What Do The Declining SBC Numbers Really Mean?

Those who are interested have already checked out the declining numbers of the SBC. If these recent statistics have passed you by, here are a few lines to orient you to this blog post.

Number of SBC church members is down.

Number of SBC baptisms is down.

Number in SBC weekly worship attendance is down.

Number in SBC small groups attendance is down.

However, there were two numbers that actually went up! They are both generosity related. So there are a couple of wins.

Dollars given to undesignated receipts is up!

Total dollars (designated and undesignated) given is up!

So here is a statement tying both the down and up numbers together. The SBC appears to be experiencing fewer people giving more dollars. Generosity could be on the rise among those who are most passionate about the mission! However, it is in a smaller number of people who deeply believe in the cause.

So why is participation down, but generosity is up? There are probably several reasons behind the stats, like the rising impact of “Nones” (people who profess no faith) and the aging of the Baby Boomers, the largest populated generation in the U.S. There may be other reasons that SBC leaders will be mentioning in the days ahead, but I want to reflect upon the upward trend of generosity.

For over the past decade, nonprofit causes have watched their number of active givers dwindle. The trend line of participation is on the decline across the board. However, nonprofits have also experienced the same result as the SBC. Giving has actually increased. So both the SBC and nonprofits in the U.S. are in the same boat, potentially fewer people giving more dollars.

In theory, one could infer that the SBC should be experiencing more impact because of greater resources. The story should be one of growth, impact, and expansion. However, that is not what the numbers appear to be indicating or the tenure of the discussion from SBC leadership. So what is the correlation between dollars and success?

Sometimes dollars can mask ineffectiveness. When the economy goes up so does giving. There is a direct correlation. I have interacted with several churches over the years that stayed in business because they had the resources long after they had lost effectiveness. So I think it is great that SBC leaders are seeking to address the effectiveness of impact with renewed passion.

Sometimes dollars can be used for lesser causes. My experience is that it is really easy for churches to fall into a habit of raised spending across the board as long as the resources are there without actually measuring the impact of each dollar. Ministry effectiveness ebbs and flows over time. Not every ministry strategy works year after year, generation after generation. Dollars can be invested to actually produce less instead of more, and we rarely realize it. It is a great time to evaluate the return on our resource investment. Generous people want to see their resources making a tangible difference in life.

Sometimes dollars can go uncelebrated. God does grant the spiritual gift of generosity, and he has wired giving to feel great to both the giver and receiver. However, I rarely experience a church celebrating the spiritual gift of giving. Church leadership is usually more comfortable talking about those with speaking, singing, leading, or serving gifts. However, God is giving some very generous people to the SBC these days and that is something to be celebrated.

So what does the apparent decline of the SBC numbers really mean? While I am not sure, let me celebrate all those generous people God has called, gifted, and equipped to release their resources in a growing amount to toward SBC causes. Great job! Thank you for your passion! Keeping fueling the mission as the leaders seek to clarify future strategies. I think this is a tremendous glimmer of hope that can ignite an unprecedented future!


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