Southern Baptist ethnic minorities rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic, but obstacles remain on the path to full recovery. 

Southern Baptist ethnic minorities rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic, but obstacles remain on the path to full recovery. 

Written By Minh Ha Nguyen

Southern Baptist ethnic minorities rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic, but obstacles remain on the path to full recovery. 

A group of Vietnamese believers came together to start a new church and celebrate their first worship service in Memphis, Tennessee. Hundreds of miles away, in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska, another group was thinking about doing the exact same thing. Still, another group held a baptism service for half a dozen new believers in Pensacola, Florida. These anecdotal stories confirm what the latest release of the Annual Church Profile (ACP) data from Lifeway Research and Racial and Ethnic Reports from NAMB’s Center for Missional Research is telling us. Southern Baptists among the ethnic minorities experienced a rebound from one of the worst crises of the 21st century, but the road to full recovery is still a long distance away, and the risks of a global recession and war loom large on their horizon.  

Southern Baptists comprising five ethnic fellowships increased their churches, baptisms, and congregations (a category combining churches and missions), but suffered declines in missions, members, and worship attendance, the new data shows. In addition, ethnic fellowships increased their overall giving, giving to the Cooperative Program, as well as to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, two special offerings for the direct support of missions in North America and around the world. With 11,281 churches, they represent 22.4 percent of the 50,423 Southern Baptist congregations included in the 2021 ACP

Following are findings and insights in various ethnic and racial categories: 

All Ethnic Fellowships Combined 

— Growth: 11,281 congregations, virtually unchanged from 11,287 a year earlier; 9,314 churches, up 1.85 percent from 9,145; 14,748 baptisms, up 21.81 percent from 12,107. 

— Decline: 1,967 missions, down 8.17 percent from 2,142; 1,436,056 members, down .80 percent from 1,447,572; 358,415 worship attendance, down 24.02 percent from 471,730. 

— Giving Increase: Up 21.37 percent in overall giving, up 11.83 percent in mission expenditure, up 13.06 percent in Cooperative Program, up 40.59 percent in Annie Armstrong Easter Offering, and up 14.11 percent in Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. 

African Americans 

— Growth: 3,904 congregations, up .23 percent from 3,895; 3,492 churches, up 1.22 percent from 3,450; 885,520 members, up 0.61 percent from 880,108; 3,361 baptisms, up 5.86 percent from 3,175. 

— Decline: 412 missions, down 7.42 percent from 445; 117,105 worship attendance, down 41.14 percent from 198,969. 

— Giving Increase: Up 34.54 percent in overall giving, up 4.94 percent in mission expenditure, up 18.79 percent in Cooperative Program, up 20.65 percent in Annie Armstrong Easter Offering, but down 19.46 percent in Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.  

Hispanics 

— Growth: 3,368 congregations, up 0.21 percent from 3,361; 2,458 churches, up 1.91 percent from 2,412; 4,263 baptisms, up 44.36 percent from 2,953. 

— Decline: 910 missions, down 4.11 percent from 949. 217,326 members, down 2.70 percent from 223,351; 91,122 worship attendance, down 7.77 percent from 98,799.  

— Giving Increase: Up 9.49 percent in mission expenditure, up 31.68 percent in Cooperative Program, up 50.93 percent in Annie Armstrong Easter Offering, up 24.91 percent in Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, but down 4.44 percent in overall giving. 

Asian Americans 

— Growth: 2,141 congregations, up 1.57 percent from 2,108; 1,809 churches, up 4.03 percent from 1,739; 3,539 baptisms, up 11.85 percent from 3,164. 

— Decline: 332 missions, down 10.03 percent from 369; 170,586 members, down 1.83 percent from 173,773; and 67,622 worship attendance, down 16.22 percent from 80,717. 

— Giving Increase: Up 22.47 percent in overall giving, up 19.68 percent in mission expenditure, up 5.76 percent in Cooperative Program, up 44.88 percent in Annie Armstrong Easter Offering, and up 14.63 percent in Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.  

— Asian American Southern Baptists include people of Burmese, Cambodian, Chinese, Filipino, Hmong, Japanese, Korean, Laotian, and Vietnamese descent.

Native Americans 

— Growth: 364 baptisms, up 5.20 percent from 346. 

— Decline: 418 congregations, down 0.95 percent from 422; 393 churches, down 0.25 percent from 394; 25 missions, down 10.71 percent from 28; 32,449 members, down 3.40 percent from 33,590; 10,281 worship attendance, down 18.22 percent from 12,571. 

— Giving Increase: Up 2.31 percent in overall giving, up 11.97 percent in mission expenditure, up 6.39 percent in Cooperative Program, up 23.53 percent in Annie Armstrong Easter Offering, and up 7.32 percent in Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.  

