SBC baptisms down amid other growth

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--While the number of Southern Baptist churches in 2006 increased by 524 and reported more than $11.3 billion in total receipts, LifeWay Christian Resources President Thom S. Rainer reported April 17 that total baptisms in the Southern Baptist Convention fell for the second consecutive year.

According to the Annual Church Profile gathered by LifeWay, baptisms last year dropped from 371,850 to 364,826, or 1.89 percent, eclipsing 2005 as the lowest annual total since 1993. The 2005 ACP reported a 4.15 percent drop.

"While it is certainly encouraging to see new Southern Baptist churches being birthed, our baptism totals once again show that we are not doing an effective job stepping up to the task of sharing the Gospel with a lost and dying world," Rainer said.

"As a nation and a people we are blessed with enormous financial resources and gifts, and our churches reflect that," he added. "How blessed we would be if our churches adopted that same fire and fervor for evangelism."

The 2006 ACP shows growth in several areas. Total membership of Southern Baptist churches increased slightly to reach 16,306,246 members. The net increase of 524 churches, more than double the net increase from 2005 -- for a total of 44,223 -- represents a 1.2 percent boost for 2006. In the 2005 ACP, there was a net increase of 234 churches.

Primary worship attendance rose to 6,138,776, reflecting a 1.43 percentage growth. Church-type missions -- defined in the ACP as "a body of baptized believers having a distinct identity that meets regularly for worship, engages in Bible study and evangelism, and provides opportunity for stewardship and fellowship, but has not yet constituted as a church" -- was the largest percentage increase in 2006, up 2.06 percent.

Rainer pointed out that numeric/percent changes for certain categories could not be accurately figured for the 2006 ACP, as some state conventions or associations did not ask for some items to be reported, or asked in a way that gave results that were not comparable to totals reported in the 2005 ACP.

The impacted categories and their 2006 totals include:

Total receipts: $11,372,608,393

Total tithes, offerings and special gifts: $10,425,420,529

Undesignated receipts: $8,293,404,321

Total mission expenditures: $1,285,616,031

Sunday School enrollment: 7,931,753

Discipleship training enrollment: 1,503,826

Music ministry enrollment and participation: 1,466,124

WMU enrollment: 811,139

Men/boys mission education enrollment: 376,379

"Southern Baptists are a people committed to the Gospel," Rainer said. "Missions and evangelism have always been our rallying cry. Churches should view this report as a commendation, but also as a sobering reminder that there is much more that we need to be doing. Our mandate to share the Good News of Jesus Christ remains our focus, but as a convention we must renew our passion for reaching the burgeoning masses in our states, cities and neighborhoods."