This is Your Wake Up Call Part I

Posted: January 30, 2012 in Current Events, Statistics
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Editor’s Note: This post is the first in a five-part series exploring the state of Southern Baptist churches today. It is important to first have an idea of where things stand before we can begin to understand where we should be going and what route will take us there. So, accordingly, after we establish this baseline on the state of our churches generally we can then move on to a discussion of what to do about it.

Is This Our Future?

At present there are roughly 16.24 million Southern Baptists (Terry 2009). That sounds pretty good and makes the Southern Baptist Convention America’s largest Protestant denomination (Smietana 2010). But what about in the year 2050? Well, that’s where things get more interesting and we realize that membership less than 40 years out could be as low as 8.7 million, less than half of where it currently stands (Terry 2009). In fact, the membership of the SBC has been in a pattern of decline since the 1950s (Stetzer 2011). While there wasn’t a net loss in membership, a true decrease in the size of the Convention, until the new millennium (with the exception of a hiccup in 1998) a 50-year trend in membership change “shows that the SBC was growing rapidly in the 1950s, growing well in the ’60s and ’70s, growing slightly in the ’80s and ’90s, and then the decline started in the new millennium” (Ibid.; emphasis mine). “Growing rapidly…growing well…growing slightly…decline….” We can easily see from this trend how the SBC could lose more than half of its members by the middle of this century.

Unfortunately, the numbers get worse as we dig a little deeper. Out of the 16.24 million current Southern Baptists, how many of them are in a local church on a given Sunday morning? Answer: about 6 million. What about Sunday evening or Wednesday services? Answer: about 1.95 million. That is, on average, 37% of Southern Baptists show up for services on Sunday morning and around 12% are in the pews for other services and church functions (Elliff 2005). In the negative this means that about 63% of us don’t mind forsaking the assembling of the saints and the corporate worship of our Lord and Savior at our main worship time and a full 88% of Southern Baptists believe that one hour per week on Sunday morning is sufficient time to worship the King of Glory who ransomed us from sin, death, and hell at the cost of His own precious blood. Now there are certainly many SBC members who have legitimate reasons that they cannot attend (e.g. sickness, military service, etc.) but that small percentage cannot put a dent in these numbers. When it comes down to it we have to admit that most of us are putting other things above at least our scheduled corporate worship times.

In sum, these numbers, especially when considered in light of the general decline in other key indicators such as baptisms, Sunday School enrollment, men and boys mission education enrollment and WMU enrollment, one can certainly see why one commentator was forced to conclude that the Southern Baptist Convention is an unregenerate denomination (Rankin 2006; Elliff 2005).

More Bad News

I wish I could say that our wake up call ended at the numbers discussed above but it doesn’t. Our next post in this series will focus on another trend in the SBC that could have much farther reaching implications and that is the growing generation gap in our churches and especially in our leadership. In the meantime, though, I will try to post some encouraging Baptist history to help us all to understand what we can still recover. And, believe me, as bad as these numbers are (and they’ll get worse) there is still time to return to our Baptist roots and to watch as the Lord turns these depressing statistics around.


Elliff, Jim. 2005. Southern Baptists, an Unregenerate Denomination. Founders Ministries. (accessed January 29, 2012).

Rankin, Russ. 2006. FY 2005 stats: Southern Baptists experience drop in baptisms. Baptist Press. April 19. (accessed January 29, 2012).

Smietana, Bob. 2010. Southern Baptists buck trend, post most baptisms in 4 years. USA Today. May 20. (accessed January 29, 2012).

Stetzer, Ed. 2011. First-Person: From decline to decision. Baptist Press. June 13. (accessed January 29, 2012).

Terry, Bob. 2009. First-Person: 22 million? 14 million? 8 million? What will SBC membership be? Baptist Press. August 20. (accessed January 29, 2012).

  1. […] our last post I mentioned that I would attempt to offset the depressing statistics with some encouraging Baptist […]

  2. […] numbers in Part I of this series paint a truthful if somewhat unpleasant picture of the SBC in decline. The long […]

  3. […] Part I of this series we looked at the declining pattern of SBC membership. Then, in Part II, we focused […]

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