Thursday, August 18, 2005

It's "Report Card" time in the SBC

It's about time for Southern Baptist churches across the country to start filling out the "Annual Church Profile." This is the report sent from Baptist HQ in Nashville asking each church to count up how much money they collected, how many people atteneded Sunday School and Vacation Bible School, how many people went on mission trips and, MOST IMPORTANTLY, how many people were baptized.

That is what we are reduced to: a collection of stats of how many people have been dunked in a year's time. The churches who report the biggest numbers of baptisms are hailed as "dynamic" churches and their pastors are soon elevated to national prominence within the convention. But are baptisms truly the benchmark against which we should measure the true "success" of a church.

Tom Ascol of the Founders Ministry has this to say about it, especially in response Dr. Steve Lemke, Provost of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, who used the very same ACP statistics to write an unscholarly hit piece on Calvinism within the SBC:

Statistics simply cannot tell the whole, or even necessarily the most important, story of a church. For example: what would you think of a Southern Baptist church that had the following profile over a 4 year period?

3506 members
203 baptisms
253 other additions
2200 primary worship attendance

3812 members
296 baptisms
190 other additions
2100 primary worship attendance

4011 members
209 baptisms
137 other additions
2031 primary worship attendance

4163 members
237 baptisms
204 other additions
1874 primary worship attendance

Would this church meet Dr. Lemke's criteria for "declining?" It went from a counted Sunday morning worship attendance of 2200 in 2001 to 1874 in 2004. If my math is correct, that is a 15% decline.

Granted, they have baptized 945 people during that 4 year period and they have added 784 people by other means. But the church membership only grew by 657. It took 1729 new members for the church to grow by 657 members.

In addition those 1729 new members resulted in 326 fewer worshipers! If the church continues to grow at this rate then by the time it adds around 10,000 new members the preacher will be preaching to an empty auditorium at his "primary worship" service.

So, back to my question: How should we evaluate such a church? What judgments should we make about the ministry of its pastor? Would Southern Baptists look at such a church with concern and even alarm? Would they want to bus over church growth specialists to help them reverse the decline? Would they encourage the church to get on board with the latest denominational baptismal goals?

No you won't find any of these responses. Nor will you find the pastor slammed in a seminary professor's paper. Shucks...the church might even be held up as a model for Southern Baptists. Who knows? They might even elect the pastor to become the convention president.
We did!


Jim Pemberton said...

I wonder what score Jesus would get after John 6.

Jim Pemberton said...

Come to think of it, Jeff, I believe it was you that made this very point in your Sunday evening sermon a couple of weeks ago.

Jeff A. Spry said...

You, sir, are correct. Jesus did a "horrible" job "sharing the faith" with that crowd of "seekers" in John 6. I think He instituted the "church-shrinkage" program there, a program we might do well to emulate!!!