NASHVILLE – Southern Baptists gave 2.3 percent more to missions last year despite the economic downturn, but they lost members and baptized the fewest number of people since 1987, according to the denomination’s Annual Church Profile (ACP), compiled by LifeWay Christian Resources in conjunction with Baptist state conventions.
Total giving to missions reached $1.36 billion in 2008. Through the denomination’s Cooperative Program (CP) and special mission offerings, local churches voluntarily pool funds to support mission efforts in their states, throughout the nation and around the world. For example, Southern Baptists support more than 10,500 missionaries who engage nearly 1,200 people groups throughout North America and around the world.
In addition, CP funds support six seminaries, the International Mission Board, North American Mission Board and other SBC entities (LifeWay and GuideStone Financial Resources are self-funding). At the state level, CP funds support a variety of ministries including children’s homes, disaster relief efforts, colleges and universities and much more.
"Southern Baptists are among the most generous and mission-minded people in the world," said Thom S. Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay. "They will give even when they’re hurting so the spiritual and physical needs of others are met."
Offsetting the rise in giving, along with a slight increase in the total number of SBC churches and primary worship attendance, was the nagging reality that baptisms in 2008 fell for the fourth straight year to 342,198, a drop of 1.1 percent. "The numbers simply tell us that Southern Baptists are not reaching as many people for Christ as they once did," said Rainer. "It still takes 47 Southern Baptists to baptize one person for Christ. I pray that all of our churches and our entities will become totally focused on obeying Christ’s commission so that our convention will truly experience a Great Commission resurgence."
Baptism is a public act administered by the local church in which new followers of Christ are immersed in water. Baptism symbolizes believers’ identification with Jesus in His death, burial and resurrection; signifies their new life in Christ; and anticipates the day in which Christ will raise them from the dead, demonstrating His victory over sin and death. Therefore, the number of baptisms is a key measurement of the SBC’s overall effectiveness in evangelism.
Total SBC membership fell by 38,482, or 0.2 percent last year, to 16,228,438. Sunday school enrollment dropped 123,817, or 1.6 percent, to 7,752,794.
Rainer pointed out that numeric/percent changes for certain categories, listed below, could not be accurately figured for the 2008 ACP. Some state conventions did not ask for certain items to be reported, or asked in a way that gave results that were not comparable to totals reported in the 2007 ACP.
Impacted categories and their 2008 totals include:
Discipleship training enrollment: 1,798,330
Total tithes, offerings and special gifts: $11.1 billion
Music ministry enrollment / participation: 1,416,694
WMU enrollment: 795,379
Men / boys mission education enrollment: 403,575