New statistics released by the LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention showed a growth in membership to the SBC in 2003, but at a slower rate than in 2002. Meanwhile, the number of baptisms for 2003 fell 4.44 percent relative to 2002 totals, sparking criticism from the LifeWay President Jimmy Draper.
“The incremental growth to me reflects a denomination that’s lost its focus,” said Draper in an interview with the SBC’s newsgroup Baptist Press. “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.”
Draper noted that at current figures, it takes 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 that 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.”
Statistics also showed that congregational additions by means other than baptism decreased 2.24 percent at 422,350. Additionally, discipleship-training enrollment decreased to 2,001,560, reflecting a decline of 4.72 percent compared to 2002 figures. Missions figures were down as well: the number of church type missions decreased by 5.89 percent, Women’s Missionary Union enrollment fell by 11.52 percent and men/boys missions education enrollment fell by 3.91 percent to 418,606.
On a positive note, there were several areas of growth recorded in the SBC. Primary worship attendance in SBC churches was up .58 percent to 5,873,880; music ministry enrollment/participation grew by 2.63 percent, with a total of 1,701,848 and Sunday school enrollment grew by .24 percent, with a total of 8,193,886; the number of state conventions increased by one, for a total of 40; and the value of congregational property increased to an estimated $35,941,549,606.
Statistics also showed that “Generosity had an upswing in 2003.” Churches’ total missions expenditures were at $1,102,363,842, up 7.17 percent over 2002. Overall giving grew by about 5 percent. Total tithes, offerings and special gifts totaled $9,105,505,497, up 4.88 percent and total receipts reported by churches were $9,648,530,640, up by 1.98 percent
According to the National Council of Churches’ 2004 “Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches,” the SBC is the largest protestant denomination in North America with 16,247,736 members. The 2003 SBC Statistical Summary counts 16,315,050, however, making 2003 the largest the denomination has ever been since its birth in 1845.
Nevertheless, Draper encouraged churches to devote themselves to the nationwide evangelistic effort: Empowering Kingdom Growth.
“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."