In Luke 9 Jesus sends out 12 disciples. In Luke 10 Jesus sends out 72 ‘others’. By Luke 11, how many do you think he was able to send out?

We’re not told the answer, but we do know church growth was exponential in the first century.

If we work on the multiple of 6 between chapters 9 and 10, it comes out at 432, then 2592, 15552, 93312 and so on. On this basis, the mission of God started by Jesus with just twelve disciples, would take just 4.5 chapters to outstrip our collective membership across over 500 Baptist Churches.

This is in stark contrast to the Church, in general terms, in the UK over the last century. Whilst we like to point to global figures for Christianity, Europe remains the poor relation when it comes to the growth of the church as a result of new disciples.

Unfortunately, Baptists are not the exception we sometimes imagine in the story of shrinkage across the UK Church. The following figures relate to the churches, members and baptisms across those within the four regions represented in our Association Partnership.

Chart showing decline in number of churches from 583 in 1990 to 471 in 2030

Chart showing decline of members from 41384 to 24021 in 2030

Chart showing decline in baptisms from 1454 in 1990 to 510 in 2030

How many churches, members and annual baptisms do you think we shall have by 2030?

Of course, these figures are merely projections based on previous trends, but we need to take a long, careful look before we dismiss them. I recall the projections made concerning the Methodists and URC Churches twenty years ago, when the Baptist figures appeared to be fairly flat. The story of the last two decades is both of these denominations have continued a dreadful numerical decline. Twenty years ago many Baptists thought we were immune from a similar shrinkage, but whenever you’re going downhill there’s always the danger of momentum taking you beyond where you’d love to stop.

At this point, most people point out attendance figures are a much better indicator of church health in today’s climate. That may, or may not, be so. However, unfortunately we don’t have sufficient data over a long enough period to know.

Another serious implication at these projected figures is the average size of a Baptist Church (50 on average by 2030) will, in many more cases, make stipendary Ministry unsustainable.

We don’t wish to depress everyone, but we do believe it’s vital we face reality. Jesus always deals with reality, whether that is the darkness of a human heart, the sadness of tragedy, or the recognition of emptiness. As individual followers of Jesus that’s where we all started … facing the reality of our sinfulness and the need of the mercy and grace of God. We don’t only want to say, like Nehemiah ‘you see the trouble we are in’ alone, but also ‘let us start re-building’ (Nehemiah 2:17-18).

Talking Jesus …

I wonder if you’ve taken more than a casual look at the Talking Jesus research yet?

Basing the way we operate on assumptions we ‘think’ are true, or were once upon a time, is a fragile foundation for ministry and mission today. This research, produced by the Barna Group, can help us inform our churches and shape our best energies in terms of equipping people to reach others for Jesus. I think it’s essential we engage with the findings of this research if we genuinely desire to see our church connect appropriately with people today and this day will be as good a means of doing this as any.

Gavin Calver, who is a Baptist Minister, but also Director of Mission with the Evangelical Alliance, is now touring the country unpacking this research. He will be meeting with our WEBA Ministers and local church leaders in Bristol on Tuesday 3rd May. Anyone from further afield would be welcome if you can’t wait until a date nearer to home; click here to book your place.

 

 

Nigel Coles

Nigel is our Senior Regional Minister and Team Leader. He facilitates the life of the WEBA network team and oversees the missional strategy for the region. He also works to develop missional strategy over a wider geographical area with our partner Associations. Nigel is the main WEBA contact for churches and ministers seeking new leadership opportunities, and he works to encourage individual disciples of Jesus through his ‘DNA groups’ resource.