SBC Membership Falls to 47-Year Low, But Church Involvement Is Up

Amid the continued declines, Southern Baptists are celebrating back-to-back years of growth in worship attendance and baptism.

Despite years of record-setting declines shrinking the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) to its lowest membership in nearly half a century, Southern Baptists have begun to see some signs of life within their 46,906 churches.

Worship attendance, small group attendance, and baptisms were up last year in the SBC’s annual statistical report, released Tuesday, while membership fell below 13 million.

2023 marks 17 straight years of decline for the country’s biggest Protestant denomination. It’s down 3.3 million from its peak, with the steepest drops coming during the pandemic. The SBC lost 1.3 million members between 2020 and 2022 alone.

Beyond COVID-19 disruptions, Southern Baptists have recently confronted some contentious issues within their convention, responding to sexual abuse and clamping down on female preachers, which have led some congregations to leave the SBC (including prominent megachurch Saddleback Church).

But statistics indicate that church departures aren’t a significant driver of membership decline; the SBC was down 292 churches last year, just 0.63 percent of its total.

In 2023, membership fell by 241,000, its smallest decrease since 2018. Yet attendance at SBC churches increased 6.5 percent, reaching above 4 million a week for the first time since the pandemic.

Attendance at small groups and Bible studies ticked up 4 percent to 2.4 million.

With fewer Americans than ever attending church and religious disaffiliation on the rise, leaders see even small increases in engagement and discipleship as worth celebrating.

It’s the first time in over a decade that SBC worship attendance has grown two years in a row, though it still lags behind pre-pandemic numbers. Back in …

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