Addendum: Three Case Studies

Tim Brister —  May 7, 2008 — 19 Comments

On the topic of health and growth of churches in the SBC, I want to give you three report cards from three very different churches (no, I will not tell you which church they are). What I want you to do is simply take a look for yourselves and let me know what you think. Ask yourselves such questions as, “Which church is the healthiest and why?” or “Which church best reflects biblical church growth?”

A couple of things to note here. The UCM index is the number of inactive members divided by the total membership for the year 2006 (this research was done prior to 2007 ACP records). The A/A differential is total additions 2000-2006 over total attendance growth 2000-2006 (hence A/A differential). For example if the A/A differential was 500/100, that means during the seven-year period, 500 people were added to the church as members while only 100 are reflected in their attendance growth. [I have researched close to 100 leading churches in the SBC and have ranked them according to these two factors.] The purpose of looking at these figures are a means for considering our need for healthy churches that are experiencing biblical church growth.

Here they are:

Granted, these are merely numbers, but as any attentive Southern Baptist can attest, every number has a story. We cannot tell the complete story, but it is a story no less. So, what do you think?

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19 responses to Addendum: Three Case Studies

  1. That’s interesting. Even though Church A had a wide discrepancy of church members and active church members they still baptized a lot of people…which of course, is good.

    Church C seems to be a church plant that puts more emphasis on membership than Church A which probably is an older, established church. Either way, I think Church C has a better model, obviously.

    Being a pastor on staff at a relatively large and old (199 years) church (We list 5500 resident members and run about 2500-3000 in worship) I really don’t know how a church would go about ‘cleaning’ up its rolls.

  2. Charlie,

    You are correct in your observations. Regarding what to do or how to go about recovering regenerate church membership, there have been some helpful contributions of late, including Mark Dever and John Hammett. I hope to post some excerpts in the days and weeks to come.

    One thing I found interesting about Church B is the shift from 2005 to 2006 as compared to 2001-2002. In the 2001-2002 juxtaposition, the church increased in membership by 449 by actually dropped in attendance by 91 (an unhealthy shift of 540 people). However, from 2005-2006, they decreased in membership by 594 but increased in attendance by 770. That’s a positive shift of almost 1400. Could there be a corresponding relationship between member care and discipline with the marked growth during that year? In other words, is not the move to becoming more healthy a move also to biblical church growth? If it is, then before we can correct the slide of decline in the SBC, then we should first preoccupy ourselves with recovering biblical health to our churches. Just a thought. :)

  3. Timmy,
    While I think it is impossible to gauge the health of a church from numbers alone, it is obvious that “Church C” has numbers more reflective of a consistently applied approach to regenerate church membership (although “Church B” is doing much better than most large churches in the SBC in that regard – and yes, I too have studied these numbers). That said, Church C is obviously a recent church plant (or at the minimum, never had a large number of inactive members to deal with when she began to grow). Therefore you are comparing apples to oranges in some ways.
    Our church plant currently has a larger attendance number than membership number (and 100% participation in the life of our church by members). As someone that spent ten years in traditional church ministry before planting, I can say, without equivocation, that it is much easier to start from scratch than to transition a large (or small) church to reflect those kinds of numbers.
    While I disagreed with the tone of your earlier post, I want to applaud the manner in which you have approached this question in this post. If you really want to compare numbers that will be illustrative for pastors in traditional ministries around the country, I would suggest finding some examples of churches that have continued to grow evangelistically while gradually addressing this issue of bloated rolls and inactive members. If you can find twenty-thirty sound churches that have done so, you have the makings of a fine study/book. I would even be willing to help you establish the statistical parameters and questions for the study. The study is needed. At some point we are going to have to move beyond just crying for a return to meaningful, regenerate church membership to discussing the means of return.

    Blessings,
    Chris Bonts

  4. Chris,

    You are correct that numbers can only say so much, but I think there are some general observations that can be made (as you and Charlie have mentioned). One of them may be the attraction to church planting versus church reforming. However, I bet that many church planters will tell you that it is a very difficult work.

    I am no professional researcher, and I readily admit my incompetency when it comes to expertise in this field. I began this whole project when I kept on reading the Baptist Press reports which use these same statistics in the advocacy of a nominee for denominational leadership. Furthermore, we often will say “every number has a story” when those numbers work in our favor or contribute to our self-congratulatory presentations. But I have yet to hear of Southern Baptists refer to the numbers which we are failing to account for–numbers who too have stories that should be told. So that is how it began. It never was intended to be a scientific project, but it has turned into more than I had planned. I began with the largest and fastest growing churches in the SBC, and what I can say at this point is that 90% of these churches are fundamentally unhealthy. When the churches attendance growth reflects less than 20% of those added via baptism and “other additions.” I find that disconcerting.

    One of the things I want to do is try to find the churches which have worked to bring greater health to their churches as reflected in their church membership, number of inactive members, and incremental growth. Those churches, unfortunately, are rather hard to find.

    Thanks for the suggestions and comment, and I will take your advice in these regards.

  5. “In other words, is not the move to becoming more healthy a move also to biblical church growth? ”

    I would definitely agree with that statement.

  6. Kyle Barrett May 7, 2008 at 1:57 pm

    Chris….

