Southern Baptists Shrinking While Pentecostal Denomination Explodes

The Southern Baptist denomination is declining.
The Southern Baptist denomination is declining. (Flickr)

The Southern Baptist Convention is the largest Protestant denomination in the country, but it continues to lose members and baptize fewer people each year.

The latest statistics, compiled by LifeWay Christian Resources from church reports, show membership has dropped by more than 204,000, down 1.3 percent to 15.3 million members in 2015. It's the ninth year in a row there has been a membership decline.

Baptisms, which have declined eight of the last 10 years, totaled 295,212, a 3.3 percent drop, researchers said Tuesday (June 7).

"God help us all! In a world that is desperate for the message of Christ, we continue to be less diligent in sharing the Good News," said SBC Executive Committee President Frank Page in a statement.

Meanwhile, the Assemblies of God, the world's largest Pentecostal denomination, is continuing to see increases in this country. The latest statistics, compiled using reports from its churches and released last week, show a 1.4 percent rise in U.S. adherents to 3,192,112 in 2015, up from 3,146,741 in 2014.

Hartford Seminary sociologist of religion Scott Thumma said changes in denominational totals are driven by such factors as birthrate, retention of children as they reach adulthood, and immigration. He said the Assemblies of God are benefiting from immigration — particularly from Central and South America as well as Africa — much more than the Southern Baptist Convention.

Thumma said some of the drop in SBC membership may be due to a growing preference for nondenominational congregations.

"Nondenominational churches have most of the same characteristics in terms of theology and worship style as SBC churches but without the denominational baggage of its reputation or pronouncements," he said.

The Pew Research Center said in 2015 that the share of evangelical Protestants who identify with Baptist denominations has decreased since 2007 from 41 percent to 36 percent while the percentage identifying with nondenominational churches has increased from 13 to 19 percent. 

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