Message Tab

Study updates stats on health of Southern Baptist churches


NEW ORLEANS (BP) - For some 20 years, a disturbing statistic has left its mark on Southern Baptists - 70 percent of Southern Baptist churches are plateaued or declining. A new study now has examined whether the statistic remains true.

The new study, led by Bill Day, associate director of New Orleans Seminary's Leavell Center for Evangelism and Church Health, ranked congregations in the Southern Baptist Convention according to frequently used definitions for growing, declining and plateaued churches.

Growing churches are those whose total membership increased at least 10 percent over five years, while declining churches are those whose total membership decreased at least 10 percent over five years. A plateaued church is one that is in neither the growing nor the declining category.

From 1978 to 1983, the Sunday School Board (now LifeWay Christian Resources) found that 30.5 percent of churches were growing, 51.9 percent were plateaued and 17.6 were in decline. In the years studied by the Leavell Center, 1998-2003, 30.3 percent of churches were growing. And though that statistic has remained basically unchanged for 20 years, the number of declining Southern Baptist churches has increased by six percent from 17.6 percent to 23.9 percent. Plateaued churches now compromise 45.8 percent of all Southern Baptist churches.

According to the SBC's website, there are more than 42,000 Southern Baptist churches in the United States. Using the Leavell Center's findings, fewer than 13,000 of them are growing churches. In other words, 70 percent of Southern Baptist churches are still plateaued or declining.

The study also looked at church size, church age, church location and pastor tenure to identify any effects they might have on church growth. Only 7.3 percent of churches with 100 members or less qualified as growing. However, of churches with between 101 and 5,000 members, between 13 and 14 percent were growing.

To obtain a copy of the study, contact Bill Day at the Leavell Center by phone at (504) 282-4455, ext. 3320, or by email at