Like many of you, I missed gathering with friends for this year’s Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Annual Meeting in Orlando, Fla. As you know, the meeting was canceled in late March due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.
Canceling this year’s annual meeting was a shocking move at the time, but it has proven to be the correct decision as our nation continues to grapple with the effects of COVID-19. I’m thankful for the wisdom and foresight of our SBC leaders to make this difficult but necessary decision for the safety and well-being of the thousands of messengers from our churches who would be attending the meeting.
Despite the cancelation of the annual meeting, Dr. Ronnie Floyd, president and CEO of the SBC executive committee, and other SBC entity heads provided updates about how God is at work in our convention during a special two-hour online event held June 2. SBC President J.D. Greear delivered his president’s address via video on June 9, the same day he would have shared with messengers in Orlando.
Amid these updates came the unsettling news of the continued statistical decline in membership and baptisms among Southern Baptist churches based on the data from the 2019 Annual Church Profile (ACP). In analyzing the data, Baptist Press reported an overall drop in membership for the 13th consecutive year. Membership numbers fell by more than 287,000 (about 2%) from 2018 to 2019, which was the largest single-year drop in more than 100 years. Total baptisms across the SBC fell by more than 4% from 2018 to 2019.
According to the ACP data, overall membership numbers in North Carolina showed a drop in membership of about 29,500, which reflected a 2.6% decrease from 2018 to 2019. While our state’s membership numbers reflected a similar trend with SBC numbers, our state’s baptism numbers were even more concerning. Total reported baptisms in North Carolina fell by about 11.6% from 17,511 in 2018 to 15,483 in 2019, a drop of more than 2,000 baptisms from the year before. Moreover, more than 2,200 of our approximately 4,300 N.C. Baptist churches reported no baptisms in 2019, which was up from 2018.
Our temptation might be to say that even though we are not doing well, we are still doing better than some other churches or conventions. That is an unacceptable attitude. We should be determining that by the grace of God, we will improve our efforts to minister, cultivate relationships, evangelize, baptize and disciple. We can reverse these declining trends if each of us make a firm commitment to God that we will change our attitudes, repent, share the gospel with others and give people an opportunity to accept Christ as Savior.
While these numbers are troubling, I share many of the same concerns that Dr. Floyd has expressed regarding how data from our churches is collected and reported. Furthermore, there are concerns over the number of churches that choose not to complete the ACP. LifeWay Research reports that 25 percent of our Southern Baptist congregations do not report any data. In North Carolina, roughly only 61% of our congregations complete the ACP.
It would be nice if the SBC had other ways to collect this information from churches, but no one has been able to suggest a better method for collecting this information that allows Southern Baptists to track our trends and understand our needs. I welcome hearing ideas and suggestions from pastors and church leaders if you have a good solution to this dilemma.
“For God, who said ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” — 2 Corinthians 4:6 (ESV)