The North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church wants us church leaders to use a church demographic tool called missioninsite.com to know the kind of people who are living within a five- or 10-mile radius of the church. It gives exhaustive information on the local population based on age, income, marital status, race, education, ethnicity, and other variables. It also identifies trends and projects demographic changes.
My eyes are glazing over just thinking about this stuff.
The truth is—as undoubtedly helpful as such information may be—I don’t need statistics to tell me that there are fewer and fewer people who are “just like us” in our communities—people who, among other things, are already faithful Christians inclined to go to church somewhere on Sunday, versus engaging in any number of other, competing activities.
I was in a recent discussion about the demographics associated with my particular church here in Alpharetta. We had a list in front of us: within a ten-mile radius of the church, there are this many empty-nesters, that many Asian people, this many middle-school children, that many single parents, etc. Fine, fine… The last item on the list jumped out at me: only 25 percent attend religious services.
To put it no more bluntly, 75 percent of the people in our community need Jesus. Seventy-five percent!
What are we doing about that number?
How much “church growth” for churches like mine comes from the other 25 percent: Baptists who become Methodists, Methodists who become Presbyterians, Presbyterians who become Catholics, Catholics who become non-denominational. See what I mean? How much of our energy and resources are directed toward capturing a portion of that 25 percent, versus going after that 75 percent who are very likely lost?
I’m not saying I know how to do it, either. But it’s what’s most urgently needed.
When I was in seminary I pastored a small Methodist church in a small town that already had a larger “First Methodist” church. When I got there, the church had struggled for about 15 years to stay afloat and was only beginning to get on firmer financial ground—in part by hiring seminary students like me to pastor the church. (We needed the experience, so we came dirt-cheap!) One higher-up in my conference told me that it was probably a mistake to start my church in the first place. He said, “There aren’t enough Methodists in town to support two churches.”
Not enough Methodists! Are you kidding me? First of all, I’m sure there were plenty of lapsed Methodists who needed to find Jesus at either my church or the First Church. What’s more, I’m sure there were enough non-churchgoing people in town who could have more than filled up our 120-seat sanctuary!
Shame on me for not working harder to attract those people! I was too busy chasing after the 25 percent.