Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Adult Baptisms per 100 People in Worship

In connection with my previous post on helping congregations learn from each other about doing evangelism, my friend Ron Amundson was struck by the chart below that is included in the background section of the discussion site.  So I thought I might lift it up here as well.

The chart shows the number of adult baptisms per year per 100 people in worship in a (non-representative) sample of 27 of the 107 ELCA congregations in the Saint Paul Area Synod.  (Since most of them are less than one per year on this measure, the data was actually produced by averaging worship and baptism statistics for the six-year period of 2000 through 2005.  This kind of data is publicly available, by the way, on the ELCA website. Once you find the congregation you are interested in, look for the "Full Trend Report" link for a wealth of information.)

A couple of things to note:

  • Some congregations appear to have no effective evangelism (by this measure) with no adult baptisms over the six-years represented in the data.
  • Among congregations that do report adult baptisms over the last six years, there can be a ten-fold difference in effectiveness.
  • There is no evidence here that larger congregations are more effective than smaller ones (by this measure.)  The data suggests that the reverse is likely to be true.

So.  More food for thought.


Phil said...

Isn't displaying the data as "per 100 worshipers" going to bias effectiveness towards small congregations? If I call myself and one other person a "church" and then convince one person to be baptized, I now score a 50! That 5000 member megachurch now needs to baptize 2500 to catch up to my awesome church. On the other hand, my now 3-member church is not going to have the resources to do true missional work.

The Feral Pastor said...

I think your example is exactly the point. Another way to see it would be like this:

Suppose your Church of Two and it's one baptism is being compared to the 5000 member church that, let's say, had 500 baptisms. If you look at baptisms per year, the big church seems to be 500 times as effective! Your CoT would rightly counter, though, that they only have two people to work with so it's not a fair comparison. To make it fair, you need to "scale up" the CoT and say "If we had 5000 members, how many baptisms would we have seen?" So you multiply by 2500 to get your congregation from 2 to 5000 and see that you would have had 2500 baptisms. A fair comparison then (normalized for size) puts the CoT 2500 result up against the 500 of the megachurch and the former is seen to be 5x as effective.

(Church of Two is, by the way, a model that's actively being pursued by John White and others associated with the Luke 10:2b movement. See also the LTGs which are intentionally oriented towards multiplication that Neil Cole advocates:

As to your concern that the 3-member church won't have the resources to do "true missional work" I think I need to hear more about what you mean by that phrase. Granted, they may not have an organizational infrastructure in place to help a large number of people act in concert. There are ways to address that. But it seems to me that a collection of 2500 CoTs would actually have more resources than the same number of people in the megachurch, if only because they don't have to pay for the building and the staff!