A Southern Baptist Church to Establish in 2020, But Baptisms … | News & Reports
Southern Baptists have seen an increase in church planting and have maintained relatively stable donation levels despite COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020. But overall, the denomination has seen another year of decline, the pandemic accelerating historically sharp declines in enrollment and baptism.
The country’s largest Protestant denomination has shrunk for 14 consecutive years, falling to 14 million after losing 436,000 members last year, according to the Annual Church Profile released Thursday by the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Baptisms soaked by almost half from one year to the next.
“The effect of COVID-19 on the statistics for 2020 is undeniable. Yet 2020 is only the last year of continued decline in the major categories ”, tweeted Mike Stone, a pastor in Georgia who is in the running for president of the SBC. “Southern Baptists need a movement from God. Let us pray and work for this. “
For years pastors and denominational leaders have responded to the dwindling numbers by calling for a renewed focus on missions. The year 2020 has shown promising signs of progress on the mission field, adding 588 new church plants in the United States and more than 18,000 abroad, both figures are up from the previous year.
But the growth has not offset the downward trend in the membership as a whole. Researcher Ryan Burge wrote last year that generational change will be the biggest accelerator of losses in the SBC, as the denomination ages and members die.
According to Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research, losing more of its older members to COVID-19 is likely one of the factors behind the 2020 drop. Membership fell 2% in 2019, the highest decline in SBC in a century. Last year – as congregations removed inactive members from their lists and saw fewer people joining during closures – the drop was 3%.
Churches were also less likely to participate in this year’s annual compilation; 69% provided data, compared to 75% in previous years. While not a complete picture, the annual Church Profile is the denomination’s best look at Southern Baptist trends. Executives are still grappling with what last year’s numbers will mean for the SBC in the long run.
“It may take years for us to know the full effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on our churches,” said Ronnie Floyd, chairman of the SBC executive committee, in his comments to Baptist press. “There are lessons to be learned from 2020 as we put it behind us – such as the vital need for collective worship, the value of being creative in developing ways to share the gospel, and how much local communities need. our churches to exercise a difficult ministry. conditions. “
Church planting represents a positive point in the midst of the declining trend; the number of SBC churches launched in the United States in 2020 was 588, an increase from 552 the year before. Southern Baptists have planted 8,200 churches in North America since 2010, a rate that, according to researcher Ed Stetzer, is equivalent to “replanting the name every few decades.”
“Well, the SBC continues its downtrend for sure, but the church planting numbers are a reminder that the North American Mission Board is planning more than anyone else and has continued to do so over the past year. ‘a remarkably difficult year,’ said Stetzer, director. director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center. “If Southern Baptists find a way to a better future, the route goes through church planting territory.”
Kevin Ezell, chair of the North American Mission Board, the body that oversees national evangelism and mission, told CT he was encouraged by their work in 2020, but he was also looking forward to it.
“The number that matters most to me is the number of survivors after four years. Right now that survival rate hovers around 80%, which is incredibly high, ”he said. “But planting 588 churches during lockdowns and social distancing demonstrates that Southern Baptists have a strong church planting network and a solid financial commitment that withstands the toughest challenges.
Even in a year when many churches were closed or digital-only during lockdowns, and even with fewer churches reporting, donations have remained relatively stable – down less than 1 percent to $ 11.5 billion. SBC churches spent $ 1 billion on missions in 2020.
The annual report comes less than a month before Southern Baptists gathered in Nashville in June for their annual meeting, the first since the pandemic. Leaders are expected to address the denomination’s declining trends as well as recent debates over their approach to politics, race, women and abuse.
“A convention perpetually at war with itself cannot do what God has called it to do: sue the Great Commission,” SBC outgoing chairman JD Greear said in a statement. “There are voices calling us [to] come to Nashville to divide even more over things that are beyond the scope of our statement of faith and therefore best left to the autonomy of the churches. This will surely send us further into decline. “
Baptisms have declined as fewer converts join SBC churches and have been put on hold in many churches due to the pandemic. Historically, this has been the historical measure of the denomination. “It’s not just a matter of pride; it’s also proof that the SBC is carrying out the Great Commission, ”said Barry Hankins, historian at Baylor University. “It’s not hard to imagine a sense of bewilderment if not hopelessness in the face of the continued decline in baptisms and membership in the SBC.”
Adam W. Greenway, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, said Southern Baptist leaders continue to respond with urgency.
“We are in desperate need of a great movement from God among our people that these statistics should bring us all to our knees in prayer,” he said. “The data also underscores the critical need to provide the best theological education to prepare the next generation of pastors and church leaders for the challenges of ministry today.”