The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) officially lost nearly half a million members last year, the biggest annual drop in more than a century for the largest Protestant denomination in the United States.
An annual profile compiled by Lifeway Christian Resources found the membership plunged by more than 457,000.
“In total, Southern Baptist churches have suffered membership declines of about 3% annually over the past three years,” Lifeway reported, adding that the 13.2 million members recorded in 2022 was the lowest since the late 1970s.
It is still well above the approximately 7 million reported in 1950 while 3 million below the peak membership of 16.3 million in 2006.
The SBC also lost 416 congregations last year.
Lifeway Research Executive Director Scott McConnell believed much of the membership decline could be attributed to recent updates of membership records.
“Much of the downward movement we are seeing in membership reflects people who stopped participating in an individual congregation years ago and the record keeping is finally catching up,” he said.
“Membership totals for a congregation immediately reflect additions as well as subtractions due to death or someone removing themselves from membership. But many congregations are slow to remove others who no longer are participating.”
The report also had multiple positive signs for SBC, with 2022 seeing a 16% increase in baptisms, a 5% increase in in-person worship attendance, a 4% increase in small group attendance and a 2% increase in giving to congregations.
The Christian Post reports that in contrast to most Protestant denominations in the US, SBC had experienced growth in its numbers throughout the latter half of the 20th century and into the early 2000s.
In more recent years numbers have gradually declined, reflecting the overall trend among American religious groups
Earlier this month, the Presbyterian Church (USA) reported a decline of over 53,000 members in 2022, dropping its total membership to 1.14 million.