The largest Protestant Christian denomination in Alabama and the U.S. has seen declining numbers for the ninth year in a row, causing church leaders to voice their concerns.
“God help us all!” exclaimed Rev. Frank S. Page, president and CEO of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee. “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.”
The Southern Baptist Convention lost 200,000 members from 2014 to 2015. The denomination now has 15.3 million members. Baptist leaders also reported that average weekly worship attendance declined 1.72 percent to 5.6 million and baptisms have declined 3.3 percent.
“While a decrease in baptisms is very disappointing, we don’t take for granted 295,000 baptisms,” said LifeWay President and CEO Thom S. Rainer, former pastor of Green Valley Baptist Church in Hoover. “We should rejoice with each of those individuals who chose to follow Christ.”
Baptisms have declined eight out of the past ten years. While church membership has declined, the number of physical churches has increased. Almost 300 new churches were established from 2014 to 2015. The addition of new churches combined with declining membership makes the average congregation of a Southern Baptist church around 330 members.
The founding of new churches can be the silver lining in the otherwise worrisome statistics.
“People underestimate the importance of momentum,” Rainer said. “It only takes a few people in each church, being intentional about sharing their faith, for some new momentum to build.”
The Southern Baptist Convention grew quickly during the early 20th century, but its growth slowed during the 1950s and started declining after hitting peak membership (16.3 million) in 2003.
Southern Baptists remain the largest Protestant denomination in Alabama, with over 1 million members living in the state – roughly one out of every four Alabamians – and worshipping in one of over 3,300 active Baptist churches.