The mythical 16-million-member Southern Baptist Convention shrinks again
With a straight face, news services reported this week that in 2008-2009, the number of Southern Baptists declined 0.42% to 16.1 million members. It is the third straight year of decline, according to the 2011 Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches.
Yet those are grossly misleading numbers. They say nothing of value about the number of active members, and it is old news that active membership is perhaps one-third of those reported membership numbers.
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.
More recent numbers from Jim Ellif’s Founders Ministries article are even smaller:
Out of the Southern Baptist’s 16,287,494 members, only 6,024,289, or 37%, on average, show up for their church’s primary worship meeting (usually Sunday morning). This is according to the Strategic Information and Planning department of the Sunday School Board (2004 statistics).
No need to belabor the point. That 16.1-million-member Southern Baptist Convention is as much of a myth as Bigfoot.
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