By Victor Ochieng
The declining membership in the Southern Baptist Church is nothing less than worrying. According to statistics, the church has lost a total of one million members over the past decade, this being the 10th straight year it’s experiencing slumping numbers.
Even though the church posted a slower pace in membership decline compared to last year, baptisms slipped to its lowest in 70 years, states a statistical report released ahead of the 2017 SBC annual meeting set for June 13-14 in Phoenix, Arizona.
The latest postings by the LifeWay Christian Resources Annual Church Profile indicate that Southern Baptist has 47,272 churches, with a combined membership of 15,216,978 for the church year 2016. Compared to the 2015 church year, the new figure represents a drop of 77,786, about half a percentage point. In the year 2014/2015, the church lost 204,409 members and 236,467 in the year before. Today the church has 1 million fewer members compared to 10 years ago.
Just to show that things aren’t right, baptisms have dropped for the fifth straight year, with the latest being 280,773 in a complete church year, the lowest to be registered since 1946’s 253,361. It was in 1948 when Southern Baptist crossed the 300,000 mark in the number of baptisms and surpassed that mark until things changed in 2015. In 1972, the church registered 445,725, being their highest ever.
Things started getting murky for the church in 1980, the advent of a decade-long controversy that hit the church over scriptural inerrancy that saw splits in the church, leading to the formation of new groups such as the Alliance of Baptists and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Since then, the number of baptisms posted per year has experienced a drop of more than 30%.
Some have been left wondering where members go when they leave the church. Most of the explanations given for the decline are basically opinions rather than verifiable statistics.
Some of the reasons that have been floated include lack of potential members even as the fertility rate of SBC members also face the decline.
Economic hardships are driving people to work more hours is also seen as a factor, with more members choosing to work throughout the week to meet their bills. At the same time, there is a general decline in excitement about formal religion, resulting in lesser baptisms. Some have also argued that the decline in membership is due to the fact that SBC hasn’t been good with attracting membership from immigrants, meaning they’re depending on natives, a lot that’s becoming non-religious by the day.
Another important factor that has been raised is the fact that SBC isn’t good at holding on to members brought up in the church. They’re fast losing their members to other evangelical churches and non-denominational congregations.