Other Ethnic and Language Groups 

— Growth: 1,162 churches, up 1.04 percent from 1,150; 3,221 baptisms, up 30.46 percent from 2,469. 

— Decline: 1,450 congregations, down 3.40 percent from 1,501; 288 missions, down 17.95 percent from 351; 130,175 members, down 4.81 percent from 136,750; and 72,285 worship attendance, down 10.40 percent from 80,674. 

— Giving Increase: Up 2.94 percent in overall giving, up 7.66 percent in mission expenditure, up 3.67 percent in Cooperative Program, up 36.31 percent in Annie Armstrong Easter Offering, and up 45.42 percent in Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.  

— The Other Ethnic and Language Groups category is composed of multiple groups including Haitians, Nigerians, Kenyans, Middle Easterners, Brazilians, Slavic people, Jewish people and other language groups. 

White Anglos 

— Growth: 139,948 baptisms, up 26.03 percent from 111,047. 

— Decline: 39,139 congregations, down 0.68 percent from 39,408; 38,297 churches, down 0.39 percent from 38,446; 842 missions, down 12.47 percent from 962; 12,244,288 members, down 3.15 percent from 12,642,060; 3,249,120 worship attendance, down 18.11 percent from 3,967,842. 

— Giving Increase: Up 1.78 percent in overall giving, up 6.77 percent in mission expenditure, up 6.78 percent in Cooperative Program, up 36.22 percent in Annie Armstrong Easter Offering, and up 13.15 percent in Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.  

The findings are in concert with 2021 ACP data released in June, which shows rebounds in overall giving, baptisms, and churches but declines in missions, worship, and Sunday School attendance. The Ethnic Research Network, spearheaded by the SBC Great Commission Relations and Mobilization (GCRM), monitors and reports on the progress of ethnic participation in SBC life. The network has developed resources such as the Ethnic Fellowships Dashboard, Ethnic Diversity Index, and Ethnic Participation Index, which are hosted at the GCRM Ethnic Research Portal

Resilience, Resolve and Focus on the Great Commission 

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed that Southern Baptist ethnic fellowships are not only resilient during times of unexpected crises but recover more quickly despite their fragility and weaknesses. Luis Lopez, Associate Vice President of Hispanic Relations, SBC Executive Committee, observed from his review of the Hispanic report, “This is an indication of the resilience of some of our churches and the growing number of people being saved during this time. The jump in baptisms (44.36% from previous year) also suggests the progress Hispanic churches are making after the pandemic.” Both Charles Grant, Associate Vice President of African American Relations, and Peter Yanes, Associate Vice President of Asian American Relations, also agreed.  

Grant wrote, “I am extremely grateful to the Lord for the incredible resolve and focus of our African American churches. While there is still much work to do towards strengthening the participation and celebration of all ethnicities in our convention, these growth indicators reveal the steady progress of African America churches.”  

Yanes pointed to a long recovery ahead by saying, “Though we see progress, we are still experiencing the effects of the pandemic with the inflation and cultural dynamics of our time. Our churches are challenged with finding new ways of resourcing ministries and maintaining the importance of communal gatherings, as ACP indicators suggest for the decline in attendance. But for the love of missions, Asian immigrant churches are resilient and hardworking and will always find solutions to respond to the need of the church.”  

The goal is not just to survive and bounce back but to thrive in a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous environment. Ethnic congregations, known for their collaboration and cooperation, have been shown to have a remarkable degree of resistance, resilience, and resolve to press on and to overcome. 

Grant, Lopez, and Yanes expressed gratitude to all ethnic fellowships for their focus and commitment to the Great Commission through cooperative giving.  

Yanes wrote, “I am blessed and grateful to our Asian pastors and ministry leaders for their undeterred commitment and faithful participation in advancing the Great Commission. Asians might have been ‘the mission field’ all the time, but with our intentional partnership with SBC churches, we are joining ‘the mission force’ to reach the world for Jesus Christ. Together, we can do more than part.”  

Grant added, “I would like to thank our African, Caribbean Island, and African American churches for their generosity in Cooperative Program and missions giving. The overall increase in giving acknowledges an abiding conviction about impacting the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ.” 

About the Author

Minh Ha Nguyen
Director of Ministry Advancement, International Mission Board

Minh Ha Nguyen is the leader of the GCRM Ethnic Research Network and a director of Ministry Advancement at the International Mission Board, SBC. He teaches statistics and data science as adjunct faculty in the Ph.D. program at Bakke Graduate University. He may be reached at mnguyen@imb.org.

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