As I explained in the podcast, I think all kinds of things are affecting these numbers — besides COVID-19 and the fact that denominations today tend to do a better job with stats in general, in the age of computers.
At the same time, as Burge has noted, the SBC Is clearly losing untold thousands of members to nondenominational evangelical churches — the fastest growing part of the American religion marketplace. Most of these, frankly, look and sound like Southern Baptist flocks all along the doctrinal and cultural spectrum.
It’s also true that the Southern Baptist Convention simply doesn’t have, for doctrinal reasons, a charismatic-Pentecostal wing. That’s another growing part of American (and global) religion and lots of SBCers are probably headed over there.
This brings us to the side effects of the claims that the current SBC leadership is somehow “woke” and veering left. In part, this is almost certainly — trigger warning: my opinion — linked to the Donald Trump era in ways that have more to do with style, culture and online warfare than outright politics.
But Trump the man and Trump the politician caused major tensions in mainstream evangelicalism, especially among donors, and the SBC got caught in that crossfire. Also, debates about how to deal with sexual abuse in churches have created fire and heat. The coronavirus pandemic divided many Baptists, along with everybody else. Debates about the ordination of women are back on the front burner, for now.
If I was a reporter seeking a window into nuts-and-bolts SBC life, I would try to get some stats on whether the number of marriages is rising or falling (almost certainly the latter). Are Southern Baptists sliding into American suburban patterns when it comes to birth rate, as well?
Then there are arguments about CRT — Critical Race Theory. Some SBC leaders have attacked CRT — period. Others have said that parts of CRT, a term that’s hard to define, are valid and that other parts are, for theological reasons, unsound. For others, anyone attacking CRT at all is flirting with racism.
Over the past two decades, as SBC growth slowed and then slid into decline, Black SBC congregations grew in number, size and clout. Latino missions have grown, too.
Journalists need to know that. If the “woke” wars have, in any way, discouraged work in Black SBC churches, l then that’s part of this stark statistical landscape.
In conclusion, let me return to an important part of the aforementioned Burge post — focusing on baptism statistics. Read this carefully:
The Southern Baptist annual baptism numbers were really strongly back around 2010. In fact, they baptized more than 300,000 people annually from 2009 through 2014. That’s really good! That’s ~2% of all the members of Southern Baptist churches being baptized each year.
A good example is 2012: lost 106K members, but baptized 315K. Lots of people heading for the exits, but also a lot more joining churches. Good signs.
However, all those indicators have turned the wrong direction now. Obviously COVID had a deleterious impact on baptisms—they dropped to just 123,000 in 2020, and they have rebounded a bit. Yet in 2022 they were just 180,000—about half the rate that was reported in 2009.
In 2012, there were 3 baptisms for every member lost.
In 2022, there were 2.7 members lost for every baptism.
That math just ain’t mathing.
No denomination can sustain losses like the SBC is experiencing and not be fundamentally changed.
The official Baptist Press report on these numbers included some other interesting baptism numbers, with a few state-by-state information bytes that might surprise outsiders.
As more people gathered in person (for worship), they witnessed more baptisms. In 2022, Southern Baptist congregations baptized 180,177 people, a 16% increase over 2021. …
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).
OK, that isn’t surprising. Tell us something that we didn’t know?
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) conventions.
Baptism trends — which often show trends in growth and evangelism — are actually better outside the Bible Belt?
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FIRST IMAGE: Public domain art featured with “What We Miss When We Skip the Book of Numbers“ post at the Knowable Word website.