Reader membership in the Southern Baptist Convention declined for the 10th straight year, although at a slower pace than last year, while baptisms dropped to the lowest level in 70 years, according to statistics released in advance of the 2017 SBC annual meeting June 13-14 in Phoenix. The latest LifeWay Christian Resources Annual Church Profile reports a combined membership of 47,272 churches at 15,216,978 for the church year in 2016. That’s a loss of 77,786 members from 2015, about half a percent. Between 2014 and 2015 Southern Baptists lost 204,409 members and 236,467 the year before. Today there are 1 million fewer Southern Baptists than a decade ago.
Baptisms, long considered a benchmark for denominational health, fell for the fifth straight year to 280,773. That’s the fewest since 253,361 in 1946. Southern Baptist baptisms broke the 300,000 plateau in 1948 and remained above that level every year until 2015. The high water mark was 445,725 baptisms in 1972. Since 1980, the first year into a 10-year controversy over biblical inerrancy that led to splintering into new groups like the Alliance of Baptists and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, baptism numbers have dropped by more than a third.