Note: This idea is fleshed out in full in my book, Thrive.
As a whole, Christianity in North America is disintegrating. Although it is true committed churchgoers aren’t going anywhere, very few churches, if any, churches are growing by evangelism. The ones that are growing do so through very specific reasons. That’s merely stating the obvious, but here’s a simple way to recognize the level of disconnect between your church and culture.
Although I don’t believe there’s a silver bullet that will solve all woes, I do believe there’s a measurement leaders can use to determine whether or not their church is resilient and will survive into the future.
The test? Not the ABC’s, rather we should
Not just any baptism however. The crucial piece that cuts straight to the heart of the Gospel and reveals the heart of the church are the STORIES (some call them testimonials) of those being baptized.
Most of our baptisms have stories that sound like this, “…I’ve always been a Christian, and today I decided to follow Jesus with my whole heart,” and involve children from the congregation, or adults who were slow to take the plunge. By no means am I suggesting any baptism is more important than another, but the stories behind those being baptized are indicative of the kinds of people our churches connect with.
Here’s a kind of testimony we hear less and less, “I’ve never been a Christians, I didn’t know who Jesus was, I was lost, but by the grace of God and through the relationships over the past couple of years in this community, I AM FOUND!”
95% (my adhoc count) of all baptisms fall into the first category. Again, not a problem, but it is indicative that our churches are largely incapable of communicating the gospel message beyond the church walls.
How about you? Do a quick mental count of the number of baptisms in your congregation, and consider whether or not these were ‘already churched’ folks, or people transformed anew when they encountered Jesus. The results should be a driving indicator whether or not your community is on mission to join God in his dream to restore all things, or if you’re just in it for yourself (which means you’re probably not going to be around much longer.)
Addition: someone rightfully asked, “what’s a good number baptisms for year?” In my mind, zero would be poor. I think a good average, perhaps even a maximum, would echo the early church, and they managed about 3% of total congregation size of new baptisms every year (assuming new converts were all baptized). So for a church of 50 people that’s one person this year and two people next year (not that many).