I was recently looking at the (very long and detailed) bio page of a pastor of a large church in the Midwest. As I was reading, this struck me as being interesting:
In the eight years that Dr. ____ has been its pastor, the First _____ Church of _____ has seen amazing growth, with the average weekly attendance more than doubling. This growth caused the need for a new auditorium; so in March of 2005, the First _____ Church moved into a new 7500-seat auditorium and, throughout that same year, saw over 25,000 converts baptized.
Their website also states,
“…we have a baptism time at the end of every Sunday service. Those who have trusted Jesus Christ are baptized by immersion, making it as easy as possible to be baptized immediately after you get saved…. Dozens and dozens of people get baptized every Sunday here at First _____ Church. If you would like to be baptized, make your way to the altar…”
Elsewhere we read, “being baptized automatically enrolls you in our membership” (emphasis added).
This blog post could be about the lack of catechesis given before baptism (the early church had a period of 2-3 years before a convert would be baptized and entered into membership of the local church), but I want to look at the numbers:
1,500-15,000 – Average yearly total of baptisms (I interpreted the “dozens and dozens” statement above to be a minimum of 24 a week–a very conservative number. However, a video says there were 333 baptisms on one particular Sunday, so 300 per week might be a better average which means there could be up to 15,000 baptisms of new converts each year.)
32,500-75,000 – Probable number of new converts/baptisms since 2005
7,500 – Capacity of the auditorium
2 – Worship services every week (one morning and one evening)
Now let’s looks at what doesn’t add up:
15,059 – Weekly average attendance (This is the advertised average for 2009 from the church’s website). In fact, only around 15,000 can fit in the auditorium for the two weekly services.
17,500-60,000 – Minimum number of “members” since 2005 who don’t show up at either of the church services.
I hope you can see the disconnect between baptism/membership and the actual attendance of the means of grace on a weekly basis. I really want to know where all these new baptized members are! This is not how Christ has established his church. God has given the church of Christ the means of grace (the preached Word and the Sacraments) not only for creating faith, but also for nourishing, strengthening, and sustaining faith. God has prepared a feast for us in the wilderness of this passing evil age, but yet many “Christians” don’t think they need the manna, quail, or water that is freely given from heaven. Instead they are content with starving themselves or sadly making their own meals at home. Obviously the “membership class” that these new members get from the time they “walk down the aisle” to the time that they get wet doesn’t include Hebrews 10:25 which characterizes Christians as, “… not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some…”
Today in America, especially, churches need to seriously pick up their responsibility to nurture new converts in the faith and to stress the importance of the gathering of God’s people on the Lord’s Day where they are reminded of the gospel they now believe and told again about this Christ whom they now trust. It breaks my heart to even begin to think where a vast majority of these “members” are in their spiritual walk (it can’t be good). The numbers don’t lie–they can’t all be at this church! I really hope I can be proved wrong and that First _____ Church of _____ is, in fact, a springboard or feeder for many other local churches (they plant, but another waters and nurtures). However, if that is their model or role, then I don’t think they would call these new converts “members” of this particular church immediately after baptism.