Southern Baptist Church Planting Up in 2020, But Baptisms Plunge by Half

The pandemic accelerates more than a decade of decline for the denomination.

Southern Baptists saw an uptick in church planting and kept relatively steady levels of giving despite COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020. But overall, the denomination experienced another year of decline, with the pandemic accelerating historically steep drops in membership and baptism.

The country’s largest Protestant denomination has been getting smaller for 14 years in a row, down 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 dunked by nearly half year-over-year.

“COVID-19’s effect on 2020 stats is undeniable. Yet 2020 is only the latest year of continued decline in major categories,” tweeted Mike Stone, a pastor in Georgia who is in the upcoming race for SBC president. “Southern Baptists need a move of God. Let us pray and work to that end.”

For years, pastors and denominational leaders have responded to shrinking numbers by calling for a renewed focused on missions. The year 2020 showed promising signs of progress on the mission field, adding 588 new church plants in the US and over 18,000 abroad, both figures up from the year prior.

But the growth has not offset the downward trend in overall membership. Researcher Ryan Burge wrote last year that the generational shift will be the biggest factor accelerating losses in the SBC, as the denomination ages and members die off.

Losing more of its older members due to COVID-19 is likely one factor in the 2020 drop, according to Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. Membership declined by 2 percent in 2019, the SBC’s biggest drop in a century. Last year—as congregations winnowed inactive members from their …

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