’s no single reason. But I would point to a rise in secularization throughout the country, many children of Southern Baptists choosing to leave the faith, and the amount of stories that have come out about sexual abuse cover-ups within member churches. Over the past year, a number of Black pastors have left the denomination, as have high-profile members. Even Rick Warren ordained female pastors against the SBC’s wishes.
Don’t get too optimistic, though. When a denomination this large experiences a drop in numbers — even record drops — they’re still doing just fine. It’s like Jeff Bezos having a bad day in the stock market; no one should feel bad for him. But if the numbers are a sign of a trend, then there’s reason to think Southern Baptists aren’t about to become more popular in the future. People are starting to realize how damaging those beliefs are and they’re walking away. Maybe they’re not leaving the faith altogether, but they are discovering that their lives are perfectly fine without having to support a church that may do more harm than good.
(Image via Shutterstock. Portions of this article were published earlier. Thanks to David for the link)