The stats are in. We can choose to ignore them, bury our heads in the sand, or see reality and move forward.
The 2010 Annual Church Profile showed dips in baptisms, total church membership, worship attendance and participation in Sunday school and other Christian education programs. Declines were also reported in giving categories, but some of that was attributed to the fact that not all Baptist state conventions asked churches for information in ways that make for year-to-year comparison.
Total membership was counted at 16,136,044, a drop of 0.15 percent and the fourth straight year of membership losses.
One area that did show increase was the number of churches, which rose 1.59 percent to 45,727.
Southern Baptists reported 5 percent fewer baptisms in 2010 than in 2009 – 332,321 compared to 349,737. This marks the eighth time in 10 years that baptisms have declined and the lowest number of baptisms since the 1950s.
In 2009 baptisms increased after four straight years of decline. The record year for baptisms was 445,725 in 1972. Even with more Southern Baptist churches now, baptisms have essentially been plateaued since 1950.
In 2010 there was one baptism for every 48 members of a Southern Baptist church. Sixty years ago the ratio was 1:19.
“This is not a blip,” said Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research. “This is a trend. And, the trend is one of decline.”
Stetzer pointed to two factors for the baptism decline. Southern Baptists are getting older, meaning they have fewer children who are being raised in the faith. And, Southern Baptists have lost their enthusiasm for evangelism — the practice of bringing new people into the faith, Stetzer said.
“Baptists love to talk about evangelism as long as someone else is doing it,” Stetzer said.
Dr. Frank Page, president of the executive committee, said that too many pastor and denominational leaders talk about the Great Commission — Jesus’ command to spread his message — in generic terms. But they rarely teach people how to talk to their friends and neighbors about Jesus in an effective way.
“You can talk about having a vision all day long,” he said. “But you have to show people how to put that vision into action.”
Giving to mission work also has declined. The International Mission Board, announced that the annual Lottie Moon missionary offering took in $145.6 million. Baptist leaders had hoped to raise $175 million.
Previous giving shortfalls have forced the IMB to shrink its missionary force. The number of missionaries dropped by about 12 percent from a high of 5,656 in 2009 to about 5,000 missionaries by the end of 2010.
Tom Elliff, president of the IMB, said that the mission board has an $8.3 million budget gap because of the giving shortfall. He doesn’t plan on cutting the number of missionaries. “This is not a time for retreat,” Elliff said.
Take an inventory of your church in the area of baptisms, mission giving and attendance. What is the trend over the last five years?
What strategy will you employ to move your church off the plateau?
Keep the Son in Your Eyes,