Southern Religion

How many Southern Baptists?

Usually with a straight face, various news services reported this week that in 2006-2007, according to the latest edition of the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, the number of Southern Baptists declined 0.24% to 16.2 million members.

Annual % change in SBC membership

Annual % change in SBC membership

Surely no one thinks that “16.2 million” number refers to real, active members? Not for a denomination with a “50 year trend” of declining growth that has become real decline.

Real membership begins with baptism. Southern Baptist decline in baptisms is old news. USA Today reported last March:

Baptisms last year [2007] dropped nearly 5.5 percent to 345,941, compared with 364,826 in 2006, according to an annual report released Wednesday by LifeWay . . . . baptisms peaked in 1972 at 445,725 . . . .

As for active members, their comparatively small number is older news. In 2000, Ernest C. Reisinger and D. Matthew Allen wrote:

The Wall Street Journal reported in 1990 that, of the 14.9 million members of Southern Baptist churches (according to an official count), over 4.4 million are “non-resident members.” This means they are members with whom the church has lost touch. Another 3 million hadn’t attended church or donated to a church in the past year. That left about 7.4 million “active” members. However, according to Sunday School consultant Glenn Smith, even this is misleading, because included in this “active” figure are those members who only attended once a year at Easter or Christmas.

For those with time to spare, has a mind-numbing list of somewhat contradictory claims.

Writing about the “16-million-member Southern Baptist Convention” is somewhat like publishing the transcript of an interview with Bigfoot. Thus defined, with grossly inflated numbers which imply Christian solders in the field, it apparently doesn’t exist.

February 28, 2009 - Posted by | Churches, Religion | , , , ,

1 Comment

  1. […] is not rushing to the reconciliation offered by Pope Benedict XVI Debate over church statistics, and assignment of theological blame, is not unique to the Southern Baptist Convention, as we may […]

    Pingback by SSPX is not rushing to the reconciliation offered by Pope Benedict XVI « BaptistPlanet | March 2, 2009

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