Sunday, August 21, 2005

Annual Church Profiles-Round 2

I promise not to make a habit of this, but after giving in to curiosity about another prominent church in the SBC I looked up their statistics for the last 4 years based on the Annual Church Profile (ACP). What I found was a situation that appears to be far more serious than I imagined. I present these figures as further indication that church life in the SBC is desperately lacking. If churches do not return to meaningful membership and biblical church discipline, then there is little hope that some congregations will resemble anything close to a church in the next 20 years.

Again, this is from the ACP of a prominent Southern Baptist church in the south. The pastor has been a prominent leader in the SBC and a man who, in many ways, deserves respect and honor for his life and testimony. Yet, look at what I found:


2001
27905 members
21555 resident members
982 baptisms
683 other additions
9035 primary worship attendance

2002
28325 members
21686 resident members
801 baptisms
720 other additions
9186 primary worship attendance

2003
28837 members
21987 resident members
774 baptisms
652 other additions
8828 primary worship attendance

2004
29349 members
22189 resident members
774 baptisms
667 other additions
9168 primary worship attendance

In 4 years, according to the ACP, this church baptized 3331 people and had 2720 other additions. This means that 6051 people joined the church from 2001-2004. Yet, the primary worship attendance in 2001 was 9035 and in 2004 was 9168 or a total increase of 133. The resident membership increased from 21555 in 2001 to 22189 in 2004, a total of 634.

Once again I want to go on record acknowledging that statistics do not tell the whole and maybe not even the most important story about a church. But since our denomination is so captivated by them, these are worth considering.

Is this the kind of evangelism that we want to propogate in the SBC? The kind that has to baptize 5 people to increase a church's membership by 1 resident member 4 years later (3331:634). Or that has to baptize 25 people to gain 1 new worshiper 4 years later (331:133)?

Is this the model that we want to hold up as a pattern for other churches?

I realize that there may be all kinds of extenuating circumstances that help put these statistics in a different light, but my fear is that these kinds of percentages are not at all uncommon in typical SBC churches.

The need to address these issues is patently clear. The good response to the resolution idea may be a good start. Southern Baptists simply must be encouraged to face up to the realities behind our sham statistics. Souls are at stake. Real evangelism is at stake. The gospel is at stake. The manifested glory of God is at stake.

16 comments:

Ryan DeBarr said...

>2720 other additions

You would think those guys would be more likely to stay and attend church. After all, they took the trouble to join by letter or statement of faith. You'd think that at least half those guys would stay and actually attend church.

I think there's more going on here than just "easy believism." 2002 saw 1521 new members come in, but total attendance went down 368. You're not going to get negative growth out of baptisms. Something is making people run out the back door of the church just as fast as they come in.

Tony K. said...

I have been wondering if the attendance numbers include the children who are not members? I can only imagine it does, which makes the situation worse. Not to mention visitors.

Does calling someone a member who is potentially unregenerate qualify as bearing false witness? Are we not saying this person has evidenced to our church the fruits of conversion? If a church has no knowledge or memory of such a person then this testimony is clearly unfounded.

I think there is a clear implication for pastors when Jesus said. "What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? Luke 15:4 (ESV)

Brian Hamrick said...

These statistics raise a few questions in my mind:

-How many of those baptized are still worshipping in the church a year later? 4 years later? What about the transfers?

-How many of their resident members transfer to other churches (in the same town) each year?

-What percentage of the resident membership is not worshipping with the congregation the following year for no providential reason?

-How does this church receive new members?


Unfortunately, our statistics leave us up in the air about some of these things- but Tom, I really appreciate you pointing out what is at stake here.

Ben said...

I could be missing something here, but if 6,000 people joined the church over four years, how did resident membership only increase by 634? I can think of three reasons. Either the area is highly transient, the church is practicing discipline (which I am told is not the case if the church is the one I think it is), or people are leaving for other churches.

These may be the statistical oddities you referred to, and it obviously does not ameliorate the fact that the membership is 2-3 times the primary service attendance. But at least something is going on that is keeping membership statistics from booming artificially (at least to the degree we see in other churches), and I think we have to admit that's slightly encouraging.

Brian Hamrick said...

Found a good quote on this subject:

"What is the use of evangelicalism seeming to get larger and larger if sufficient numbers of those under the name evangelical no longer hold to that which makes evangelicalism evangelical?"

-Francis Schaeffer (1984)

centuri0n said...

As a member of an SBC church, there is no doubt that Pastor Ascol has struck a raw nerve.

Net membership in this church was up in a 4-yr period 1444, but net attenders were up 133? Even if we allow that this church might be in a highly-volatile area due to kinds of employment, we're talking about 30% attendance on Sunday. Just for a basis of comparison, The NFL averages season ticket holder attendance in the high 90's -- with teams like Buffalo and Kansas City (the top-two teams in the NFL in annual attendance thru 2000) averaging 97% attendance for season ticket holders.

