The State Of Membership Growth, Sunday School, And Evangelism In The Southern Baptist Convention 1900–2002 -- By: William H. Day, Jr.

Journal: Journal for Baptist Theology & Ministry
Volume: JBTM 01:2 (Fall 2003)
Article: The State Of Membership Growth, Sunday School, And Evangelism In The Southern Baptist Convention 1900–2002
Author: William H. Day, Jr.


The State Of Membership Growth, Sunday School, And Evangelism
In The Southern Baptist Convention 1900–2002

William H. Day, Jr.

Associate Professor of Evangelism and Church Health
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary
3939 Gentilly Blvd.
New Orleans, LA 70126

In his study of denomination growth and decline, David Roozen noted several important facts: (1) the decline of mainline churches which some had thought began in the 1960s actually began in the 1950s, (2) the growth rate of all Protestant denominations slowed in the 1950s, and (3) a slowdown in membership growth increased in the 1960s for all Protestant denominations.1

While the focus of Roozen’s study was the decline of mainline denominations, the trends he noted also applied to conservative churches. An important contemporary question is what the trend has been in membership since 1990, particularly as it relates to denominations like the Southern Baptist Convention.

The purpose of this preliminary study was to examine growth trends with the Southern Baptist Convention over a broader period of time than Roozen’s study. The researcher’s intention in reporting the results of the study is to serve as a catalyst for thought and further analysis regarding the S.B.C. membership changes during the past century and to understand their implications for the future.

The Annual Church Profile (ACP) is a yearly survey sent to all churches in the Southern Baptist Convention.2 Statistics obtained from the ACP from 1900 to 2002 revealed several important church membership trends. From 1900 to 2002, total church membership in the Southern Baptist Convention grew steadily from 1,657,996 to 16,247,736 (see figure 1 and appendix 1).3 A study of the five-year membership growth rates during this period revealed a different perspective as shown in Figure 2. While the rate of growth of the S.B.C. steadily increased from 1930 to 1950, the rate has declined since 1950 as Roozen noted in his study. Since 1990, the rate of growth continued to fall. During 1995–2000, the rate fell to only 1.9 percent.

The decline in the rate of membership growth was mirrored in the annual number of baptisms reported by S.B.C. churches. Baptisms increased from 80,465 in 1900 to 429,063 in 1959 (see figure 3 and appendix 2). Churches in the So...

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