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The Numbers Don't Add Up

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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.



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  • Guest - Mark Vander Pol

    Dan -

    How dare you ask for a citation and make me prove my point!!

    Here is a source: Clinton E. Arnold, "Early Church Catechesis and New Christians' Classes in Contemporary Evangelicalism," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 47/1 (March 2004): 39-54. And you are in luck--it is available on-line here:
    http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/47/47-1/47-1-pp039-054_JETS.pdf

    A quote, "When we begin to examine the sources of the early Christian catechumenate, we discover that it often took place over a three-year span."

    Enjoy!

    Mark

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  • Here's another funny irony...when I entered the string of text from the baptism block (to try to find the church), I got TWO hits with identical wording. One is absolutely copied from the other.

    http://www.cornerstn.org/index_child.php?num=2

    http://www.fbchammond.com/about/what-to-expect/

    Who plagiarized whom?

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  • Guest - Mark Vander Pol

    Doc - That is amazing!!! It is literally a cut-and-paste from FBC Hammond's site (I have no doubt which came first). Obviously Cornerstone is trying to "cut-and-paste" another "successful" church all the way down to the Wednesday night studies and the quality of the child care!!

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  • Guest - Dan

    Mark,

    Thank you very much for posting your source, that's great!

    Granted, Paul was called as an apostle, but might Gal 1:15-18 have something to do with the three-year catechism?

    I would think that a longer-term view of catechism and membership would reduce the pressure-cooker mentality to "become a member", and would allow ample time for belivers to understand sound Christian doctrine in depth, and carefully considering it, before committing oneself to membership.

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  • Guest - Daniel

    FBC Hammond's church is basiclly on a campus. There is the main auditorium building (actual church building) and about 5-8 other large buildings for sunday school and junior church on or around Sibley Street (church adress). Some of the church buses of FBC Hammond run all day on Sunday because they have junior church and youth group all afternoon for the most part (between morning service and evening service.) I do believe FBC Hammond has 15,000 in attendeance throughout ALL OF THEIR MINISTRIES on a Sunday. AND they have the Spanish church in the old church building next door (Jack Hyles Memorial Auditorium (building church grew out of)) membership- 7,000 .... so yes, 15,000+ sounds right =)

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  • Guest - Daniel

    Here is a map of the campus.... 15,000 is very possible, especially with ministries going on all day =)
    http://fbchammond.com/services/map/

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  • Guest - Dan

    Mark, I'm the \Dan\ from above, not \Daniel\.

    I finally downloaded the reference you included in your earlier response to me on 11/5 at 05:43, and read it in its entirety last night. That's a very good paper and I appreciate that you shared it! I honestly had not thought about the early church's approach to training and approving new members. It's eye-opening and convicting in regard to both the doctrinal and ethical aspects.

    Thanks again!

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  • Guest - Charles Wallis

    I agree that we are too quick to make converts but not willing to do the work it takes to make true disciples that follow Jesus.

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  • Guest - Robin

    So how about the earliest church? How many years did they take in Acts 2:41 before baptizing the 3000? I agree that the "pray this prayer" and a quick baptism is probably not a real conversion, but if God is the one calling as apposed to a man, then one should be baptized as soon as one has accepted the gospel. Also Acts 8:26-39

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  • [...] You can read the rest of Vander Pols article here. [...]

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