Published July 1, 2004
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) — The Southern Baptist Convention reported a record membership of 16,315,050, up .41 percent over 2002, and grew to 43,024 churches, an increase of 249 new congregations, according to statistics released in the 2003 SBC Statistical Summary.
The statistics for 2003 were complied from data submitted by churches on the Annual Church Profile (ACP). LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention compiles the ACP from reports routed through local Baptist associations and state conventions.
The number of new churches represented a .58 percent growth. Membership figures reflected a .41 percent growth. These figures are down from the 2002 growth percentages of 1.04 and 1.21, respectively. Although there was growth overall, LifeWay President Jimmy Draper said the statistics were cause for concern.
“The incremental growth to me reflects a denomination that’s lost its focus,” he said. “The Great Commission commands us to go into all the world and make disciples. Although we’ve seen tremendous strides in overseas baptisms, we are not keeping up with the population growth around the world nor in America.”
While membership grew, the number of baptisms decreased for the fourth consecutive year. The 2003 total was 377,357, reflecting a 4.44 percent decrease from the 2002 totals. This indicated a baptism ratio of 1 to 43, meaning that statistically it took 43 existing church members to bring in one new member.
“There are two trends reflected in the declining baptisms,” Draper said. “The first is a lack of urgency in our churches to baptize. I’ve heard from a number of people across our denomination who are saying professions of faith are good enough, and they are not teaching one of our two main ordinances of publicly identifying with Jesus through baptism. They’ve de-emphasized it. It is hard for someone to argue to the contrary when more than 10,000 Southern Baptist churches didn’t baptize a single person last year.
“The second trend I see is that we as a denomination have lost a sense of urgency in reaching people for Christ. You can’t baptize those who have not been led to the Lord. We face some tremendous challenges from an increasingly secularized society and we’ve got to lead people to a saving faith in Christ if we are going to have a positive influence in our culture.”
Draper added: “I see us making that effort through the Empowering Kingdom Growth movement. This isn’t a program to sustain incremental growth. It is truly an effort to lead churches to recapture the passion of being a part God’s plan for growing His Kingdom in His way.”
Other statistics reported are:
Additions by means other than baptisms totaled 422,350, down 2.24 percent.
Primary worship attendance in SBC churches was 5,873,880, a growth of .58 percent.
Overall giving grew by about 5 percent. Total tithes, offerings and special gifts totaled $9,105,505,497, up 4.88 percent. This figure included $7,170,236,005 in undesignated receipts. When all other sources of income were added in, the total receipts reported by churches were $9,648,530,640, up by 1.98 percent.
Music ministry enrollment/participation grew by 2.63 percent, with a total of 1,701,848.
Sunday school enrollment grew by .24 percent, with a total of 8,193,886.
Discipleship training enrollment was 2,001,560, a decrease of 4.72 percent.
Missions participation also showed a decrease: WMU enrollment fell by 11.52 percent to 852,205; men/boys missions education enrollment fell by 3.91 percent to 418,606.
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