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Southern Baptist Churches’ Membership Declines to Below 13 Million

By Aaron Earls
church SBC attendance down membership
(Foto de Andrew Seaman/Unsplash/Creative Commons)

The recent decline in total memberships among congregations affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention slowed in 2023, while baptisms, worship service attendance and small group participation all grew.

The Annual Church Profile (ACP) compiled by Lifeway Christian Resources in cooperation with Baptist state conventions details the annual numerical changes for the Southern Baptist Convention. Membership declined for the 17th straight year, dropping below 13 million for the first time since the mid-1970s. However, the less than 2% decline was the smallest in recent years.

Additionally, Southern Baptist-affiliated congregations experienced increases in baptisms, average weekly worship attendance and average small group attendance. Total baptisms climbed to more than 226,000. In-person weekly worship service average attendance topped 4 million for the first time in three years, while in-person small group average attendance reached nearly 2.5 million. Average online worship service participation also increased.

“Southern Baptists are a force for good. We are sharing the gospel with more people, gathering for worship and Bible study in increasing numbers, giving billions to support churches serving communities across our country and sending millions to support mission enterprises around the world,” said Jeff Iorg, president-elect of the SBC Executive Committee. “While we often address our shortcomings, it’s also good to pause and celebrate the global good Southern Baptists are accomplishing.”

The total number of churches associated with the Southern Baptist Convention decreased by 292, less than a percentage point, to 46,906. The number of church-type missions declined by 170 to 2,474, but the number of additional campuses reported by multisite churches grew by 95 to 680. Meanwhile, among states that collect financial information, undesignated receipts grew by less than 1% to top $10 billion in 2023, and mission expenditures through Southern Baptist avenues increased by more than 9% to reach almost $800 million.

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“For 2023, 69% of Southern Baptist churches reported at least one statistic on the ACP. That is the same percentage as 2022,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. “This represents a massive amount of cooperation among churches and the local associations and state conventions that collected most of the data. But this also means there is more church membership and attendance, baptisms and giving beyond these totals.

“While we celebrate the attendance growth, we continue to see a wide gap compared to what was reported before the pandemic. Our team will be conducting further analysis to determine if this is due to congregations not reporting or people who are not coming back to worship as often.”

Southern baptist SBC decline

The 2023 ACP records the total membership of Southern Baptist-affiliated congregations at 12,982,090, down 241,032 from 2022. The three previous years saw declines of 2.9% or more. This past year, membership fell 1.8%. States home to the most Southern Baptists include Texas (2,461,681), Georgia (1,142,325), North Carolina (989,872), Tennessee (849,306) and Florida (768,437).

This year, several state conventions also used the ACP to ask questions about sexual abuse prevention and response. More than half of responding Southern Baptist-affiliated congregations (58%) say they require background checks for all staff and those who work with children and students. Fewer say staff and those working with younger churchgoers have been trained in reporting sexual abuse cases (38%) or caring for survivors of sexual abuse (16%).

Baptisms increase nearly 26%

Total baptisms in Southern Baptist-affiliated congregations grew to 226,919 in 2023, an almost 26% jump from 2022, placing current numbers close to pre-pandemic levels. While most baptisms happened in the U.S. South, growth happened across the country, as 35 of 41 state conventions experienced year-over-year growth in the total number of baptisms. This marks the third straight annual baptism increase, which hasn’t happened in more than three decades.

“A linear trendline of baptisms before the pandemic using data from 1999 to 2019 would have predicted fewer baptisms in 2023,” said McConnell. “It is reassuring that the God who has changed the lives of the people represented by these baptism numbers is not limited by trendlines or history. And Southern Baptist congregations welcomed 175,026 other new members which is within half a percent of those joining in 2019.”

States with the most total baptisms reported include Florida (29,063), Texas (22,294), Georgia (21,177), Tennessee (19,639) and North Carolina (15,088).

Except for California, the states with the largest numerical increase from the previous year were traditional Southern Baptist states. Florida (an increase of 7,048), Georgia (6,156), California (5,181), North Carolina (3,763) and Tennessee (3,664) had the five largest jumps from 2022 to 2023.

However, the state conventions with the largest percentage increase over the previous year were all from outside of the South: California (248% increase), Colorado (96%), Utah-Idaho (89%), Alaska (69%) and Pennsylvania-South Jersey (61%).

southern baptist SBC decline

“What’s really encouraging is that this trend is widespread,” said Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board. “We have heard from so many state convention partners who are reporting healthy increases in baptisms this year. Pastors are the difference makers here. Despite all the distractions and challenges out there, they are keeping the focus on evangelism and encouraging new believers to follow up with baptism. To see the largest percentage increases coming from states outside the South indicates that our focus on these areas continues to show results. I believe if we can stay unified in prioritizing the gospel, we will continue seeing progress like this.”

Church attendance and participation growth

Average in-person weekly worship service attendance at Southern Baptist-affiliated congregations continues to rebound, topping 4 million in 2023 for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic. On any given week last year, 4,050,668 individuals attended a congregation affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, an increase of 246,178 over 2022 for a more than 6% jump.

Five states averaged more than 250,000 worshipers in congregations during 2023: Texas (469,532), Florida (406,142), Georgia (351,850), North Carolina (333,572) and Tennessee (281,981).

