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Southern Baptists Lost Nearly Half A Million Members in 2022

By Bob Smietana
southern baptist convention
Choir members are silhouetted as they get ready for a worship service at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in Anaheim, Calif., Tuesday, June 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

The long, slow decline of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination continues.

Membership in the Southern Baptist Convention was down by nearly half a million in 2022, according to a recently released denomination report. Nashville-based Lifeway Research reported Tuesday that the SBC had 13.2 million members in 2022, down from 13.68 million in 2021. That loss of 457,371 members is the largest in more than a century, according to the Annual Church Profile compiled by Lifeway.

Once a denomination of 16.3 million, the SBC has declined by 1.5 million members since 2018, and by more than 3 million members since 2006. The COVID-19 pandemic played a role in the downturn, as did the reality that as older members die off, there are fewer young people to replace them.

The denomination has also been in a constant state of crisis in recent years, including a major sex abuse scandal, controversies over race and an ongoing feud over the denomination’s leadership and future direction. 

Church membership rolls had also likely been filled with people who were no longer part of the congregation.

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SBC attedance
“SBC membership falls to lowest number since late 1970s” (Graphic courtesy of Lifeway Research)

“Much of the downward movement we are seeing in membership reflects people who stopped participating in an individual congregation years ago and the record keeping is finally catching up,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research, in a statement about the report.

The denomination also lost 416 churches and another 165 “church-type” missions, according to the report.

Even as membership dropped, attendance at worship services continues to recover from pandemic lows. Attendance was up 5% to 3.8 million in 2022, after falling from 4.4 million in 2020 to 3.6 million in 2021, due largely to COVID-19 disruptions.

SBC membership
“SBC membership continues decline, attendance rebounds post-COVID” (Graphic courtesy of Lifeway Research)

Churches reported 180,177 baptisms for 2022, up 16% from 2021. Like attendance, baptisms took a steep hit during the pandemic, from 235,748 in 2019 to 123,160 in 2020. Baptism numbers then began increasing in 2021.

SBC baptisms
“SBC baptisms rebound some after COVID-19 collapse” (Graphic courtesy of Lifeway Research)

Despite the decline in members, giving to the SBC remained steady. Receipts at SBC churches totaled nearly $10 billion, up 2% from 2021.

The SBC will hold its annual meeting June 13-14 in New Orleans. There, delegates — known as messengers — from local churches will hear an update from a task force charged with implementing abuse reforms and elect a president for the denomination. The current president, Texas pastor Bart Barber, faces a challenge from Georgia pastor Mike Stone, who narrowly lost the presidential election to Ed Litton in 2021. 

Messengers at the meeting will also discuss the role of women in church leadership. Earlier this year, the SBC’s Executive Committee voted to expel several churches for having women pastors, including Saddleback Church, a California megachurch and one of the denomination’s largest congregations, for having women pastors. Saddleback is expected to appeal that decision.

A Virginia pastor has also proposed an amendment to the SBC’s constitution that would bar churches with women pastors from being part of the denomination. The SBC’s statement of faith limits the office of pastor to men — but churches disagree on whether that limit applies only to the role of senior pastors or to all pastoral roles at churches. 

Bob SmietanaBob Smietana is a national reporter for Religion News Service.



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10 thoughts on “Southern Baptists Lost Nearly Half A Million Members in 2022”

  1. When it’s man’s hubris vs gods love. Man will lose every time. Oh remember woman ain’t part of the equation. Our churches have devolved in fiefdoms with kings ruling over the peasantry vs leader’s following Jesus teaching. Rock star musicians and rock star pastors. All pretending to seek his glory. Yeah right.

  2. Does that decline in membership include the membership numbers of the churches they kicked out? If so, just the Saddleback numbers would be a significant part of that decline.

  3. Marin Heiskell

    Oh, SBC. When you ignore, downplay, and defend abuse (and abusers), and deny and denigrade diversity in an increasingly-diverse world, what do you think will happen?
    You’re fast forwarding towards irrelevancy in a world where the gospel is more relevant than ever. The gospel. Try getting back to it.

    1. I doubt the SBC abuse scandals played a major role in the recent decline. This is a generational issue where an increasing number of consecutive younger generations are choosing not to follow in their family’s faith tradition. It’s been going on in Western nations for at least 50 years — I was part of the first generation to do it in the UK way back in late 70s/early 80s, and we can’t even blame the Internet for that! The vast majority of my classmates attended Sunday school as a kid, but didn’t attend church when they grew up.

      The US as a whole — probably because of the disestablished nature of the church (ironically, given the desire of many conservatives to establish Christianity as the state religion) and the more conservative nature of the US in general — has been more resistant to the wider trend away from participatory Christianity, but that trend was only delayed, not avoided.

  4. Amy before moving to another state I belonged to saddleback church. I’ll bet on a good day maybe 20% knew we were part of the SBC. When they made the first threat most of us said “we’re part of a Baptist organization”?

  5. Michael Barley

    The number of members the SBC has lost in the past 5 years would be the 13th largest denomination in the USA.

  6. Pam Pollenkoff

    Among the many problems the Baptist denomination has is the one where every time someone in leadership has a thought, they feel they have to announce it as if it affects the rest of the world. Maybe sitting down for a long while and engaging in some serious introspection would make a difference. Their yakking about themselves as they’re in constant turmoil is not helping their image.

  7. It was inevitable that some portion of church attendees, especially young people, would discover they didn’t miss Sunday morning services, or found something else to do with their time during the pandemic.

    I think older people often forget just how much more competition there is for people’s free time than there was in our grandparents’ day, when church was the only game in town on a Sunday morning across most of the USA. Even when compared with a decade or two ago, the relentless capitalistic drive to offer people — and young people especially — new ways to spend their time and money has made it more difficult for churches to compete for their free time. After all Sunday morning is almost a quarter of the weekend, and is fair game these days for the corporations.

    Many people will hate to admit it, but capitalism is one of the major causes for the decline in Christian observance in the US, and regular visitors to this site can see how it can all go terribly wrong when churches try to ape the culture of capitalism in an attempt to compete…

  8. Michael Nelson

    You have two things going on in American Churches. One loves the Lacodicean lifestyle and the other has no life at all.
    Leonard Ravenhill said it best:
    Many churches bring the menu but don’t deliver the food.
    It’s like God isn’t pleased with how we do church.

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