Tag: baptisms

One reason small churches aren’t growing: saturation

Thumbing through an analysis of our community today, it hit me.  There are too many churches in our area.  Within a 5-mile radius of our church, there are 25 other churches.  And, this doesn’t even count churches without telephones, which include at least 8 more that I know of.  That’s 33 churches for a population of about 4,000 households, or about 8,000 people.  

Take out the 10% of the population that is totally unaffiliated, and you have 7200 people.  Divide 7200 people by 33 churches, and you have an average of 218 members per church.  Of course some have more and some less, but 68% of all the churches in our area have between 125 and 350 members.  Our church fits right in that number.  

Of course, this doesn’t mean that everyone attends faithfully, or even comes at all.  We have several dozen members who never show up, but so does everyone else.  But, it does help us get a realistic handle on the potential of our outreach.  When I pastored in suburban areas, if we didn’t add 100 new members each year and baptize at least 25 per year, I was disappointed.  Here I’ll be lucky to see 100 new members in 10 years, and we are baptizing about 3-7 people per year.  

Those are the reasons we’re focusing on community transformation.  We hope to help others become more faithful disciples of Jesus by bridging racial divides, providing tangible help to families in need, and creating gathering places for our community.  We hope to be good news to our community, as well as to the individuals within it who might come to our church.  What is your experience?  Is your community “churched” and if so, what does that mean for your ministry?  

The report also noted that our area is highly “churched” (duh), and skews older than the national average.  Did I mention that our county population actually declined since the last census?  You’re beginning to get the picture.  

The great news is our area is higly churched.  The downside is that numerical growth of any of our congregations is limited.  Our primary strategy is building relationships, and adding new members gradually over the long term.

Counting the “unto-me’s”

One of the things Baptists do when we take our own pulse is to count.  We count attendance, giving, groups, and most of all, we count baptisms.  Lately, like the last 7 or 8 years, baptisms in Southern Baptist life have been down.  So, there’s a lot of second-guessing about why we are larger than ever as a denomination, but baptize fewer and fewer each year.  Of course, explanations for the decline in baptisms cluster around lack of commitment, lack of bible preaching, and lack of other stuff.  But, I think that’s the wrong approach.

Here’s what I think — maybe we’re counting the wrong things. Maybe we should be counting the people we help each week.  Or the people who don’t attend church, but count those of us who do as their friends.  Or the families of the kids who come to our after-school programs, or take music lessons at our church, or shoot basketball in our parking lot.  Maybe we should count real life moments when we are most fully-Christlike in our dealings with others.

Okay, I know.  You can’t count stuff like that because it’s too general, not specific enough, not concrete enough.  Some folks said something like that to Jesus one day, and his response was, “In as much as you have done it unto one of the least of these, my brethren, you have done it unto me.”  Maybe we should have a new category to count — the “unto me’s.”   That might change our whole perspective on this business we call church.  What do you think?