SBC baptisms increase in 2011, but membership shrinks

The Southern Baptist Convention in 2011 reported an increase in the number of baptisms and total churches over the previous year, but declined in total membership, according to the Annual Church Profile (ACP) compiled by LifeWay Christian Resources in cooperation with Baptist state conventions.

Southern Baptist churches baptized 333,341 in 2011, a 0.70 percent increase from the 331,008 reported in the SBC Annual last year. Total membership in 2011, reported at 15,978,112, represents a 0.98 percent drop from 16,136,044 reported the previous year and is the fifth straight year of decline.

The number of churches in the SBC in 2011 totaled 45,764 – a slight 0.08 percent increase over the previous year, even though primary worship attendance declined 0.65 percent in 2011, to 6,155,116.

“An increase in baptisms is something to be celebrated,” said Thom S. Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay. “God’s Word is being proclaimed and God’s Spirit is continuing to move in the hearts of people, drawing them to repentance. This is something that should excite us as Christians who care about the Great Commission.”

While the SBC increased by 37 churches, Rainer noted this is one of the smallest increases in the last 40 years. Factoring in a decrease of 1.18 percent in the “church-type missions operating” category – 4,952 reported in 2011 after 5,011 in 2010 – indicates a decline in the growth of the number of congregations.

Rainer added, however, that “Southern Baptists continue to be a giving people, even in challenging economic times,” pointing to $1.33 billion in reported total mission expenditures, a $26.2 million increase from 2010.

The 2011 ACP included a new category called Great Commission Giving, which totaled $695,694,322 (with four state conventions not reporting). The category was added following the approval of a recommendation brought before the SBC annual meeting in Phoenix on June 14, 2011, to add to the ACP each church’s financial commitment to Southern Baptist mission enterprises.

The recommendation also reaffirmed the SBC Cooperative Program and encouraged churches to increase their CP contributions by 2.5 percent of undesignated receipts by the end of the 2013 calendar year.

The Cooperative Program is a voluntary contribution from local churches that supports mission efforts in individual states, throughout the United States and around the world. CP also funds six seminaries, the International Mission Board, the North American Mission Board and other SBC entities (except LifeWay and GuideStone Financial Resources, which are self-funding). – LifeWay