Southern Baptists grow in attendance and baptisms, decline in membership

For the second straight year, baptisms and giving increased among Southern Baptist congregations. In-person worship service and small group attendance also rebounded, but total membership and the number of congregations slid.

The Annual Church Profile compiled by Lifeway Christian Resources in cooperation with Baptist state conventions paints a complicated picture for the Southern Baptist Convention but contains some positive news. In 2022, baptisms increased by more than 16 percent, in-person worship attendance climbed by more than 5 percent, small group attendance grew by 4 percent, and giving to Southern Baptist congregations ticked up by almost 2 percent.

The total membership of the Southern Baptist Convention, however, continued its downward trajectory. The current total membership of Southern Baptist congregations is 13,223,122, down from 13,680,493 in 2021. The 457,371 members lost is the largest single-year numerical drop in more than 100 years. In total, Southern Baptist churches have suffered membership declines of about 3 percent annually the past three years.

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

“Membership totals for a congregation immediately reflect additions as well as subtractions due to death or someone removing themselves from membership. But many congregations are slow to remove others who no longer are participating.”

Within the Southern Baptist Convention, multi-site congregations reported 585 campuses in addition to their first location. The SBC saw 416 fewer churches and 165 fewer church-type missions associated with the convention in 2022 than in the previous year.

REBOUNDING ATTENDANCE NUMBERS

Emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, Southern Baptist congregations saw the return of additional in-person worshipers. More than 3.8 million individuals attended a Southern Baptist congregation on an average weekend in 2022, a 5 percent increase over the 3.6 million who did so in 2021.

Six states averaged more than 200,000 attendees each weekend in Southern Baptist congregations: Texas (438,865), Georgia (378,520), Florida (362,808), North Carolina (310,722), Tennessee (262,249), and Alabama (207,232).

Small group participation also grew overall, climbing 4 percent (almost 100,000 people) in 2022. A total of 2.3 million individuals were part of in-person Sunday school classes or small groups at a Southern Baptist congregation on the average weekend.

Eight states had an average of 100,000 or more participants each weekend for small groups in Southern Baptist congregations: Texas (280,113), Georgia (232,016), Florida (210,306), North Carolina (189,800), Tennessee (148,214), Alabama (136,956), Mississippi (109,897), and Oklahoma (102,719).

On average, 61 percent of those who attend a Southern Baptist congregation on any given weekend are involved in a Sunday school class or small group.

INCREASE IN BAPTISMS AND GIVING

As more people gathered in-person, they witnessed more baptisms. In 2022, Southern Baptist congregations baptized 180,177 people, a 16 percent increase over 2021.

“Everything we do at NAMB is focused on helping Southern Baptist churches advance the gospel,” said Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board. “I’m encouraged by the increase in baptisms, although I know we are far from where we would like to be. In some states, 30 percent or more of baptisms are coming from churches started since 2010. We must remain focused on starting new, evangelistic churches and on replanting dying churches — but to really see a positive turnaround, established churches must lead the way by reaching and baptizing the lost. NAMB is here to help any church that wants to be more engaged in evangelism.”

States with the most baptisms in Southern Baptist congregations in 2022 were Florida (22,015), Texas (20,540), Tennessee (15,975), Georgia (15,021) and North Carolina (11,325).

In 2022, Southern Baptist congregations averaged one baptism for every 73 members. Several state conventions had a much lower ratio of baptisms to members, including seven who baptized at least one person for every 25 members: Montana (1:14), Iowa (1:15), Pennsylvania-South Jersey (1:15), Dakota (1:16), New England (1:17), Michigan (1:21), New York (1:23), New Mexico (1:25), and Puerto Rico (1:25).

“Baptisms reported through the Annual Church Profile represent individuals saved, baptized, and set on the road to discipleship,” said Willie D. McLaurin, interim president and CEO, SBC Executive Committee. “I am incredibly proud of local churches that have stayed steady with advancing the gospel in their harvest field. The increase is a significant turning point in fulfilling the Great Commission.”

Among the state conventions that collected financial information, giving increased among Southern Baptists. In 2022, undesignated receipts totaled more than $9.9 billion, an almost 2 percent increase over 2021. Around 7 in 10 Southern Baptist churches (69 percent) reported at least one item on the 2022 ACP, similar to the 70 percent who reported in 2021.

“The increased generosity among churches is a high point in the Annual Church Profile. In a season where pennies are having to be pinched and spending is strategic, church members are demonstrating an increased dependence upon their faith in God,” said McLaurin. “I am thankful for local Southern Baptist pastors who are equipping their members in biblical stewardship and casting a vision to reach the world for Jesus.”

— Aaron Earls is a writer for Lifeway Christian Resources.