Monday, September 10, 2012

A Case Of Too Much Information, Perhaps?

Our state Baptist newspaper, The Alabama Baptist, which is arguably the finest in the nation, published a most interesting display last week. It is entitled "Major Religious Families .. by counties in Alabama in 2010", and shows numbers of congregations, attendees, members, "adherents" .. I have no idea what those are .. and percentages of population and of attendees.

They were also good enough to list those numbers including all the "Major Religious Families", but the article also listed, separately, the totals for the SBC churches in those same counties.

Now, I'm a bit of a fanatic on the subject of how few of our members actually attend church, and saw this display as a real gold mine of information. But I'm also lazy and didn't feel like putting all however-many counties' worth of information into my computer, so I selected the Birmingham, Shelby County, Montgomery, Mobile, Huntsville, and Tuscaloosa areas on which to focus. And I put their numbers into my handy spreadsheet program. After entering both the totals for "major religious families", and the SBC totals, I had the spreadsheet subtract out the SBC totals.

See, for years, I've heard that the SBC attendance percentages are no worse than anybody else's. That all the denominations are as bad as we are at getting our members to attend. Well, I figured this would be one way, right here in the heart of the Bible belt, and SBC Nation, to check and see. To compare the SBC numbers vs the remainder of whoever it is that comprises those "Major Religious Families".

Here's the Chart I came up with:


If my logic, data entry, spreadsheet, etc are all correct, then the fact is that right here in Alabama, the percentage of members who are also attendees, in SBC churches, seems to be substantially worse than that of the other denominations included in the survey .. which was conducted and published by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies in the 2010 U.S. Religion Census: Religious Congregations and Membership Study.

We've had a committee studying our name. We've got a committee studying how to get the folks on the two sides of the non-Calvinist vs Calvinist divide to stop fighting. For all I know, we've got committees studying other things, too. But, to my knowledge, we don't have a committee studying why we are less successful at getting our members to come to church than other church organizations?

Isn't that part of fulfilling the Great Commission? Making disciples?

5 Comments:

At 9:27 AM, September 11, 2012, Anonymous Nathan Petty said...

Bob, one possible answer to your question is that Baptist churches' roles hang on to members with the tenacity of Chicago pols who want the deceased to keep on voting.

Our church of about 50 has over 350 on our membership role. The last attempt to correct the role was met with resistance.

I seem to remember a Paige Patterson quote, to the effect that it's more difficult getting into a Rotary club than a SBC church but much more difficult to have your membership terminated at the church. Miss a certain number of Rotary meetings and you're out. In some (perhaps many) SBC church even death does not guaranty an honest count.

 
At 11:39 AM, September 11, 2012, Blogger Bob Cleveland said...

Absolutely, Nathan, but this does not square at all with a Savior who said "Let the dead bury the dead". And that's the tragedy. The SBC had grown to think it's OK.

 
At 7:40 PM, September 13, 2012, Anonymous Lee said...

Wonder what the attraction is there in Shelby County that makes a higher percentage of Baptists turn out for church than in other places?

If those figures for Alabama are similar to Southern Baptists elsewhere, and I wouldn't know why they wouldn't be, that means that on any given Sunday, there are about 6 million Southern Baptists in church, out of a membership of 16 million. That's pretty consistent with the Sunday School enrollment and average attendance figure, and with the resident membership. With over 7 million "non-resident members" it would be hard for many more people to show up for church. That means that "The Nation's Largest Protestant Denomination" is about six million people strong. So I'm guessing it isn't really the nation's largest protestant denomination.

 
At 8:22 PM, September 13, 2012, Blogger Bob Cleveland said...

I don't really know, Lee, but I know Shelby County ... where we live .. is newer, younger, has newer churches, etc. And your projection as to attendance nationally is right on .. it slipped to 5.9 million, as I recall, last year.

I still don't understand "non-resident members". They're somewhere, and they're not attending SBC churches.

 
At 9:04 AM, September 17, 2012, Anonymous Lee said...

We did a "roll cleaning" at the last church I served, where we had over 1,000 members, with a cumulative attendance of about 300. We found that about 350 members had dates of birth that were over 100 years old. Those we removed with a fair amount of confidence that they were no longer with us. About 30 members who were known to be dead were still being carried on the membership roll, just hadn't been removed for some reason. We found that there was a discrepancy between the membership figure, and the number of actual names on the roll that subtracted about 150 from the total, giving us a roll of 470 with an average attendance of about 275. Of the rest, we discovered close to 100 who were involved in a nearby megachurch, with letters to the others coming back unknown, or forwarded out of town or out of state.

I would guess most SBC churches could do the same thing with similar results. We had 30 baptisms that year, and saw an increase in attendance, but still got a call from someone in the state convention office, asking if there was something going on that they could help with.

 

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