In 2020, the Southern Baptist Convention, the country's largest Protestant denomination, lost almost 400,000 members, a historic low for a single year.
Southern Baptist congregations have lost a total of 435,632 members last year, according to Lifeway Research’s Annual Church Profile report. This is more over half of the denomination's stated loss of 287,655 members from 2018 to 2019. The decrease in membership in 2020 follows a 14-year downward trend.
Last year, several black leaders quit the SBC when it issued a statement condemning critical race theory. More black pastors and their congregations are expected to break connections with the denomination as a result of this controversy.
This summer, the SBC's annual conference will take place, and the topic is anticipated to be revisited. The denomination's membership reached a high of 16.3 million in 2006 but has subsequently dropped by roughly 2 million.
What are the details?
According to Christian Post, the Annual Church Profile report reveals that the number of SBC congregations climbed by 62 to 47,592 over the previous year, but this was not enough to keep up with the loss in members.
According to Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research, the steep drop in membership at SBC churches was linked to fewer baptisms and other natural causes like potentially more deaths from COVID-19, and other losses in the membership of specific Southern Baptist churches.
The COVID outbreak have reportedly resulted in a 50% decrease in baptisms in SBC congregations. Last year, 123,160 baptisms were registered, compared to 235,748 in 2019, indicating the ninth year in a row that baptisms have decreased.
"Socially distant behavior is helpful for containing a pandemic, but it hindered meeting new people, inviting people to church, and helping them take a step of obedience to be baptized," observed McConnell.
He similarly tied the drop to America's rising secularization, noting that baptisms fell by more than 4% in 2019, from 246,442 in 2018 to 235,748 in 2019.
McConnell commented at the time: "The Southern Baptist Convention is not immune to the increasing secularization among Americans that is seen in more of our children and our neighbors not having interest in coming to Jesus."
According to a recent poll, just 65 percent of Americans currently identify as Christians, with the remaining 26 percent identifying as religiously unaffiliated. Likewise, the number of people who do not identify with any religion has increased to 26%.
Other Contributing Factors
Besides the coronavirus, the SBC was disrupted last year by frictions caused by major demonstrations against racial injustice and police brutality. When the Council of Seminary Presidents issued a statement condemning the idea of "critical race theory and intersectionality," prominent black pastors and their large congregations decided to leave.
Critical race theory, as defined by the SBC in Resolution 9, is "a collection of analytical tools that explain how race has and continues to operate in society." Intersectionality, on the other hand, is "the study of how distinct personal qualities overlap and inform one's experience."
If Resolution 9, which states that critical race theory may "aid in evaluating a variety of human experiences," is reversed at the SBC's annual convention this summer, it may result in more black pastors and congregations leaving the denomination.
Beth Moore, a well-known Bible teacher and the founder of Living Proof Ministries, announced her departure from the denomination earlier this year. Moore noted that "some of the things in our heritage that haven't remained in the past" caused her to "no longer identify with Southern Baptists.