On a smaller scale, last year my son (5 yrs old) was the only kid in his class to attend sunday school 25 weeks in a row. I admit it: we missed at Christmas to visit family, and then this summer we missed to attend my wife's grandparents' 60th anniversary.

We deserve the thrashing we get from pomo's and emergents when this is the kind of discipleship we conduct. If there's a bandwagon for this cause, I'm getting on.

Bill Moore said...

To show that what Tom is pointing out is not exclusive to mega-churches, notice the following stats from a small town SBC church:

2001
758 total members
548 resident members
20 baptisms
31 other additions
410 primary worship attendance

2002
800 total members
590 resident members
24 baptisms
41 other additions
446 primary worship attendance

2003
834 total members
625 resident members
19 baptisms
36 other additions
415 primary worship attendance

2004
860 total membership
650 resident members
25 baptisms
23 other additions
416 primary worship attendance

So, from 2001-2004, total membership increased by 102, resident membership increased by 102, total baptisms were 88, total other additions were 131, and worship attendance for the Sunday a.m. worship increased by 6 at the end of the four year period.

I echo the cautions made above about statistics. Many of our churches have been abused by the misuse of statistics. Nevertheless, something is horribly askew, and I contend that it is a man-centered gospel and evangelism which focuses upon extracting a verbal affirmation of Christ as conclusive evidence of conversion.

I have seen this trend for several years now. Will the condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees by Jesus be made against our churches, "You travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves" (Matt 23:15)?

Bill

Brian R. Giaquinto said...

I question not only how a church receives its new members, but also how it lets them go.

Over the years at our church, we've had several members leave to attend a different Southern Baptist church in an adjoining town. I have never received a transfer of letter! We have since purged our roster and had membership re-sign the Covenant and Bylaws.

I also have visited several churches where during the altar call someone would come forward to be received into membership. The examination consisted of, "do you know Jesus as your Savior?" Then they gave a "clap offering" to congratulate them into membership.

If this is indicative of most SBC churches, the problem is worse then we can imagine.

Ryan DeBarr said...

I question not only how a church receives its new members, but also how it lets them go.

Yes, that's a big part of what I was getting at. Most churches never purge their membership rolls.

When my church's senior pastor retired, the first thing the interim did was organize groups to go around and visit everybody on the church roll. What we found out is a number of them had moved, changed membership, or stopped going to any church.

We purged all those people, but we're still too high. We have about 270 members that give reguarly, and average attendance of 230. If those numbers could be used as a standard, we could say that the "real" membership of a church is average Sunday morning attendance +20%. I'm not sure that's valid for all churches.

But the leadership at my church recognizes the rolls are still too large after one round of purging.

We're not a church that's particularly driven by numbers, so I can only imagine the problem is worse in other churches.

Doug said...

I pastor a small church (non-SBC with 46 members and 70 in average attendance). I can easily tell when someone is not there. How do you do that in a church of 4,000 attendance?

I have been in a church where they kept the attendance records in Sunday School and just counted in worship service. But what if members come to worship service and not Sunday School?

If these churches seriously think these numbers are a positive and are doing nothing to correct them, it is a scarry situation.

Brian Hamrick said...

doug said:

How do you do that in a church of 4,000 attendance?

a) Pass a book down the pew to sign
b) Note card for each person to fill out
c) You don't.

The option most places is "c." I think pragmatism is taking its place over and above the mandates of the gospel in most of our churches.

GeneMBridges said...

Tom,

The "man" in the blogosphere that could really, really help on this issue is the Pedantic Protestant. I suggest you contact the Protestant Pedant, since he is a statistical mathematician and, if you play nice, he might be willing to suggest a constructive way to concretely propose a an alternative reporting method, and, if you're really, really nice, I bet he would take a look at selected statistics for us and give us some professional conclusions. My work is in public health, so I know what kind of things to look for, eg. how the statistics apply in cohort studies, etc., but his work is in statistics in particular, so he has much more focused skills than I.

His URL is here:

http://pedanticprotestant.blogspot.com/

deacon said...

Tom,
Where exactly do we to find the ACP for churches in our area?

Thanks for your help.

Sola Gratia,
deacon

Tom said...

Deacon:

You can gain access to the ACPs through Lifeway's Southern Baptist Directory Services.

Tom

Scripture Searcher said...

Struck a raw nerve?

Perhaps it is more accurate to say the sad situation in the average SBC church regarding membership indicates an ecclestical corpse on life support.

Continue the investigations and show the statistics that many church and denominational leaders boast
about but you will arrive at this conclusion:

Membership is meaningless in many SBC congregations!

deacon said...

I didn't have a log in and password, so it didn't let me in. Do you know of another way to access the information?

Thanks for the help,
deacon