Christian Education

Southern Baptists Report 19% Drop In Attendance During COVID –

(RNS) – Anecdotally, clergy have spoken of disruption to worship attendance in this pandemic era. Now, the Southern Baptists have statistics to prove it.
Average weekly in-person attendance at Southern Baptist Convention churches decreased 18.75% from 4,439,797 in 2020 to 3,607,530 in 2021.
Christian education saw an even bigger drop of 22.15%, with Sunday school, Bible study and small groups reduced from 2,879,130 ​​to 2,241,514.
The Church’s Annual Profile, a compilation of the denomination’s state conventions, was released Thursday, May 12, by Lifeway Christian Resources, the convention’s data collection division.
Researchers have also blamed COVID-19 for the slowdown in baptisms over the past two years. Although there has been a 26% annual increase in baptisms in Southern Baptist churches, from 123,160 in 2020 to 154,701 in 2021, overall baptisms are a far cry from the total of 235,748 reported in 2019, the year before the start of the pandemic.
Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research, said the recent surge in baptisms was due not just to churches reopening as the pandemic eased earlier this year, but to increased evangelism enabled by relaxation.
“Some people might have been ready to be baptized but delayed it until their church met again,” he told Religion News Service. “But we attribute most of the growth to individuals and churches resuming where they shared the gospel with others.”
Willie McLaurin, interim president and CEO of SBC’s executive committee, said in Lifeway’s announcement of the 2021 profile that he was pleased with the “uptick” in christenings.
“I’m incredibly proud of the local churches that have remained steady in evangelism during the pandemic,” McLaurin said. “The increase in baptisms shows that pastors and local churches are prioritizing soul winning, evangelism and discipleship.”
The only other growth Southern Baptists experienced in 2021 was in financial giving. Premiums increased by $304 million to a total of $11.8 billion.
But the number of members has continued to decline for many years with a loss of 3%, from 14,089,947 in 2020 to 13,680,493 in 2021.
In addition to the continued loss of members, there has been a decline in total congregational numbers for the fourth consecutive year in the largest Protestant denomination in the United States. Congregations in 2021 totaled 50,423, down from a peak of 51,920 in 2017.
The Church’s annual profile featured research on online worship and religious education for the first time.
Southern Baptist congregations said 1,447,313 attended online on average each week, while an average of 198,122 attended Sunday school, small groups or Bible study.
“Many churches have started sharing their worship services online during the pandemic,” McConnell said in Lifeway’s statement. “While some may only continue this practice until it is safe for all to return, others have made it an ongoing part of their ministry or outreach.”
Seventy percent of SBC-affiliated churches participated in the 2021 profile, down from the 75% who did in 2019.
McConnell said all 41 Baptist state conventions reported membership numbers, but several state conventions did not request information about online worship and Christian education attendance.