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Southern Baptists say giving, baptisms up in 2021, but attendance, number of churches down

The nation’s largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, saw an increase in the number of baptisms last year along with a rise in donations.

Congregations affiliated with the Southern Baptists reported 154,701 baptisms last year, up 26% from the 1213,160 reported in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic took hold globally. The data comes from the “Annual Church Profile,” compiled by Lifeway Christian Resources’ research unit in cooperation with state Baptist groups known as conventions.

The Southern Baptist Convention reported a total giving income of $11.8 billion in 2021, up 2.6% over the previous year.

“The increased generosity among churches is a high point in the Annual Church Profile,” Willie McLaurin, interim president and CEO of the Southern Baptist’s executive committee, said in a statement. The increase, he added, has accelerated the “mobilizing more missionaries and planting more churches.” 

But the news is not all good: The survey sounf Southern Baptists have lost members overall, falling to 13.7 million from just over 14 million in 2020, and the total number of congregations dropped to 50,423, roughly 1,500 fewer than five years ago.

Along with affecting total baptisms in 2020, the global pandemic has hurt weekly church attendance, the group said. Congregations reported an 18.75% decline in average weekly in-person worship attendance, down from 4,439,797 in 2020 to 3,607,530 last year. For in-person Sunday school, Bible study and small-group meetings, average attendance fell 22.15%  the denomination said.

“It’s not fun to document difficult seasons of ministry, but we know God is as faithful today as He has ever been,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway’s research unit. “And these statistics continue to show the faithfulness and sacrifice of congregations during trying times.”

Not all Southern Baptist churches participated in the 2021 survey, Lifeway said. Although 70% of congregations did report at least one item in the annual survey, that was “well below” the 75% reporting mark achieved in 2019, officials said.

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