By Victor Ochieng
For 10 straight years, the Southern Baptist Church has been experiencing declining membership, having lost up to 1 million members within the period. The number of baptisms per church year has also been facing uncertainties, with 2016 posting the lowest in about half a century.
The SBC leadership isn’t happy with this trend and they’re setting out to do something about it. The SBC President Steve Gaines spoke passionately with delegates during this year’s annual meeting, beseeching them to submit the situation to God and put more emphasis on personal evangelism.
“I want to encourage you to be a soul-winner. I want to encourage you to be evangelistic,” said Gaines, who’s laid down plans to set up a task force to focus on the evangelism ahead.
Gaines will be serving his second one-year term as SBC President, having easily won reelection on June 13, 2017. He made a commitment to champion evangelism as a way to win more souls to Christ.
SBC is the largest Pentecostal church with a total membership of 15.2 million, but it’s worried about the constantly falling numbers. In nine of the last ten years, for example, the denomination has baptized fewer people every year.
According to statistics released recently by LifeWay Christian Resources Annual Church Profile, SBC has a total of 47,272 churches. The membership dropped by 77,786 between 2015 and 2016 church year. That was an improvement compared to the year before when the numbers declined by 204,409.
When it comes to the attendance of the church’s annual gatherings, this year registered worrying numbers. According to impeccable sources, only about 4,892 delegates, referred to as messengers, are attending this year’s gathering, which is going down in Phoenix Convention Center. Only one out of the last 10 gatherings posted numbers less than 10,000. The highest was posted in the 1980s when a gathering brought together 45,000 members.
An evangelistic “Crossover” has normally been hosted by the SBC ahead of the annual meeting. This year, the event was a Harvest America Crusade at a University of Phoenix stadium. Featured was Greg Laurie, an evangelist who made a Monday declaration that his church had joined SBC, although it would retain its link with Calvary Chapel church.
All in all, SBC has to put in a lot more work to pull more members, while also working to retain the existing ones.