News Revelations

Southern Baptists decline as Assemblies of God grow

The Rev. Frank Page baptizes Stephen Allmond in 2008 at Paris Mountain State Park near Greenville, S.C. Photo courtesy of the Rev. Frank Page

(RNS) 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.

Dr. George Wood, general superintendent of Assemblies of God, greets students after speaking during a lecture series on faith, family and society in the Varsity Theatre of the Wilkinson Student Center on Sept. 16, 2013. Photo by Mark A. Philbrick/courtesy Brigham Young University.

Assemblies of God General Superintendent George Wood greets students after speaking during a lecture series on faith, family and society in the Varsity Theatre of the Wilkinson Student Center on Sept. 16, 2013. Photo by Mark A. Philbrick/courtesy Brigham Young University.

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.


RELATED STORY: What to make of Southern Baptists’ declining numbers (COMMENTARY)


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.

Scott Thumma teaches at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut and is the co-author (with Dave Travis) of ``Beyond Megachurch Myths: What We Can Learn from America's Largest Churches.'' Religion News Service photo courtesy Jossey-Bass

Hartford Seminary sociologist of religion Scott Thumma. Religion News Service photo courtesy of Jossey-Bass

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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About the author

Adelle M. Banks

Adelle M. Banks, production editor and a national reporter, joined RNS in 1995. An award-winning journalist, she previously was the religion reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and a reporter at The Providence Journal and newspapers in the upstate New York communities of Syracuse and Binghamton.

28 Comments

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  • We can only hope the immigrants can find a better place to put their efforts, than into church and belief. it shouldn’t take much time.

  • Focusing on just two denominations doesn’t help show the larger picture. Overall, looking at all denominations, the % Christian is dropping rapidly. Even the Pentecostals here are nearly flat – after accounting for the overall US population growth rate. A quick check shows that there are 400 fewer American Chistians every hour of every day, going mostly to “no religion”.

  • Good news for we anti theists. Those who not only reject there is a God but also reject that most of us, except the 1% of humanity our species psychopaths, need your vengeful God to be good.

  • You “can only hope”, because atheism has nothing to offer immigrants anyway. They weren’t crazy about it before they got here and they’re not rushing into it now.

  • It offers freedom from fear of burning and of being watched all the time. It offers the freedom to learn about this world without worrying that some god doesn’t want us to know anything. Other than that, you’re right. It is only a lack of belief in any gods.

  • Atheists say things like “it is only a lack of belief in any gods” these days, but that’s only because theists defeated them rather handily whenever the atheists openly stated or suggested that God doesn’t exist. So the atheists retreated to this “Plan B” wording to prevent, umm, total defeat. That’s where things stand now.

    Meanwhile, Pew Research estimates for 2010 and 2012 show that so far the number of atheist, agnostic, “unaffiliated” immigrants (on the legal side) remain around 14 percent (or roughly 130,000 to 140,000) each year. No real changes. Most immigrants — again, estimated — identify with Christianity (and so do the illegal immigrants, for that matter!).

    So atheism just isn’t cutting the mustard with most immigrants — and nobody can blame them for that!

  • Any Atheist can easily prove that the gods depicted in the bible do not exist, simply on the basis of contradiction within the text, i.e., the god’s many errors and regrets.

  • Another way to prove the christian story of god is wrong, is to follow the history of their creation of hell. When we know they made up that, we can begin to deconstruct all the stories of the bible, and realize that it is a book with no reality, and should not have authority over people. Then too, we can go to Wiki, and follow the history of man’s creation of the false god Yahweh. (Or choose your own source, but not an apologist. They lie.)

  • Doesn’t the Assemblies denomination ordain women? But how can that be? A week or so ago some guy was ranting that ordaining women was the death knell for a denomination. Yet the SBC refuses to ordain women and it shrinks. Assemblies ordains women and grows. Hmmm?

  • For me in my Christian walk with Jesus, it doesn’t matter the church one attends. We humans are so focused on denomination we miss Christ’s provision of forgiveness of sin and His assurance of the promise of everlasting life in Heaven. John 3:16 tells us “whosoever”, not Baptist or Assembly or any other denomination of “faith”. We need to stay on mission of spreading the Gospel and planting seeds for the Holy Spirit to water and grow. What an awesome God we serve !!

  • Let’s see we know that God’s word the bible is a book of truths. In fact every word in it is the truth. Given those facts, how can atheists make a claim that God doesn’t exist? Where is their source of truth other than their own baseless untruthful belief system??

  • Yes, times are constantly changing. It is good to know that despite the confusion going on we have a loving Heavenly Father that has our best interests at heart for those that lean on Him and not our own understanding. Blessed assurance Jesus is mine, oh what a foretaste of glory divine. This world is not my home, I’m just passing through, all my treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue. That is true truth.

