ACP: Churches up in 2016; baptisms, membership decline

Southern Baptists experienced growth in the number of churches that cooperate with the SBC in 2016, according to the latest Annual Church Profile report (ACP).

However, other key measures declined in 2016, including membership, baptisms, average worship attendance and total giving, according to the ACP compiled by LifeWay Christian Resources in cooperation with Baptist state conventions.

The number of churches cooperating with the Southern Baptist Convention grew by 479 to 47,272, a 1 percent increase over 2015. The number of Southern Baptist churches has increased the last 18 years. Southern Baptist churches also reported 4,492 church-type missions last year.

Although the number of cooperating Southern Baptist congregations grew, reported membership of those churches declined by 77,786, down 0.51 percent to 15.2 million members. Average weekly worship attendance declined 6.75 percent to 5.2 million worshippers.

Southern Baptist churches baptized 280,773 people in 2016, a 4.89 percent decline from the 295,212 reported in 2015. The ratio of baptisms to total members was one baptism for every 54 members.

“We would be remiss in not giving thanks for every baptism and every new follower of Christ,” said LifeWay president and CEO Thom S. Rainer.

Southern Baptists have seen a decline in the number of baptisms for several years, he said. “It’s clear that evangelism and discipleship are waning. I don’t believe it is due to the lack of opportunities, though. Instead, there is a lack of engagement.”

Rainer said while most churchgoers believe it’s their personal responsibility to share their faith, most never do.

“We should follow Christ’s example and pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers,” Rainer said. “Let us pray that God will send out the workers in our pews to engage those who don’t yet know Him.”

Rainer said he is thankful for SBC President Steve Gaines’ emphasis on prayer for spiritual awakening at this year’s annual meeting.

Frank S. Page, SBC Executive Committee president and CEO, noted “virtually everyone who sees these figures will react negatively and lament the poor state of our churches, our lack of evangelistic fervor, and our increasingly irrelevant programs. Indeed, we all should.

“However, the stark reality of these numbers should cause each of us to look inwardly,” he said. “Am I sharing the Gospel as I should? Am I developing relationships with family, friends, coworkers and others with whom I can gain an opportunity to share the good news? Am I burdened for the lost and praying for their salvation?”

(LifeWay Insights graphic)

Giving & missions expenditures

Giving among Southern Baptists was down slightly in 2016. Undesignated church receipts increased 0.67 percent to $9.2 billion. However, total church receipts reported through the ACP decreased 0.73 percent to 11.5 billion.

Total missions expenditures also decreased 1.3 percent to $1.19 billion.

Giving through Southern Baptists’ Cooperative Program (CP) mission initiative is not broken out in the ACP annual report. Instead, CP totals are reported by the SBC Executive Committee, which facilitates the mission gifts to the SBC’s national and international missions and ministries.

With the release of the total number of churches through the ACP report, the Executive Committee has calculated the average CP percentage from the convention’s cooperating churches for 2015-2016 as 5.16 percent, down 0.02 percent from last year’s 5.18 percent, according to Page. The states reported receiving a total of $475,212,293 in CP gifts in 2015–2016, of which $190,468,781, or 40.08 percent, was forwarded to the Executive Committee for distribution through the SBC Cooperative Program allocation budget.

The ACP is an annual statistical report churches voluntarily provide to their local Baptist associations and/or their state conventions. National totals are compiled and released after all cooperating state conventions have reported.

— Carol Pipes is director of communications for LifeWay Christian Resources.