Right before our non-convention comes the release of the SBC Annual Statistical Report. For some years it has been lamentable; thus, my personal descriptor of it as the “annual SBC statistical weepfest.” General reaction from denominational leaders usually ranges from despair to depression and calls for SBCers to do better are noised about widely, the thought being if we just worked harder, prayed more, witnessed more, and had more money and programs we would be seeing mid-twentieth century rocket ship numbers.
Baptist Press story: Southern Baptist Convention continues statistical decline, Floyd calls for rethinking ACP process.
More on Floyd’s clarion call for statistical simplicity down this article a bit. So, how bad was it?
- Membership was down about 2%, with 287,655 members lost. The total membership number, 14.5 million, is the softest of soft numbers. Has been forever. My colleagues can look at their own church and see a number and judge what exactly it means. But we have been collecting this metric for scores of years and the year-to-year comparisons are generally legit. We are a declining convention by this measure. (The integrity in church membership movement is a sham ploy BTW. Churches should keep the membership numbers they feel led to keep and report what they want to report.} Inexplicably, the Oklahoma state convention didn’t even ask their churches for this number. Explain that Sooners.
- Baptisms were down about 4.5% with 10,694 less than the previous year. That’s about five per church or mission which doesn’t sound too bad. SBCers should take this lockdown time to make more babies, since that’s a major component of baptism numbers. We have more kids. We have more baptisms. Simple as that. I had thought that we would see an increase in baptisms this year. My reading of the tea leaves was incorrect. File that away when I speculate about future years.
- Total churches were up by 74, insignificant statistically but any positive number gets touted. We know there are church closures and mergers. NAMB is planting churches. Some states and other groups are as well. Good for them or we would be down here as well.
- We’re counting satellite locations, multisite congregations these days. The number of “additional campuses” is 505. That number is not added to total churches or church type missions. I’ll have to look a little deeper here. Basically, the ACP hasn’t folded this number in with churches to make the number look better. One church with ten sites is one church in the ACP.
- Average weekly worship attendance dropped about a percent to 5,250,230.
- Giving was down 1.44%
More on the data later but one typical manner in which denominational leaders and others handle these statistical reports is to decry the lack of reporting.
“If all of our churches would just report then things would look better.” Implied in this statement is that things aren’t as bad as they look.
This is a wrongheaded and silly notion. We’ve never had total participation in ACP reporting and LifeWay has protocols to adjust numbers somewhat to reflect non-reporting churches.
So, what about Ronnie Floyd’s call to rethink the process? Here’s what he said:
“In our high-tech world, our processes cannot have this much lag time,” Floyd said. “It simply cannot take this long and be this complicated. It is past time for us to rethink and re-innovate the SBC Annual Church Profile process.”
With about forty years of ACP experience, I agree with him on this. I don’t know how successful he would be to try and lead the stakeholders in the process to a new, truly uniform, simpler, more timely statistical reporting.
State conventions tweak the ACP for their state. Oklahoma didn’t ask for total membership. Two states didn’t ask for total receipts. Four states didn’t ask for “other additions,” i.e., membership increases that weren’t baptisms. There is general rebellion against reporting Great Commission Giving with seven states not asking for that number. Six states didn’t even ask for total mission expenditures.
If Ronnie could get state conventions on board as a group with a consistent approach to the ACP, that would help, I think. I’ve never liked the reporting in mid-year. Seems like calendar year reporting would make better sense. Churches have a lot of slack time in January.
But, I’d agree that our main problem is not statistical or demographical but spiritual. We can all do better.
There’s a bit of glee noised about when this report comes out and is again negative. You should have no trouble finding a raft of articles and tweets about what great news it is that the SBC is hemorrhaging. Word for the critics: The SBC is still a huge organization with enormous funding streams. It will remain that for the forseeable future.