The Southern Baptist Convention lost more than 200,000 members last year and baptized fewer than 300,000 new converts for the first time in 68 years, according to statistics compiled by LifeWay Christian Resources.
The loss of 204,409 members in 2015 followed on the heels of the loss of 236,467 the year before, the largest one-year drop in membership since the denomination started keeping records in 1881. Total membership of SBC churches now numbers 15,294,764, more than a million fewer than the 16.3 million reported in 2006.
Baptisms, long regarded a benchmark for denominational health, dropped by 10,000 to 295,212. It was the eighth decline in the last 10 years and smallest total since 285,152 in 1947. The record year for baptisms was 445,725 in 1972. Southern Baptists reported 429,742 baptisms in 1980, the front end of a decade of denominational controversy today known as the “conservative resurgence.”
“God help us all!” Frank Page, SBC Executive Committee president and CEO, said in comments reported by Baptist Press. “In a world that is desperate for the message of Christ, we continue to be less diligent in sharing the Good News.”
“May God forgive us and give us a new passion to reach this world for Christ,” Page said.
Leaders found some encouragement in an increase of 294 in the number of churches affiliated with the denomination, bringing the total to 46,793. The number of SBC churches has grown for each of the last 17 years.
“While a decrease in baptisms is very disappointing, we don’t take for granted 295,000 baptisms,” said LifeWay President Thom Rainer. “We should rejoice with each of those individuals who chose to follow Christ.”