The largest Protestant denomination in the United States is 2% smaller than in 2018. The South Baptists believe “that the Bible is God’s revelation of Himself to mankind, with His ultimate revelation being the Gospel message of redemption through Jesus Christ,” i.e., a fundamentalist religious denomination one can find in the United States.
With the release of the 2019 membership rolls of the Southern Baptist Convention last Thursday, there has been a decline by as many as 287,000 members of the South Baptists. Their total membership went from 14.8 million to about 14.5 million. This amounts to the thirteenth year of continuous decline in the numbers. This matches many trends on many, many faiths or religions in the richer societies, even in the highly religious outliers seen almost uniquely in the United States.
A professor at Duke University and a director of the National Congregations Study, Mark Chaves, said, “…consistent with national trends we’ve been seeing for a while now, mainly driven by generational differences… Younger people are less likely than older people to attend religious services and to be religious. That’s true across the board.”
With a strong commitment to evangelism, other important things for the measurement of commitment to the fundamentalist faith is baptism. They have noted an 11,000 baptism decrease with only 235,748 performed in 2019. In many ways, the clear trend for more than a decade will mean either a death of the faith or a significant decline followed by some stoppage or an asymptote.
Southern Baptist Executive Committee President Ronnie Floyd stated, “…it is clear that change is imperative. … We have to prioritize reaching every person with the Gospel of Jesus Christ in every town, every city, every state, and every nation.”
In an attempt to pivot on the recent numbers coming out of the data, Floyd “criticized the way the church data is collected,” according to The Associated Press.
Floyd continued, “We cannot possibly know how best to meet the needs of our 47,500 churches when we only receive needed data from just 75 percent of them.”
The overarching trends for the Southern Baptists would appear to be plural – from data coming out to leadership. The director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, Ed Stetzer, remarked that the decline might be slowed in the Southern Baptists if they stopped the consistent fighting within the leadership and the churches that can be a driver of the decline in the numbers.
The executive committee of the denomination stated that a formation of a task force in order to examine some of the policies of the Sothern Baptist Convention and the speaking roster with some inclusion of “non-Southern Baptists and a female teaching pastor.”
The Associated Press stated, “Stetzer formerly presided over the SBC’s annual church reporting. More than a decade ago, when he first started warning that the denomination’s membership was going to decline year after year, many Southern Baptists dismissed his numbers. Once the trend became irrefutable, they were alarmed. Now, he said, ‘I do think Southern Baptists are becoming used to decline. That should not be normal. It should be cause for great concern and change.’”
With files from The Associated Press.