Just prior to each year’s annual meeting LifeWay releases the previous year’s Annual Church Profile statistical summary. Baptist Press reported on it yesterday, ACP: Worship attendance rises, baptisms decline. Last year I had an article on the previous year’s data: ACP 2016 Stats: Add a chapter to Lamentations. There’s a pattern here and I have the freedom to be more creative in my titles than BP.
Here are some highlights and lowlights from the 2017 data:
1. Baptisms are down, and by almost 10 percent. We in the SBC are highly spiritual and prefer not to talk about money. Baptisms are the coin-of-the-realm. If they’re down, we’re down. They have been trending down consistently for years. Churches reported 254,122 baptisms, 26,651 less than 2016. I have a medium-term solution: start having more babies. In a decade numbers will be up. Steve Gaines’ all-male Evangelism Task Force, chaired by none other than Paige Patterson, will report to the convention this year. Let’s see if they have a better idea than I.
2. The number of churches are up a tiny bit. It’s extremely difficult to close an SBC church, so this figure is easier to manage. There were 272 churches added, an increase of 0.58%. That’s not impressive but good.
3. Church membership is down slightly. We are at 15,005,638 members now and dropped by 1.39% from last year. First person to say “15 million strong” has to stand in the corner.
4. Weekly worship average attendance is up significantly. The percentage increase is small, 2.3% but that’s good, since the change last year was down by more than double that.
Overall there’s nothing much to brag about in all this, although we should brag on every single baptism. No need to despair. I’m not agonizing over declining numbers. I do my job. You do your job. I don’t think Jesus holds us accountable for denominational trends and results.
The most significant item in the 2017 statistical report is this: the number of churches that report their data through the Annual Church Profile dropped to 74% of all churches. Over 12,000 SBC churches did not file an ACP report last year. The reporting percentage was 80% in 2013. Looks to me like an additional 500 or more churches per year drop the report. It is good to see that “LifeWay Research plans to release statistical analysis of the current state of the SBC that includes estimates of the congregations that did not report.” I look forward to seeing that.
Adrian would say: “Don’t brag, don’t sag, don’t lag, and don’t nag.” There’s been too much of all of that in the Good Old SBC.
Coming next week: a look at the state conventions.