Southern Baptists experienced an increase in baptisms, churches and giving in 2021 but also saw their membership continue its long-term decline with a drop below 14 million members, according to new data from the convention.
The SBC baptized 154,701 people in 2021 for an increase of 31,541 (26 percent) over the previous year, and also added 22 new churches for a total of 47,614, according to the convention’s Annual Church Profile (ACP) data. Giving also was up 2.6 percent over the previous year, to $11.8 billion.
Membership, though, declined a total of 409,454 members, from 14,089,947 in 2020 to 13,680,493 in 2021. Average weekly in-person attendance also declined, from 4,439,797 in 2020 to 3,607,530 in 2021 (an 18.75 percent decline).
“We suspected the statistics from the 2020 ACP did not show the full impact of COVID-19 on attendance,” Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research, told Baptist Press. “Every year, we instruct congregations to calculate attendance averages for the weeks they meet in person. Churches that only met in person prior to the pandemic in 2020 would have reported average weekly attendance for those weeks. Many churches resumed meeting in person in 2021 and only then registered a pandemic-related drop in attendance.
“It’s not fun to document difficult seasons of ministry, but we know God is as faithful today as He has ever been,” McConnell added. “And these statistics continue to show the faithfulness and sacrifice of congregations during trying times.”
According to Christianity Today, the SBC’s membership has dropped from a peak of 16.3 million in 2006 to 14.8 million in 2018 and then 13.6 million in 2021.
“In some ways, our churches across the landscape have still been feeling the effects of COVID-19 and people who have not come back yet. They’re staying online for a variety of reasons,” Adam Greenway, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, told Christianity Today.
“I think 2021 is a snapshot of the beginning of a post-COVID recovery, but certainly not the completion of that,” he said. “Hopefully, while we have time in 2022, we’ll take these numbers, and that will again motivate us and mobilize us to do better.”
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Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.