Tuesday, May 25, 2010

More Churches? Or Bigger Churches?

I was reading an article titled "Total U.S. Churches No Longer In Decline" that contained the statistic approximately 3,500 churches in the U.S. close their doors for good every year, and 4,000 new ones open theirs.

Something like this would be reason for people to throw up their hands in celebration, "Yea! The church in the U.S. isn't declining!! WOOOOOOOOOOOO!" I'm not one of those people, but hey, to each their own.


The article goes on to examine why the authors believe this is happening, current trends amongst U.S. churches, church addition vs church multiplication and some other things. You can read up on all that here if you'd like, I'm not getting into it.

What I will get into is this line, "Another obstacle is getting past the 'don't we have enough churches' mentality." This hit me because I live in Springfield, Missouri...and we have about 19 churches on every street. I mean honestly, no matter what church you're going to, you probably pass several dozen churches on the way to get to YOUR church.

So I thought I'd spend a minute actually looking up how many churches we have. I took the high tech approach, I used the yellow pages in a phone book.

According to the phone book I pulled from a giant stack in the corner of the office (don't ask) there are approximately 700 churches listed in the greater metro Springfield area.

That's a lot of churches.

And it kinda stands to reason, Springfield is the epicenter of the Assemblies of God denomination, they have their only seminary here, their world HQ, we're firmly in the 'Bible belt,' we have several Christian colleges, and the largest church in the state is right down the road - James River Assembly in Ozark. We're pretty heavily "churched."

Seven. Hundred. Churches. If there's any place where you could look around and say "Yep, we have enough churches" it's here in Springfield. And surely not every church is listed either.

Now here comes the rub, we also have 500,000 people in the greater Springfield Area.

Some quick math means that if we are to reach every single person through a traditional "church" model, than our churches each need to have over 700 people as a part of that particular church.

So how many people does the average church have in it? Well according to some quick googling, the average congregation size by mean is 186. By median, it is 75. No matter which number you take (and how knowledgeable you are about statistics, and which one you should take), it's pretty small.

Much smaller than 700.

Some would look at that and say, "See! We need more churches!!" Others would respond, "See! We need bigger churches!!"

I'm not entirely sure which one of those sentiments is correct, if either of them even are. Personally, I think we just need better churches.

I know, I know, "better" doesn't really mean anything. How do you really describe what makes a "better" church? Is bigger better? Is smaller better? What the heck is better?

Maybe better isn't the best word. 

But I think that if we truly have God's spirit inside of us, if you truly have been changed & saved by Jesus, then you're not going to want to keep that to yourself. As an individual and as a church, you're going to have an insatiable desire for other people to experience what you have. And you're going to stop at nothing to get people in touch with the source of your changed life: Jesus.

That comes in all shapes and sizes. And I don't think it's so easily measurable by numbers. But I do believe you know it when you see it, and you also know where it is not when you don't see it.

And those places where it isn't? Maybe I'm harsh, but I think those are the doors that need to be closed.