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The Dilemma of Decline: Part 8 - Where Are We Now?

By Dr. Chuck Kelley

The numbers are the numbers. Southern Baptists may be reluctant to accept the reality of the pervasive presence of decline and the loss of a vibrant evangelistic culture in SBC churches, but the official statistics of the Southern Baptist Convention paint a compelling portrait of churches struggling mightily to reach new converts and to hold on to people already in the fold. In spite of multiple efforts by a variety of people to stimulate growth, the SBC continues to decline. Doctors check the vital signs of temperature, weight, and blood pressure at every visit looking for indicators of how healthy we are. The chart below reviews the vital signs of Great Commission health for the SBC from 2010 through 2018, the most recent year for official SBC statistics. Complete statistics for 2019 are expected within the next two weeks. Both charts will be updated as soon as those numbers are made public.

Statistical Snapshots of the SBC (2007-2018)

This chart does not include two other sobering indicators of Great Commission health.

LifeWay Research reports that from 20011-2018, the SBC lost an average of 1,144 churches a year who gave up their SBC ID number. Also, in 2000 the average number of baptisms per SBC church was 9.97. By 2019, theaverage number of baptisms per church was 4.9, a drop of 50%. Wow! The SBC is in a serious Great Commission crisis.

The health of SBC churches inevitably affects the health of the SBC missionary enterprise. The next chart shows key data from the two mission boards. Note the increase in income but decrease in missionaries. The dollars are going up, but more missionaries are not going out. When evangelism diminishes, eventually so will missions.

A Convention of churches declining in membership, worship attendance, and baptisms is unlikely to produce steadily increasing numbers of missionaries, and church planters. In 2018, with a budget $16,000,000 higher, the IMB had 1,574 fewer missionaries under appointment than in 2010. With an additional $5,000,000 annually in 2018, NAMB had one more missionary under appointment than in 2010. The IMB did explain that in 2017 they changed the timing for reporting the total of Lottie Moon gifts, creating an anomaly in the formal report of the offering to the SBC Annual for that year. It did not have a dramatic drop in income. NAMB did not respond to inquiries about why the number of appointed missionaries dropped by about 50% in 2011, but then suddenly doubled back above the 2011 level in 2015 without a corresponding change in its budget in either instance.

The decade since GCR was adopted in 2010 has not been good for the Southern Baptist Convention. What was intended to be a Great Commission Resurgence driven by a radical new direction from NAMB in fact became a Great Commission Regression, adding to the decline that began in 2000 rather than reversing it, with losses unprecedented in SBC history. The problems are real and the issues are complex, but God is not nervous! Southern Baptists can have a hopeful future. Where we go from here is the subject of my next blog.

Pastor’s Take Away: Track your key numbers even if you do not like what they tell you, and discuss them with your church leaders. What are the Great Commission vital signs of your church? Do the numbers suggest adjustments to strategies or priorities are in order?


Will McRaney
Will McRaney
May 28, 2020

In 2010, NAMB under counted the number of new church plants across the country. According to state leaders, numerous churches were left out based on how NAMB began counting on the start dates. NAMB later let it out in reports that there were 943 plants for 2010 (at least that many). Cost per plant in 2009 was $15,696 from NAMB mission funds to NAMB spending $109,455 for the SBC. As to the some 136 that NAMB assessed and approved, the average cost would be $502,206.


Bill Barker
Bill Barker
May 27, 2020

Dr. Kelley, the NAMB number of missionaries is misleading. Look at 2010 at the number of fully funded and joined funded NAMB Missionaries and those today who are fully funded or joint funded with the state convention. NAMB's numbers are loaded with self funded and otherwise misleading numbers that are different from the numbers in 2010. Most of our church planters (missionaries) are self-funded (faith based, societal missions) rather than funded through CP and the AAEO.

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