I grew up in a church that was always scheduling evangelistic events. We had revivals, retreats, conferences, camps and door-to-door visitation blitzes. For several years our church was consistently among the top 3 churches in the state for baptisms. Our church was one of the first I’d ever heard of to launch a seeker driven service. In fact, it was simultaneous with the traditional service, but held in the gym. In the midst of all this, I was hearing God’s voice in my own life, calling me to a deeper walk with Him and to serve in ministry.
Years later, I returned to serve on staff at my home church. One day I pulled out an old church picture directory and noticed a graph on one of the first pages. It showed the numerical growth of the church by Sunday school attendance. Every year, this number was bigger, and impressively so, up until the last year in the graph 1984, the year the directory was printed. The number was familiar, I looked in our records, and it was the same average Sunday school attendance for the year 2000. I did some more research and noticed a pretty flat line from 1985 to 2000. Fifteen years of non-growth.
The late Eighties through the early Nineties were those “golden years” of baptisms for my church. There wasn’t a significant increase in membership nor Sunday school participation. How odd.
I had also been doing some demographic research for our single adult ministry. Out of curiosity, I pulled the data for our zip code and a couple of others and noticed during the late seventies and early eighties there was a significant boom in the population. Our part of the city was going through development. New neighborhoods were being build and businesses were opening. The church growth lined up with the growth of that part of the city. The tapering off of church growth also lined up with the tapering off of the growth of that part of the city.
How often does that happen? Probably more than we care to believe.
Something else bothers me about this. Our church was a leader in the state of Louisiana in baptisms, and during that time there was no significant growth in church membership. What does that say for the rest of the state?