The Southern Baptist Church sets up in 2020, but baptisms …… | News and reports

Southern Baptists have seen an increase in church planting and have maintained relatively stable donation levels despite COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020. But overall, the denomination has seen another year of decline, the pandemic accelerating historically significant drops in the number of members and baptisms.

The country’s largest Protestant denomination has shrunk for 14 consecutive years, falling to 14 million after losing 436,000 members last year, according to the Annual Church Profile released Thursday by the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Baptisms soaked by almost half from one year to the next.

“The effect of COVID-19 on the statistics for 2020 is undeniable. Yet 2020 is only the last year of continued decline in major categories ”, tweeted Mike Stone, a pastor in Georgia who is in the running for president of SBC. “Southern Baptists need a movement from God. Let us pray and work for this.

For years pastors and denominational leaders have responded to the dwindling numbers by calling for mission-centered renewal. The year 2020 has shown promising signs of progress on the mission field, adding 588 new church plants in the United States and more than 18,000. abroad, both figures are up from the previous year.

But the growth has not offset the downward trend in total membership. Researcher Ryan Burge wrote last year that generational change will be the biggest accelerator of losses in the SBC, as the denomination ages and members die.

According to Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research, the loss of more of its older members to COVID-19 is likely one of the factors behind the decline in 2020. The number of members has decreased by 2 % in 2019, the biggest drop in the SBC in a century. Last year, as congregations removed inactive members from their lists and saw fewer people joining during closings, the drop was 3%.

Churches were also less likely to participate in this year’s annual compilation; 69 percent provided data, up from 75 percent in previous years. While not a complete picture, the annual church profile is the denomination’s best snapshot of Southern Baptist trends. Executives are still grappling with what last year’s numbers will mean for the SBC in the long run.

“It may take years for us to know the full effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on our churches,” said Ronnie Floyd, chairman of the SBC executive committee, in comments to Baptist press. “There are lessons to be learned from 2020 as we put it behind us, such as the vital need for collective worship, the value of being creative in developing ways to share the gospel, and how much communities local people need our churches to minister in difficult situations. conditions. “

Church planting represents a bright spot in the midst of the declining trend; the number of SBC churches launched in the United States in 2020 was 588, an increase from 552 the year before. Southern Baptists have planted 8,200 churches in North America since 2010, a rate which, according to researcher Ed Stetzer, amounts to “replanting the name every few decades”.

“Well, the SBC continues its downtrend for sure, but the church planting numbers remind us that the North American Mission Board is crashing more than anyone and has continued to do so over the course of time. of a remarkably difficult year, “said Stetzer, Director. director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center. “If Southern Baptists find a way to a better future, the route goes through church planting territory.”

Kevin Ezell, chairman of the North American Mission Board, the body that oversees national evangelism and mission, told CT he is encouraged by their work in 2020 but is also looking forward to it.

“The number that matters most to me is how many survive after four years. Right now that survival rate hovers around 80%, which is incredibly strong, ”he said. “But planting 588 churches during closures and social distancing demonstrates that Southern Baptists have a strong church planting network and a solid financial commitment that withstands even the most difficult challenges.”

Even in a year when many churches were closed or digital-only during closings, and even with fewer churches reporting, donations have remained relatively stable, falling less than 1% to $ 11.5 billion. . SBC churches spent $ 1 billion on missions in 2020.

The annual report comes less than a month before Southern Baptists gathered in Nashville in June for their annual meeting, the first since the pandemic. Leaders are expected to address the denomination’s declining trends as well as recent debates over their approach to politics, race, women and abuse.

“A convention perpetually at war with itself cannot do what God called it to do: sue the Great Commission,” SBC outgoing chairman JD Greear said in a statement. “There are voices calling us [to] come to Nashville to divide even more on things beyond the scope of our declaration of faith and therefore better leave it to the autonomy of the churches. This will surely send us further into decline. “

Baptisms have declined as fewer converts join SBC churches and have been suspended in many churches due to the pandemic. Historically, this has been the benchmark measurement for the denomination. “It’s not just a point of pride; it’s also proof that the SBC is carrying out the Great Commission, ”said Barry Hankins, historian at Baylor University. “It’s not hard to imagine a sense of bewilderment, even hopelessness, in the face of the constant decline in baptisms and SBC membership. “

Adam W. Greenway, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, said Southern Baptist leaders continued to respond with urgency.

“We desperately need a great movement from God among our people that these statistics should bring us all to our knees in prayer,” he said. “The data also underscores the critical need to provide the best theological education to prepare the next generation of pastors and church leaders for the challenges of ministry today. “

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