Southern Baptists see two signs of hope that their congregations are finally bouncing back from the COVID-19 pandemic: increased baptisms and a $304 million increase in overall giving during 2021.
Lifeway Research said there was a 26% increase in baptisms at 154,701 in 2021 from the 123,160 recorded the previous year. The data is based on the 2021 SBC Annual Church Profile Data compiled by Baptist state conventions and the Lifeway Christian Resources. The increase is still below pre-COVID data but the denomination's leaders are still happy that their congregations are moving in the right direction as shown by the numbers.
Southern Baptists' Faithfulness To Evangelization
Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee Interim President and CEO Willie McLaurin expressed pride in their congregations' accomplishments and pointed out the need to continue in their efforts of evangelization.
"I am incredibly proud of local churches that have stayed steady with evangelism during the pandemic. The increase in baptisms highlights that local pastors and churches prioritize soul-winning, evangelism and discipleship. However, while we rejoice with the uptick in baptisms, more individuals still need to hear the life-changing gospel of Jesus," McLaurin said.
In addition, the Baptist Press underscored that the 2021 SBC Annual Church Profile Data presents the full impact of the pandemic on in-person attendance. This is particularly in line with the lockdowns and the delay in the reopening of church services and activities.
The annual profile showed a decline in the denomination's total number of congregations and membership alongside that of weekly worship attendance. Other key metrics that declined pertain to the 9.5% decrease in church-type missions to 2,809.
The total number of congregations, which peaked in 2017 at 51,920, has remained low in its fourth year last 2021. Similarly, the number of Southern Baptist members continued at a 3% annual decline from 14,089,947 in 2020 to 13,680,493 the succeeding year.
Nonetheless, SBC saw a 22% increase in churches cooperating with them at 47,614. This brings an overall total of 50,423 for the denomination's number of congregations. There is also a similar increase in local church ministry as multi-site congregations are now located on 575 campuses in the country.
While an 18.75% decrease in in-person worship attendance was recorded at 3,607,530 in 2021 from the 4,439,797 in 2020. The average attendance of in-person Bible study, Sunday School, and small groups declined to 2,241,514 (22.15%) from 2,879,130.
Southern Baptists Faced Difficulty In Documenting
Lifeway Research Executive Director Scott McConnell disclosed that the data they released in 2020 did not fully show the impact of COVID-19 on church attendance. McConnell shared that they have instructed congregations to compute attendance averages for the weeks they met in person.
But what happened was churches that met in person before the pandemic would report average weekly attendance for those weeks. The executive director said that many of the churches saw a drop in attendance because of the pandemic when they already resumed in-person worship in 2021.
"It's not fun to document difficult seasons of ministry, but we know God is as faithful today as He has ever been. And these statistics continue to show the faithfulness and sacrifice of congregations during trying times," McConnell said.
Accordingly, a total of seven Southern Baptist Churches out of the existing 10 participated in the reporting used in the Annual Church Profile, which translates to a 1% increase to those who did the previous year.