    Aren’t we still in the crying out phase though? We can pass resolutions on alcohol and global warming but not on regenerate church membership?! The whole point of Timmy’s original post and Ascol’s resolution is to own up to the numbers and then do something about it. But repentance as a convention is the necessary first step.

    kb

  7. Charlie,

    A little off topic, but are you not in the bow tie crowd? I see your moniker pic over there, and I was just curious. Nathan Finn would not be able to cooperate with you as bow ties are a first order issue. In fact, I would not be surprised to see a resolution on ministerial bow ties, calling for all preaches who have abandoned the practice to repent of our failure to keep with our historic baptist traditions. :)

    A little biographical anecdote here, but I was supposed to wear a bow tie as a groomsman, and after multiple attempts, many of us landed in a sea of despair. Since then, I have been inescapably intimidated by them.

  8. A word of wisdom regarding bow ties: clip-ons.

    Otherwise just go with a straight-up tie. We did that at my wedding. ;-)

    I gawked at church C and wondered where those churches are. I did think immediately “church plant.” Church B seems to be where we need to go with our established churches, and Church A seems to be where we currently are with the established bodies.

  9. It seems to me that church C needs to promote church membership a little stronger…It looks like church C needs to learn from church A on how to promote membership…..How can church C stand to have so many outside covenant care? :)

    SG

  10. Stephen,

    I tend to agree with your assessment. If I were to pick a church for established churches, church B seems the way to go. Interestingly enough, this church is the least known of the three in the SBC.

    seang213,

    Well, I think there are two sides to that equation. Ideally, you want to have more attenders than members. I would rather have someone attend the church who is not a member and understands the covenant nature of the church and how seriously the church takes that than to accept the standard we have adopted today where you become a member with little to no accountability or church discipline. In other words, I would rather them understand the nature of a covenant community and be outside of it than be within a covenant community and continually be breaking that covenant.

    But you are right, we do need to encourage those who are regularly attending to commit themselves to a local church, investing themselves for the building of the kingdom with their lives. It is like the problem today where couples are cohabitating but not marrying–they want the benefits without the personal commitment and covenant requirement of faithfulness.

  11. Timmy,
    If you want to find a number of churches that are doing a good job in this area, I would suggest you begin with the most recent list of Effective Evangelistic churches from Lifeway. Those are churches that baptize at least twenty five people a year, but have a membership to baptism ratio of 20:1 or less. The baptism ratio keeps churches with bloated rolls off of the list for the most part. Lifeway can provide the list for you.

    In my research of those churches with the Graham school, we found some pretty amazing churches using this formula.

    Chris

  12. Timmy,

    Actually, I frequently do wear bow ties and have now for about 10 years. However, I refuse to be known as just a bow-tie wearer. I like to mix things up – hence the unbuttoned neck tie avatar. If you are intimidated by bow ties here is a great site that teaches you how to tie one.

    http://www.bensilver.com/style06/knots_bow.htm

  13. Thought / question…

    1. Membership growth and attendance growth are not direct correlations within any given time frame (for SBs that would be 1 year since we fill out ACPs). I have observed this when counting membership growth vs. attendance growth at our church…We have people who will attend church consistently for long periods of time before joining, thus they are counted in attendance long before they are counted in membership. The result of this makes it appear that we are adding members who never show up b/c our membership goes up but there is not a corresponding attendance increase b/c they’ve been at the church for a long period of time. The same is true for our children who grow up in church (are counted in attendance at worship) and then are saved, baptized, and confirm our membership covenant and doctrines in order to become a member. Thus we add members, but attendance does not increase when they join b/c they have been attending for years.

    2. How do you find the data for individual churches in the ACP? Personal contacts at these churches or is the info available at the association/state level to anybody who asks for individual church stats?

  14. Sneaky Sean,

    Thanks for commenting brother. I will miss you guys in Louisville. I don’t know if there is a Qdoba in south Florida, but if there is, you, James, Brad, and Barry will have to be the first to hit it up with me. :)

    Chris,

    Thanks for directing me to that resource. I think I remember something of that nature coming out of LifeWay where Dr. Waggoner was mentioning the report.

    Charlie,

    I am encouraged to hear how “ecumenical” you are when it comes to ties. I have many a friend who wear bow ties, and I do not feel violated having my picture taken with them. :) I will check out that site and see what I can come up with. I am decent with reading instructions–when I read them, that is. Thanks for the link!

    Mark,

    Yeah, I sometimes feel like I should list all the caveats to these numbers, but in spite of all that, I still think there is something to be said about considering a durative approach to analyzing church health rather than a punctiliar or extract approach. The ACP is a SBC database that all churches are asked to report their numbers each year which is used for many purposes (some good and some not so good). These numbers are from that database.

  15. Adam Harwood May 8, 2008 at 2:48 am

    Timmy,

    Long-time reader, first-time poster.

    I like your analysis of the church data. Will I be able to purchase the rest of it (the other 97 churches) later this year at a local Lifeway store?

    Adam

  16. Adam,

    First of all, thanks for reading my blog. Second, I appreciate your sense of humor. :) I am not sure what I will do with the research I have compiled. I think if I develop it a little more that something could be presentable in the future, but I think that would depend upon the options. I suppose the least I could do is provide a PDF document which you could download.

    If I do that, it will have to be postponed for a little while as I am currently in a moving process and everything is packed up. In the meantime, I will continue to talk about how churches can recover regenerate church membership, including stuff like church covenants, church discipline, and gospel-centered community.

  17. Lucas Defalco May 8, 2008 at 11:11 am

    Church A – traditional SBC megachurch

    Church B – a megachurch which somewhere along way adopted church discipline policies (kinda reminds me of FBC Muscle Shoals, AL).

    Church C – a church plant with good membership discipline policies from the get-go.

  18. Charlie has good taste in neck ties, bow-ties, and polo shirts. We are of one accord in these matters.

    Respect the bow-tie, Brister. Respect the bow-tie.

    NAF

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