Southern Baptist Congregations Today
Sunday morning is the primary time for worship in Southern Baptist congregations—98.5 percent conduct services on Sunday morning.
- About 1 in 12 (8.1%) conducts two or more worship services on Sunday morning.
- A small group of large congregations even conduct three or more worship services (1.4%).
Most congregations only have one worship service with the typical congregation (the median) having 80 in attendance.
The secondary time for Southern Baptists to hold worship services is Sunday evening.
- More than three-fourths of all congregations (78.7%) conduct Sunday evening services.
- For those reporting a Sunday night worship service, the typical church reports 40 in attendance.
An examination of worship service attendance for the previous five years indicates that:
- 47.1 percent of the congregations are growing,
- 20.2 percent are plateaued, and
- 32.7 percent are declining
- Elements generally found in Southern Baptist worship services are
- Scripture reading, an invitation to accept Christ, collection of an offering, a printed order of service, prayer for the sick, recognition of visitors, and a time in the service where people greet each other.
- At the other extreme, elements that are usually considered liturgical such as use of candles or incense, use of creeds or statements of faith, corporate confession of sin, and kneeling by the congregation are rarely found in Southern Baptist worship services.
Southern Baptists are a singing people.
- Worship services nearly always include congregational singing. You are likely to find the use of traditional hymns sung using hymnals and accompanied by organ and/or piano. Church choirs are common and the use of prerecorded music is not unusual. Rarely do you find the use of electric guitars, percussion instruments, or an orchestra. Even though there has been emphasis on contemporary worship services in recent years, there is not a preponderance of congregations using praise teams to lead music, nor do many of them project music on a screen.
- Based on the presence of praise teams leading music, words to songs projected on a screen, contemporary music/choruses, electronic keyboard or synthesizer, electric guitar/bass, drums or other percussion instruments in a worship service, 12.8 percent of Southern Baptist congregations can be categorized as mostly contemporary.
- About 71% of Southern Baptist congregations are traditional in their style of worship.
- The remainder, 16.6 percent, appear to be blended in their style of worship or have multiple services with possibly some being traditional and some contemporary.
Worship style is highly related to size of the congregation.
- While contemporary worship is almost nonexistent in very small congregations, 7 of 10 churches with more than 1,000 participants are categorized as contemporary.
- The incorporation of contemporary elements into worship appears to have a positive affect on worship service attendance. Six of 10 contemporary churches are growing and only one-quarter are declining.
The most frequently cited sermon topic is personal commitment or conversion.
- Six of 10 respondents indicated that sermons always focus on conversion.
- Other frequent sermon topics are God’s love and care, personal spiritual growth, practical advice for living, and living a moral life.
- At the other end of the spectrum, social justice is the least frequently cited topic.
- Expository preaching (explanations of Scripture or doctrine) seems to be the primary mode of
communication in sermons.
There is near unanimity among Southern Baptists that the Bible is an absolutely foundational source of authority.
- Inspiration of the Holy Spirit is also considered absolutely foundational as a source of authority among the overwhelming majority of congregations.
- When forced to choose the most important source of authority, 93.4 percent of respondents indicated the Bible while the remaining 6.6 percent indicated the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
The typical regular pastor is 48 years old. In contrast, the median age of interim pastors is 70 years old.
- The majority of Southern Baptist pastors have college degrees and seminary degrees.
- Only 1 in 10 Southern Baptist pastors has no formal ministerial education. The typical tenure for pastors (excluding interims) is 4 years.
Southern Baptist congregations are typically not large.
- The median number of participants associated in any way with the life of the congregation, is 125.
- When participation is limited to those who regularly attend, the typical congregation has 90 participants—60 adults and 30 children and teens.
- Using these figures from the sample data to infer to the entire population of Southern Baptist congregations, there should be 4.9 million regularly participating adults and another 2.5 million regularly participating children and teens (under age 18).
Download full Research Report, Southern Baptist Congregations Today