Continuing Decline in the SBC

According to the Associated Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention continues to see declines in both conversions and membership:

Annual baptisms in Southern Baptist churches have declined by 100,000 in the last 12 years, last year dropping to the smallest number in 64 years.

LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention released figures June 5 reporting 314,959 baptisms in 2012, down 18,385 – or 5.5 percent – from 2011.

Total membership of 15,872,404 marked the sixth straight year of statistical decline for the nation’s second-largest faith group behind Roman Catholics. Membership dropped by 105,000 – two-thirds of a percent. Weekly worship attendance, meanwhile, fell below 6 million to 5,966,735, down 3 percent.

This continues the trend that Christine Wicker wrote about in The Fall of the Evangelical Nation. Actually, she argued that it is worse than it appears. The attendance is exaggerated and baptisms mainly recycle members from one church to another. While we found Wicker’s thesis somewhat dicey when it first came out, the core of it seems to be playing out as she predicted.

The folks at Wartburg Watch agree:

Many leaders quietly admit that the numbers are worse than reported. Most insiders agree that the number of SBC members is actually around 8+ million. The Baptists have a penchant for leaving members on church rolls for years, even after members leave a church. They also double and triple count some of them as they hop from church to church.

Even the gold numeric standard of most SBC churches, baptisms, has questionable application as a measure of new converts. Some Baptist churches rebaptize those who were sprinkled or baptized as children as well as those who were baptized in “suspect” Baptist churches. [...]

It is important to realize that this decline in numbers have occurred since the Conservative Resurgence and the increased influence of Calvinism within the SBC. Both of those movements were supposed to be the salvation of the SBC.Yet, this decline is continuing, in spite of an increased emphasis on church planting. So what is going on?

There are no shortage of answers to that question. ABP lists several, mostly the boogeymen of the right: factionalism, self-interest and loss of zeal. As in every conservative movement, when problems occur the solution is to unify and recommit. The movement can never fail, it can only be failed.

  • dorcheat

    As a certain cartoon dog says all the time, Ruh Roh.

  • Rusty Yates

    Halleluja brothers and sisters! Halleluja, praise the lord. Amen.

  • Lurker111

    Thanks. I needed a day-brightener.

  • aar9n

    Here’s how I was taught to view decline in Christianity as a (former) fundamentalist:

    Churches we agree with are losing members: Narrow is the way and few shall find it! Behold in the end of days many will lose faith and follow whatever fancies them, but those who hold to the end will be saved!

    Churches we disagree with are losing members: Liberalism is killing churches because (fill in the blank)

    We completely didn’t acknowledge that some churches we disagreed with were actually growing (Unitarian Universalists).

    • Lee

      Unitarian Universalists are actually declining in terms of membership and attendances nationally. The same is true for the Episcopal and UCC churches. Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons are growing though (but I don’t think they hold onto converts for very long)

      • aar9n

        Its obvious why Mormonism is growing: Babies! As for UUA growing, I got that from here:

        • Lee

          Don’t read the spin, just look at the numbers. – 2010

          They often try and spin that this is because of the economic decline i.e people drop membership to save money so it makes it seem worse than reality. But they failt to often highlight that attendance figures and Sunday school enrollments are also declining. Yes, they do get lots of attention and visitors, but few stay. In many cases they preach politics, postmodernism and extreme humanistic pluralism. They are only liberal to the extent you agree with them, with some hypocricy to boot. Not to the majority of people’s taste.

          • aar9n

            I’ll see your evidence and raise you some plates dug up in my back yard that say otherwise :-p

            • Lee

              I’m sure for the UU’s would want to believe those plates, even if they ignore everything else :-P

              p.s I’m no mormon but have some history with the UU’.s. If you want a mixed bag of atheists, pagans, Jewish Buddhists who like crystals, circle dances and fence sitting then its the place to be. At least the Mormons have some principles, even if I don’t believe them.

        • Lee

          True Mormonism partly grows of a high birth rate but this is a blessing for the church and the families, and in some respects a selling point for their church in some people’s eyes who convert. However, I still think that they are making new ground but that there are attrition problems associated with new converts that isn’t necessarily reflected in the figures.