Little People In Little Places: The Average Size Of SBC Churches

There has been some talk recently about the average size of Southern Baptist Churches. Some have said that we are a large convention of mostly small churches. Others noted that by total membership most Southern Baptists belong to larger churches.

So who's right? And does it even matter? Les Puryear has been posting on these issues. I've turned his numbers into these charts so we can ask the same questions.

Distribution of churches according to church size the SBC is comprised as follows:
1-99 members = 7,744 churches (21%)
100-199 members = 8,461 churches (23%)
200-299 members = 5,899 churches (16%)
300-499 members = 6,493 churches (18%)
500-749 members = 3,566 churches (10%)
750-999 members = 1,716 churches (4%)
1,000-1,999 members = 2,191 churches (6%)
2,000+ members = 835 churches (2%)

However, if we look at the distribution of churches according to the number of people within each church size range the SBC is comprised as follows:

1-99 members = 7,744 churches = 387,200 people (2.29%)
100-199 members = 8,461 churches = 1,269,150 people(7.50%)
200-299 members = 5,899 churches = 1,474,750 people (8.72%)
300-499 members = 6,493 churches = 2,597,200 people (15.35%)
500-749 members = 3,566 churches = 2,228,750 people (13.17%)
750-999 members = 1,716 churches = 1,501,500 people (8.87%)
1,000-1,999 members = 2,191 churches = 3,286,500 people (19.42%)
2,000+ members = 835 churches = 4,175,000 people (24.67%)

What do you think of all this? Is the gap between small and big churches a problem? Should our convention be run by churches or membership?

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- posted by Tony Kummer


Stephen Newell said...

I gotta say, these two charts, taken together, are somewhat confusing. If just over a quarter of our total members belong to churches of less than 500, why is it the largest concentration of members belongs to those churches that have more than 500? Maybe I'm just showing how bad at math I am, but every time I read the preceding sentence in this comment, red flags keep waving.

Stephen Newell said...

Never mind, scratch that. I went back and reread and realized I'd played the numbers wrong in my head. :-P

Mark and Stephanie said...

From what I can tell: top graph is just about numbers of churches. The bottom graph is about the actual number of people in the convention, and where they are.

It is interesting that 81% of the convention is in churches over 300 members. However, this does not at all mean most of our convention is in big churches. There is a good many of those churches have an attendance in the 100's. I personally know of two churches that run in the hundreds on Sunday mornings, with a membership of over 1000. Membership numbers seem fairly useless in the SBC due to the bloated nature of our roles. I would would like to see the percentages based on average attendance.

Tony Kummer said...

That would be tremendous. I think Les took this approach because the way messengers are sent to the SBC based on membership.

But the numbers are ACP based so it is going to be flawed.

Mark and Stephanie said...

I see. I don't know much about messengers, and I've never been to the Annual Meeting. That is probably why I didn't understand his question, "Should our Convention be run by churches or by membership?"

What does ACP mean?

By the way, I wasn't trying to say the graphs he put up were not helpful. I am just thinking knowing attendance would help me to better know what kind of churches a majority of Southern Baptists actually go to.

Tony Kummer said...

I think this is a case where two different angles are being presented on the same data - depending if you are a small church or a big one.

What does ACP mean?
Annual Church Profile: It's the data sheet that cooperating churches send to LifeWay each year. It has questions on membership, baptisms, average attendance ect.

Anytime you hear someone talk about # of baptisms among Southern Baptist Churches they are getting data from ACP.

The whole system inflates our numbers but it has been in place over many - many years. So you can get a lot of historical trends from it like baptism to membership ratio.

Les Puryear said...

Mark, Stephanie, Stephen, and Tony,

You are correct in that the data I used was "Total Members" from the ACP. The reason this data was used is because the only valid study of this nature that I can find among all SBC research, reports the data according to "Total Members." The study to which I am referring can be found at NAMB's "Analysis of Southern Baptist Churches by Size of Church" .

I also agree with the comment that some churches with 1000 members have actual average attendance numbers in the hundreds is accurate as well. However, if one is to compare apples with apples, one is restricted to the data measurement of the original study.

I will seek to undertake a new study based on average attendance based on ACP but since there is not a foundational study on which to build, it may take a little time.

Tony, great job on the pie charts!



Tony Kummer said...

Thanks for your comments - and all your hard work on that data.

I wanted to throw this information out there because we all carry so many assumptions about what and who comprise the SBC. My opinion is the autonomous local churches comprise the SBC. That is how we have cooperated historically and for good reasons - inflated membership aside for now.

Thanks for dealing with these topics. I personally enjoy your blog.