Since 1845, the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention have self-reported the internal data of their churches—now called the Annual Church Profile (ACP). Though the ACP is self-reported data, historically, churches have exhibited a certain level of pride in completing the information to share with the SBC. Unfortunately, the last ten years have seen the reporting rate decline from 92.8% to 71.6%, resulting in over 8,300 churches no longer reporting. In this article, we would like to give several reasons churches should consistently report their ACP numbers.
#1 The ACP Quantifies the Spiritual Health of the Church
From year-to-year, churches can see up-to-date information on items such as baptism, AM worship attendance, Bible study attendance, mission giving, and total receipts. While numbers in and of themselves do not describe WHAT is taking place, they do tell us that SOMETHING happened.
Think of the ACP in the same way as a thermometer. We do not use a thermometer to know body temperature for the sake of recording a specific temperature. We use a thermometer to discern the current health status of the body. Just as the thermometer does not cause your body temperature to change, the ACP does not cause the church to grow or decline. Having a record of body temperatures over a period of time can help a medical provider understand the health of the body, and having a record of a church’s vital signs can help the church understand the health of the church.
#2 The ACP Serves as a Local Church Evaluation
How do we know that the ministry of our churches is making a significant impact? Regularly checking annual numbers allows churches to diagnose problems and celebrate victories. For example, if a church sees a substantial change in baptisms or attendance numbers, it enables church leaders to identify what program or attitude changed within the church. These evaluations help churches to plan for the future.
#3 The ACP Serves as the Written History of the Church
Several years ago, I (Patrick) got into a discussion about the “heyday” at the church I was serving. Our senior adults described the years they had to “pull chairs out into the aisles” for the hundreds that attended each week (a number that I couldn’t believe fit in the sanctuary). After finding the annual numbers, the reality was that the church had averaged more in the past, but I still think the chairs only came out for Easter or Christmas.
Another area in which the ACP history of the church proves beneficial is when a church calls a new pastor. When a pastor comes to a new church, a look at the ACP provides the pastor with an accurate overview of what has taken place in the life and body of the church.
#4 The ACP Highlights the Cooperative Nature of our Convention
The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 states, “Members of New Testament churches should cooperate with one another in carrying forward the missionary, educational, and benevolent ministries for the extension of Christ’s Kingdom. Christian unity in the New Testament sense is spiritual harmony and voluntary cooperation for common ends by various groups of Christ’s people.” The ACP is one way we celebrate this cooperative evangelistic and missional mandate. Cooperation among Southern Baptist churches is more than just financial support. We are united in a common cause to fulfill the Great Commission. We are united by a common doctrinal perspective of believer’s baptism by immersion based on confession of faith. A tangible expression of our unity and identity is to celebrate the work of God in each of the various churches.
Over the last twenty years, the SBC has experienced a historical decline in baptisms. Some of this decline is likely related to the rise in cultural issues toward Christianity and the lack of evangelism on the part of our members. However, one gray cloud that overshadows this discussion is the lack of ACP participation by many churches.
The identity of the Southern Baptist Convention is a collection of like-minded churches cooperating together to fulfill the Great Commission in North America and around the world. Historically, this has been relegated to giving through the Cooperative Program (which we encourage you to continue doing!), but being Southern Baptist is much more. Great victories and learning moments are discovered each year by accurately submitting the Annual Church Profile. So commit now to submitting your ACP this September!