  • If you read scripture Jehovah God left the business of church leadership job to men and not women. That’s not to say women can’t or don’t play an important job in the life of a church. They do play a very necessary part. We are one body of believers with many parts.

  • When I was preparing to lead a weekend event at Dooly State Prison representing Kairos prison ministries, I was attending AKT advanced Kairos training. If at any time you walked into our meeting and you listened to the focus of the subject being discussed, you would think we all attended the same church. I wondered why the churches couldn’t adopt our view of sharing God’s Agape love with the inmates. We are an interdenominational ministry. When we do a Kairos function we leave our denominational differences at the door and go into the prisons under the banner and belief in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. If churches would adopt this philosophy things in the God department would go a whole lot smoother. Just sayin.

  • Absolutely, God is good all the time, all the time God is good. He will never leave us or forsake us. I am His and He is mine. Together we are a force for all things good in a evil world. Stand up, stand up for Jesus ye soldiers of the cross.

  • You use the word “force”. In about 666 AD Chrisitinty chose to lie that everyone else is innately evil so needed to be forced, your word, to accept your vengeful God. Chrisitians who were in favour of thoughtful discourse were slaughtered. That was when Chrisitinty died. Your God is not only irrelevant he is bad for society. You offer him your own dead, those who commit suicide, transgender kids as sacrifices at your alter.

  • Frankly as a Southern Baptist who has begun attending the Episcopal Church I’m not surprised at all (in fact, I was glad that you did not correlate the fall in the SBC resulting in the growth of the Assemblies of God, although I’m sure there are a few who are going that direction). In fact, the first day I visited I was told about half of the congregation were former Baptists (not all Southern, but the majority), including the minister. Why am I attending this other church? Well, I’m 60 and tired of being “entertained” in the services. I love that I’m singing traditional hymns, I love the liturgy, I love communion every week instead of once a quarter (and I love kneeling when I take it). So far I’m still technically a member of a Southern Baptist church, but that probably won’t be for much longer. Not sure I’ll be confirmed, but I’m more uplifted after an hour than I’ve been in at least a decade. My experience is not everyone’s experience and certainly my actions are not the same as others who are leaving the Baptist denomination, but many of us have similar stories.

  • My logic was not created in isolation or without purpose. I needed to step beyond what Science was confident about to delay the onset of my Huntingtons Disease. Science said there is something about enriching enviorments that delays HD. Science being Science won’t because it can’t say what works or why it works. I am on a sort of trek to discover for myself, my 12 kin with HD, the larger HD community and society what is enriching and what is toxic. It’s rather simple. I don’t live in the moment. I live for the moment in a 3 day cycle. The sincere thank you’s I get today or tomorrow from strangers and friends will get me out of bed, eating well, excessing, socializing and sleeping well. I share this in my poem The Art of Getting up in the Morning. Every one tells me they should do that. I tell them I must.

  • Christianity is not a person. Therefore, it cannot lie. Christianity being that worldview that is aligned with Jesus Christ is a worldview that cannot lie. Perhaps an organization claiming to be Christian lied. You think? Is that possible?

  • Christiany must lie to Christians because so many Christians hate each other for not being that real Christian you refer to.

  • You do know you are way off on the 1% psychopath number, 1% is the lowest number used. Most say 1% to 3% of the population are psychopaths and another 4% to 8% are sociopaths. Roughly 5% to 11% of the population are either psychopaths or sociopaths.

    This doesn’t even count the 1% of schizophrenics and 2.6% of bipolar individuals who lack of belief in a deity can cause their episodes to be vastly more violent (I have a bipolar relative, trust me on this). And don’t forget the 2% to 6% with NPD and megalomania, who if they don’t believe in accountability for their actions, would engage in all sorts of havoc. Or the 5% that molest children, the 1% that are kleptomaniacs, or the 0.2% that are pyromaniacs with a disposition for arson.

    So combine all those (I remove two points for potential overlap) and you have 20% to 32% of the population who in the right situation, you would probably want them to have a logical reason not to engage on their impulses. Oh and I left out the 6.8% of the population that are felon criminals. Let’s assume some are included above so we’ll add 5%. So now we’re left with 25% to 37%, likely over 50% of men.

    In fact those percentages are so shockingly high that one can come to no other conclusion than that the human race or at least men in particular are inherently dispositioned towards “evil”, i.e. our flesh wants to do the things our conscience tell us are wrong, whether it’s raping, killing, stealing, etc.