The overall growth from 2021 to 2023 marks the first time Southern Baptists have seen consecutive years of worship attendance growth in more than a decade. Though driven in part by the dramatic drops during the pandemic, the current percentage increases are some of the largest since the mid-1990s.

Every state convention except two grew in their in-person worship attendance average. Most states with the largest numerical increases were in the South, including Florida (43,334 increase over 2022), Texas (30,667), North Carolina (22,850), Alabama (22,119) and Tennessee (19,732). The states with the largest percentage increases, however, came from outside traditional SBC areas, including Colorado (58% increase over 2022), Utah-Idaho (52%), Alaska (29%), Ohio (27%) and New York (27%). California had both a significant numerical and percentage jump (19,502 and 23%).

Additionally, Southern Baptist-affiliated congregations saw more people participate in their in-person small groups. In 2023, small group ministries averaged 2,429,175 people each week, an increase of more than 4% over 2022. The back-to-back years of growth marked the first years of consecutive growth since the early 2000s.

southern baptist SBC

Every state convention but seven experienced growth. The largest numerical jumps include Florida (up 22,008), Texas (17,405), Alabama (14,539), Virginia (12,651) and Kentucky (7,835). Some of the highest percentage increases happened in Colorado (46%), Utah-Idaho (39%), Iowa (37%), Michigan (30%) and Alaska (29%).

“Outreach and discipleship are difficult today. They require time and commitment when our culture offers numerous distractions and alternatives. The pandemic was discouraging as fewer people engaged in these activities,” said McConnell. “But as people have re-engaged and new people are participating, there is much to celebrate in Southern Baptist churches today while we invite more to join.”

Este artículo apareció originalmente en Investigación de Lifeway

Aaron Earls is the senior writer at Lifeway Research.



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7 Respuestas

  1. Maybe if they stop protecting abusers, stonewalling any attempts at reform to make things safer, and stopped being nothing more than MAGA-cultist, Trump-fanboy political rallies in disguise, then the bleeding of members would stop.

    But of course they won’t. The sociopathic leaders, grifters, and con artists will continue to drain the blood like vampires until it is nothing more than a dried out husk.

  2. I really wonder if those numbers are accurate. Are they from church rolls ( we all know how that works) , children or some other factor? How many are regular attenders?

  3. In a church, I believe in the severest types of punishment for sexual abuse (far beyond what would be allowed). However, the wish to have a hierarchy to blame, has created a hierarchy to blame, where I don’t believe one existed. The church of my childhood was a SBC. There were other SBC churches in our small town. We didn’t know what they were doing. They didn’t know about us. We sent money to the missions board and much less to “the convention.” That budget supported Bible colleges and seminaries. We called pastors who had been educated in those places. If the nearest SBC (a short walk away) had a pastor who did evil, how were we responsible for him? Is it because he was educated in a place where we’d sent money? Was our indirect relationship to them, reason for us to be implicated in his crimes? Maybe I don’t understand. Maybe there’s a closer relationship between churches in the SBC than I ever knew existed. If so, please explain the part I’m missing?

  4. I left a SBC church a little over four years ago. At the time the head pastor refused to remove me from membership unless I told him the name of church I would be joining. Coming out of a hurtful church like that, I struggled to even attend church much less join a new congregation. Since I left, I have no contact with them. I am probably still on their membership list.

  5. That’s an average of 4.5 baptisms per affiliated Southern BAPTIST church in 2023.

    About one baptism per quarter.

    It stands to reason that there are thousands of SBC churches that did not conduct a single baptism in 2023.

    Change my mind: If there ever was an SBC light flickering in the darkness of the world, it was snuffed out when the denomination sold its soul to Donald Trump and the MAGA movement. Faith in political power extinguishes faith in God’s power.

  6. How can the SBC expect new members when women enroll in seminary classes for preachers and pastors are called accomplices to murder by a highly respected SB woman who is a big voice among the SBC in teaching women to be godly, She strongly believes the scripture says women should not preach or pastor or teach men. She claims it is serious sin of which one needs to repent.

    On youtube she discussed if women should attend seminary. She said yes but they should not take courses for preaching or pastoring.

    She then compared women taking pastor/preacher courses (though they may never preach/pastor) to those who study how to do abortions even though they may never perform one !!!! She basically called Christian women wanting to learn about serving God the same as someone who knows how to kill babies !!!!!!!!!!!!! she called them accomplices to murder!!!!!!!!!!

    and she further stated that SBC and other seminaries who let women take those classes are sinners who need to repent if they allow women to take those classes !!!!!!!!!!

    Outrageous! Simply outrageous!

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Hola. Vemos que este es el tercer artículo de este mes que ha encontrado que vale la pena leer. ¡Estupendo! ¿Consideraría hacer una donación deducible de impuestos para ayudar a nuestros periodistas a continuar informando la verdad y restaurar la iglesia?

Su donación deducible de impuestos ayuda a nuestros periodistas a informar la verdad y responsabilizar a los líderes y organizaciones cristianos. Haga una donación de $30 o más a The Roys Report este mes y recibirá una copia de “¿Y si Jesús hablara en serio acerca de la Iglesia?” por Skye Jethani.