A lot of smart SBC people have looked at the summary of SBC statistics that were just made public and know a lot more than I do. The Baptist Press article, SBC reports more churches, fewer people by LifeWay writer Carol Pipes is what we usually get, almost a template where the numbers are changed from year to year. So…
1. There are more SBC churches. 46,499 in 2014, up 374 from the previous year. Hey, that’s about nine churches per state convention. I get the sense here (Georgia, near Atlanta, hotbed of pop-up, generic-name churches) that there is some replacement ecclesiology going on. It is rank speculation on my part, but it’s sort of like that old McDonald’s that was beyond renovation – tear it down and start something new. Call this increase good but mostly flat, less than one percent. On a sunny day when the birds are singing, I’d say that NAMB and the states are doing a good job with church planters and church planting.
2. Baptisms are down about 5,000. Look for this figure to be quickly Stetzerized, a continuance of a long, long trend downward, very slowly…decades old. I predict an increase when 2015’s baptisms are reported a year from now – up one year, down three…down long term.
3. Undesignated giving is down slightly. What is troublesome is that 2014 saw economic growth, rising stock market, and returning jobs. The older, heavier church givers are dying. After that, most don’t drop that tithe check in the plate on Sunday.
4. Great Commission Giving figures should be ignored. The state conventions of Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma don’t ask churches to report this. Lots of people were not happy that this category of giving was created. Maybe a bit of passive-aggressive behavior from these states? Hey, no one at LifeWay enforces ACP reporting.
There are so many footnotes to these statistical tables that might make big differences in the figures. Georgia, for example, reports “total membership” based on change from previous year reporting of “resident membership.”
Oh, and the tables include 9,731 churches that didn’t report at all in 2014. LifeWay just carried figures over from 2013 on those. Nothing nefarious in that. I think that has been the practice. I hear that about 20% of churches don’t complete the ACP. Can’t say that it was the highlight of the year when I was pastoring.
It looks to me like the numbers are less trustworthy as the years pass, although no one should presume that whatever numbers are coughed up by the ACP report anything but a slightly declining SBC.
Among the state conventions, Alabama reported almost a hundred fewer churches and a reduction of over two percent in total mission giving. I’d brag on Georgia but we have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” system for total mission giving. See LifeWay’s footnote. Iowa’s mission giving is up. South Carolina’s is up over four percent (the SC Baptist Convention sends money directly to the IMB. Make of that what you will). Their mission giving is up.
I appreciate the expressions of concern by our leaders but they don’t have a lot to do with what a given church or pastor does. The most salient comment I could make about these aggregate SBC and state convention statistics is that no pastor is responsible for what the SBC does or doesn’t do or what his state does or doesn’t do. Most of us always had a lot that needed to be done in our own church.