Annual Church Profiles

It is that time of year when Southern Baptist churches are being encouraged to fill out and turn their “Annual Church Profile” (ACP). This is the document that is used to compile all those statistics that Southern Baptist leaders like to tout.

It was the Annual Church Profiles of 233 “Founders Friendly” churches that Dr. Steve Lemke, of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, studied to come up with his assessment that such churches “had considerably fewer baptisms, smaller congregations, more declining membership than the average Southern Baptist Church. In 2004, not a single one of the 233 self-identified Founder’s [sic] Fellowship Southern Baptist Churches had 40 or more baptisms. Their baptism to member ratio was 1:62; it was 1:42 in the rest of the Southern Baptist Convention (which is the worst in our history)…. The Founder’s [sic] Fellowship churches were not only smaller, but they were more likely to be plateaued or declining than most Southern Baptist churches. Over 79 percent of the Founder’s [sic] Fellowship churches were plateaued or declining, 10 percent more than the typical Southern Baptist church.” (see my July 27-August 1 blogs for my assessment of his treatment of Calvinism and Founders Ministries)

Those ACPs are used to determine “successful” ministries and “dynamic” churches. I am beginning to question the wisdom of filling them out at all, for many reasons, not the least of which is the use of the statistics in the way that Steve Lemke did to mischaracterize pastors and churches.

Statistics simply cannot tell the whole, or even necessarily the most important, story of a church.

For example: what would you think of a Southern Baptist church that had the following profile over a 4 year period?

3506 members
203 baptisms
253 other additions
2200 primary worship attendance

3812 members
296 baptisms
190 other additions
2100 primary worship attendance

4011 members
209 baptisms
137 other additions
2031 primary worship attendance

4163 members
237 baptisms
204 other additions
1874 primary worship attendance

Would this church meet Dr. Lemke’s criteria for “declining?” It went from a counted Sunday morning worship attendance of 2200 in 2001 to 1874 in 2004. If my math is correct, that is a 15% decline.

Granted, they have baptized 945 people during that 4 year period and they have added 784 people by other means. But the church membership only grew by 657. It took 1729 new members for the church to grow by 657 members.

In addition those 1729 new members resulted in 326 fewer worshipers! If the church continues to grow at this rate then by the time it adds around 10,000 new members the preacher will be preaching to an empty auditorium at his “primary worship” service.

So, back to my question: How should we evaluate such a church? What judgments should we make about the ministry of its pastor? Would Southern Baptists look at such a church with concern and even alarm? Would they want to bus over church growth specialists to help them reverse the decline? Would they encourage the church to get on board with the latest denominational baptismal goals?

No you won’t find any of these responses. Nor will you find the pastor slammed in a seminary professor’s paper. Shucks…the church might even be held up as a model for Southern Baptists. Who knows? They might even elect the pastor to become the convention president.

Tom Ascol has served as a Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, FL since 1986. Prior to moving to Florida he served as pastor and associate pastor of churches in Texas. He has a BS degree in sociology from Texas A&M University (1979) and has also earned the MDiv and PhD degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. He has served as an adjunct professor of theology for various colleges and seminaries, including Reformed Theological Seminary, the Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary, African Christian University, Copperbelt Ministerial College, and Reformed Baptist Seminary. He has also served as Visiting Professor at the Nicole Institute for Baptist Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. Tom serves as the President of Founders Ministries and The Institute of Public Theology. He has edited the Founders Journal, a quarterly theological publication of Founders Ministries, and has written hundreds of articles for various journals and magazines. He has been a regular contributor to TableTalk, the monthly magazine of Ligonier Ministries. He has also edited and contributed to several books, including Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry, The Truth and Grace Memory Books for children and  Recovering the Gospel and Reformation of Churches. He is also the author of From the Protestant Reformation to the Southern Baptist ConventionTraditional Theology and the SBC and Strong and Courageous. Tom regularly preaches and lectures at various conferences throughout the United States and other countries. In addition he regularly contributes articles to the Founders website and hosts a weekly podcast called The Sword & The Trowel. He and his wife Donna have six children along with four sons-in-law and a daughter-in-law. They have sixteen grandchildren.
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