    So chances are, if you convince 20 people to stop being believers, you have just convinced 7 people, probably two felon criminals, one sociopath, one psychopath, one bipolar, one pedophile, and a kleptomaniac that there is no consequence for their actions. And that’s assuming there aren’t vastly more hiding amongst us.

    That said, I’m not trying to tell you to become an evangelist just to avoid getting killed, having your house set on fire, your stuff stolen, or your children raped, but statistically, if you convince hundreds of people there are no consequences in the afterlife, you are going to cause those things to happen (to some other unfortunate soul). I’d hope you’d come to know the joy of knowing God and see the only thing that brightens our world or gives hope is Christ and an eternity in heaven. This Earth is just full of broken messed up humans.

    Oh and while they may not kill you, don’t forget the 15% of adults, roughly 40 million in the USA with anxiety disorders (not counted in mental illness figures) or that nearly 30% of youth that report life-harming levels of depression (harming their studies, motivation, etc.) and that people who believe in a heaven have dramatically less anxiety and depression. So there’s that too.

    Atheism, of all the belief patterns, has the highest rate of suicide and depression. Buyer beware? The Mayo Clinic did studies and reported better health outcomes in people with “spiritual” views so if you want better healthcare with less health problems, there’s that.

    Atheism is also harmful to national growth. Although there are other factors like poverty, most of the highest rates of suicide are in the former Soviet Union (officially atheist back then) where high rates of atheism are still prevalent. Stagnant economies, low population growth rates, affects ALL highly atheist countries, i.e. Japan, Czech Republic, etc.

    Meanwhile the countries with the lowest rates of suicide are extremely religious ones (i.e. Muslim countries, etc.). Compare Pakistan versus India and Sri Lanka, comparable cultures, speak the same language in most cases, and Pakistan is the POOREST of the three and wrecked with an almost civil war of terrorism (which usually raises suicide rates), yet India and Sri Lanka which have much higher incomes and relative peace, have 10x higher rates of suicide.

    The world’s most atheist country, Czech Republic, for example, has an economy that is not growing (past 20 years averaged 0.5% growth far less than inflation), a population that is stuck at 10 million some years actually shrinking, even with immigration. Japan is faced with the same problems.

    Compare the fruit of the trees to know which bears good fruit. The fruit of the tree of atheism is rotten, it means national suicide and ironically, often individual suicide or worse for that 20% to 32% with severe mental problems outlined earlier.

  • On the good side at least 30% of US drone pilots need alcohol, go crazy or kill themselves because they can’t kill on a sustained basis. They prove, as Plato observed, many don’t need God to be good. He also observed those who don’t need God to be good can spot those who do need God to be good. They would include psychopaths with your vengeful God on their side.

  • Part of it is, the church needs to start evangelizing again. Many, kind of like Rome in it’s heyday, viewed America as an eternal nation, a “holy land”, and it’s Constitution as a “sacred text” (blasphemous) and never considered it would become Sodom & Gomorrah. I tried to volunteer to door knock or do street corner preaching for a nondenominational church, a baptist church, etc. and all refused to allow us to do so. They are so worried their church members will have a negative experience and lose faith because some atheist is a jerk who insults them, that they stop reaching out to the people.

    Instead they just send their members on expensive mission trips abroad where a translator does all the talking (why even go if you need a translator? just have a local preach!) and can refuse to translate anything that’s negative. It’s not even about evangelism, but just a trip to “solidify” and “affirm” the believer. Truth is, nothing is more reaffirming than after door knocking or talking with a stranger on a street corner and seeing them come into the church and helping them come to know Chrit.

    Ironically it wasn’t until I went to an ethnic church here that I was given tools and encouraged to do outside evangelism here in our own country. The white churches are just too afraid and politically correct, or in some cases in denial that our country is not christian anymore and we need mission trips HERE in our country.

  • This was, by far, the most inane and insane sounding rant disguised as thoughtful discourse I think I’ve ever read. I guess when you just make up whatever statistic you want or shared with friends that the world winds up looking exactly like what’s going on in your mind. Utter nonsense.

  • You only need look at the story of Cain, Abel and Seth and their wives to know the bible is full of nonsense. In order to make sense of it, you have to make a whole bunch of stuff up that’s just not supported by the bible. Cain, Abel, Seth and “the other ones”. I guess they just didn’t care to write down the names of “the other ones”. You can’t explain any of that without making reference to OTHER BOOKS written by other people trying to make sense of the nonsense….and let’s be clear…it’s absolute nonsense. The book of Josephus? that’s a reference point? Why? is that the holy bible? no…it’s just something point to and say “here…here’s some more information” because they know the bible doesn’t support what they’re saying. Ugh….ridiculous assertion that the bible is all truths. Nonsense.

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