The Southern Baptist Convention found some good news and some bad news in its latest Annual Church Profile (ACP) report. SBC planted more churches last year and registered an increase in total giving, but has lost members and baptized fewer people over the course of nine years.
It is the largest mainline Protestant denomination in Alabama and in the US, but lost over 200,000 members in one year. The church member count was 15.3 million in 2015, down from 15.5 million in 2014.
"God help us all! In a world that is desperate for the message of Christ, we continue to be less diligent in sharing the Good News," said Frank Page, SBC Executive Committee president and CEO. "May God forgive us and give us a new passion to reach this world for Christ."
The ACP, published by LifeWay Christian Resources in collaboration with SBC, shows declines in areas including membership, baptisms, average worship attendance, and mission funds.
Baptisms continued to decline for eight straight years, and fell by 3.3 percent in 2015 from the previous year. Last year about 295,000 baptisms were performed, which is a decrease of 10,000 since 2014.
"While a decrease in baptisms is very disappointing, we don't take for granted 295,000 baptisms," he said. "We should rejoice with each of those individuals who chose to follow Christ," said LifeWay President and CEO Thom S. Rainer.
Average worship went down from about 5.6 million to 5.5 million, which is a drop of almost 100,000 members in weekly attendance.
Sunday school, Bible studies, and small group attendance dropped by 3.18 percent to about 3.6 million from 3.72 million in 2014.
The trend of decline was seen in total mission expenditures as well, which decreased slightly by about $25 million in one year, and stood at $1.20 billion in 2015.
Great commission giving also fell from $637 million to $613 million, even when total receipts increased slightly by $391 million.
However, a silver lining in the report is that as many as 294 more churches were planted, which is an increase of 0.63 percent since 2014. The number of SBC churches have increased steadily during the last 17 years.
Also, the amount of tithes increased by over $406 million in one year to $9.1 billion, which was a dramatic increase of 4.64 percent.
"The ACP report shows many faithful Southern Baptists continue to worship, share the Gospel, give generously, and live in community with other believers," Rainer said. "We praise God for these efforts every year."
Southern Baptists survey their churches every year, and publicly report them even if membership is on decline.
"That's because we believe the admission of a problem is the first thing needed to correct it," Page said.
"We live in an anti-institutional, anti-church age, where people are opting out of organized religious activities," he added. But, he said he expects new churches to rise on the scene to counter such trends.