FY 2005 stats: Southern Baptists experience drop in baptisms

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--Recently compiled statistics for the Southern Baptist Convention show that baptisms -- which rebounded in 2004 after a four-year decline -- slumped again in 2005, according to LifeWay Christian Resources President and CEO Thom S. Rainer.

According to the Annual Church Profile (ACP), information gathered by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, baptisms last year dropped from 387,947 to 371,850, or -4.15 percent.

“Southern Baptists should view this report as a wakeup call,” Rainer said, noting that the totals for baptisms dropped to the lowest since 1993. “We must focus our efforts, prayers and resources on reaching people for Christ. Baptism is the outward act of obedience that pictures God’s work of redemption in a believer’s life, and so for Southern Baptists the ACP figures indicate we are faltering in our efforts to reach a lost world.”

There was growth in some areas, however. The ACP showed a net increase of 234 churches established in 2005 for a total of 43,699, up from 43,465 in 2004.

Total membership increased slightly to reach 16,270,315, and total receipts and missions expenditures were up.

Other key areas that saw decreased enrollment were Sunday School (8,068,780 -- down 137,660), men and boys mission education (388,264 -- down 34,943) and WMU enrollment (804,983 -- down 162,848).

The totals for several categories were impacted by the fact that 33 associations in Texas did not ask all of the 2005 ACP questions. This impacted discipleship training, music ministry, WMU, men/boys mission education, total gifts and the value of congregational property.

Rainer also pointed out that the impact of the hurricanes on the Gulf Coast in 2005 is not fully known. While the state conventions involved made efforts to minimize the impact on reporting and statistics, three of the state conventions in the affected area -- Florida, Mississippi and the Baptist General Convention of Texas -- reported a loss in total membership, while two -- Alabama and Louisiana -- reported slight gains.

Total offering receipts were up $550,347,520 to more than $10.72 billion, Rainer reported. Total mission expenditures increased 2.82 percent, Rainer pointed out, bringing receipts to $1.23 billion.

“Last year was a difficult year for Southern Baptists and the communities where they minister,” Rainer said. “While natural disasters dominated the headlines, relief and rebuilding efforts in the Gulf Coast and Southeast Asia captivated the hearts of our churches. Southern Baptists have been blessed with bountiful resources and in 2005 we saw the church respond in unprecedented ways both home and abroad.”