Roundup of Fresh Stats on America’s Largest Protestant Denomination
As Southern Baptists prepare for next week's annual meeting, LifeWay's Annual Church Profile indicates that though membership continues to slide and baptisms and churches barely increased, giving saw strong growth.
For the fifth straight year, total membership in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) declined. Membership fell nearly one percentage point to just less than 16 million members. Baptisms and the number of churches rose slightly—by 0.70 percent and 0.08 percent, respectively. Baptisms hit a 60-year low for the denomination, though still totaled more than 330,000. The denomination planted almost 1,000 new churches, of which 50 percent were non-Anglo; however, the net gain of 37 churches was one of the lowest totals in 40 years.
Meanwhile, SBC members gave $1.33 billion last year, a $26.2 million increase from 2010. That news comes on the heels of a report from the SBC's International Mission Board, which stated that $146.8 million was donated to the annual Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions—the fourth-highest total since the offering began 123 years ago (though it was still short of the $175 million goal). The offering helps support nearly 5,000 missionaries worldwide.
LifeWay's Annual Church Profile follows last week's report that more than half of SBC pastors do not plan to use the informal name recommended in February by a task force that analyzed a possible name change for the convention.
The task force, established by SBC president Bryant Wright, suggested that the SBC keep its legal name but use "Great Commission Baptists" as an informal option for those who want to use it. Wright set up the task force last fall over concerns that the term "Southern Baptist" was too regional and could potentially impede the convention's growth.
LifeWay's report indicated that more than 70 percent of pastors thought the "Southern Baptist Convention" name should continue to be used, though 40 percent of pastors said they haven't discussed or decided on the issue yet.
SBC messengers will consider the task force's recommendation during the annual meeting in New Orleans next week. Other proposed resolutions (that have been floated in Baptist media but not confirmed by the resolution committee) include affirming the use of a sinner's prayer as a "biblically sound" part of evangelism and rejecting the idea that same-sex marriage is a civil rights issue (disagreeing that sexuality and race are equal characteristics).