ChristianityToday.com has a great article on reporting church statistics — how we count members, attendance, baptisms, and so on. Frank Page, president of the 16-million member Southern Baptist Convention, is quoted as saying, “The FBI couldn’t find 5-million of our members.” Pretty funny, but true. I imagine that the SBC (my denom) isn’t the only denomination to cling to numbers that are, at best, inflated.
And here’s a fact you may not have known — Dr. Donald McGavran, father of the church growth movement, started the whole CG phenomenon by questioning the inflated reporting of missionaries. McGavran called it “the fog” and insisted that missions organizations should quit using imprecise estimates — like reporting “thousands responding to the gospel.” Instead, McGavran insisted that missions groups report actual numbers. Ironically, this exposure of the “fog” in evangelical reporting led to the church growth movement, which for many was all about — you guessed it — numbers. Vicious circle.
Obviously, pastors and denominational leaders like to see numbers going up — more members, baptisms, attendance, and offerings. Where does this leave the small church? Usually, only those who have run up numbers in members, attendance, baptisms, or money are recognized as successful or innovative or whatever. I just got an email announcing a conference for small churches and most of the speakers are either big church pastors or denominational leaders.
But, suppose we give small churches a break and start counting percentages? Like the percent of a congregation’s members who attend? Or the percent of a congregation’s members involved in some aspect of church ministry? This even works with offerings. For years our church has been in the top 100 of churches in percentage giving to our state denomination’s mission efforts.
I’m not taking a swipe a big churches here, but I guarantee you that most small churches have a higher percentage of members attending, giving, and ministering than any megachurch. Okay, maybe that was a little swipe, but I think it’s true.
Now, if we could just figure out how to measure faithfulness….