Don’t get hung up on church numbers — focus on church health, not size


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CHURCH MEDIAN AGES ARE ALARMING BUT IS THERE A PROBLEM?

TOM LAMPRECHT: Harry, I want to take you to a story of statistics. Statistics never tell the whole story, but they can validate that a story exists. Two simple statistics can help explain the American church: one, the median church size is 75 people and, two, the median church age is 73 years.

DR. REEDER: Tom, now let’s get clarity as this new story also brings clarity. A statistician doesn’t cringe any more than when he hears people say, “Well, the median average is.” Those two terms don’t go together. Median means mid-point. In other words, when you take the churches in the United States of America, the median point of the size of churches is 75. In other words, half of the churches in the United States are above 75 and half are below 75. The median age is 73 — that is, half of the churches in the United States are above age 73 and half of the churches are below age 73. That’s the median point.

And then, out of that, the majority of churches actually have less than 100 people, probably less than 75 people, and that’s where they are in their size. Now, how are we do see that? And, by the way, if you’re a pastor of one of those churches, how are you to look at that?

WHY IS GROWTH IMPORTANT?

We have a ministry, Tom, called “From Embers to a Flame” and “From Embers to a Flame” is taking the Biblically revealed paradigm for church revitalization. How can you lead your church back to healthy vitality and one of the points we make is your objective is not church growth, but it’s church health?

I didn’t tell my children to grow — “I want you to grow three inches” — but what I did was I fed them, exercised them and made sure they got rest. God had a DNA in them of what he had put within them and my job as a parent was not to make them grow. That’s why we don’t give them steroids for false growth. There’s a lot of churches of cultural steroids because they value growth more than health.

Therefore, it’s not big is good and small is bad or small’s good, big’s bad — it’s healthy. You want to be a spiritually healthy, Gospel-vital church. Now, where you’re located, your location and your generation are going to affect that. If I’m in a community that is declining, then likely I can have a healthy church but, actually, the statistics may be decreasing.

KEEP IT ALL IN PERSPECTIVE, NOT JUST ON FLAT NUMBERS

I was with a young man in the ministry and I had gone to do a conference for him and to spend some time with him at his request. And, in our prayer time together, he was weeping and I said, “What’s the problem?” and he said, “I feel like an utter failure.” I said, “Why?” and he said, “Well, when I came here, the church was 250 and now our average attendance is 175.”

This guy pastored in a church that was in a county that is the only county east of the Mississippi River that doesn’t have a traffic light. “What was the population when you arrived here in the county?” “Well, it was around 30,000.” I said, “What’s the population now in the county?” “It’s about 8,000.” The recession that hit the coal mining industry, people had moved out, businesses were shut down and it looked like a ghost town.

I said, “First of all, you’ve got 175 people and when you came it was 250 but, when you came, you had 250 people but there were 30,000 people here. Now you’ve got 175 people but there’s 8,000 people. Well, I’m not a whiz in math, but I do believe 175 out of 8,000 is a higher percentage of people in the country coming to your church than when you came and you had 250 but there were 30,000 people in the county. I could make a case that you’ve actually grown.”

THE BIBLE SHOWS EXAMPLES OF HEALTHY BIG AND SMALL CHURCHES

When I look at the Bible, I see the Bible bringing to us the testimony of a healthy church, not a “big church.” The Bible does not avoid statistics — they’re all over the place in the Book of Acts. When the Bible commends the church at Jerusalem — there are 3,000 and that’s just counting the men and then 5,000 were added and that’s just counting the men. People are being saved every day.

Likely, the church at Jerusalem at one time of those opening salvos of the first generation of the church when James became their pastor, the brother of the Lord, that church probably was somewhere between 14,000 and 18,000 people. Yet, look at the commendation that God gives to churches that are meeting in houses and that the apostle Paul affirms. Go read the Book of Revelation: two churches get a clean bill of health and they’re both house churches.

Therefore, it’s not that God says, “Oh, if you’re big, you’re good. If you’re small, you’re bad. Nor, if you’re small, you’re good and if you’re big, you’re bad.” What you need to see is it’s Gospel health is what you want. Your size, many times, is what will reflect where God has you.

It is said there are certain species of fish from which we get goldfish. The goldfish grows proportionately to the size of the pool that they’re in. Well, so it is with many churches. You can you have Gospel healthy church and there’s only 75 people in a small, rural town. And I praise the Lord for that — we need that.

GOD CHOOSES WHERE HE NEEDS YOU TO MINISTER

Tom, as you know, if I just had my druthers, I would have pastored a small Presbyterian church in a small southern town with a wonderful, laid-back lifestyle — my romantic desire in all of life. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do, but God has seen fit to put me in other situations where there are larger churches and that’s what He has seen fit to do and that’s fine.

I don’t see myself as a superior pastor because my church is big. I just want to be faithful and I want to be effective. And if God puts you in a place where there’s booming population, well, that’s where you are. If God’s put you in a place where there’s a shrinking population, that’s where you are. What you aim at is effectiveness and church health and, God, give us maturation of longevity — not just we’re hanging around, but we keep growing in the Lord and our next years are even better than the last years. Even though the surrounding population may be shrinking, thereby affecting the size of our church, we’re still reaching our parish.

MAKE SURE YOUR CHURCH IS “WELL” FOR HEALTHY GROWTH

You want to aim at Gospel health and vitality. We call it a WELL Church. A WELL church is a church that:

W — worships with authenticity in spirit and in truth

E — evangelism and missions; you are reaching the lost with intentionality

L — loving one another; “They marveled at how they loved one another”

L — learning church

Therefore, you’ve got worship, that’s our ministry of upreach to God; evangelism, that’s our ministry of outreach to the world; loving one another, that’s our ministry to inreach to one another; then learning, that’s our ministry of downreach to ourselves that we’re being discipled and discipling others. That’s the testimony of vitality.

Normally, when you got a WELL church, just like a physical body grows and is healthy, so will a church grow statistically. In God’s providence, sometimes that statistical growth won’t be there because of the location and the generation, but it’s still a healthy church in that context.

STATISTICS MATTER BUT DON’T LET THEM DEFINE YOUR CHURCH

Now, that doesn’t mean you don’t use the metrics. If the metrics are showing something declining and it’s not explained by the dynamics in the community, then you need to take a look and say, “Wait, wait, wait. This statistic is revealing something is amiss.” But the answer is not to puff up the statistics because your mission is not growth; your mission is to make disciples that are healthy.

And don’t you love it in the Great Commission where it says the disciples of Jesus, when they saw Him after His resurrection, it says they worshipped Him — W. Then He tells them to go — that’s evangelism. Then He tells them to baptize and that’s when believers and their household are enfolded into the body of Christ — when they love one another. And then He says, “Teach them to observe all I have commanded you — that calls for learning with conviction in your life and that’s what we look to the Lord to do.

Therefore, Tom, statistics don’t lie, but liars can use statistics and statistics can lead you to the wrong place if you don’t have the right paradigm. In the ministry, your paradigm is fix your eyes on Jesus, fulfill the Great Commission, live the Great Commandment and then have a great commitment to Christ and then, “God, thank you for where I am. Where I am let me raise a standard. The size of the church will reflect where I am. The health of the church will reflect the grace of God that is greater than our sins.”

Dr. Harry L. Reeder III is the Senior Pastor of Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham.

This podcast was transcribed by Jessica Havin, editorial assistant for Yellowhammer News, who has transcribed some of the top podcasts in the country and whose work has been featured in a New York Times Bestseller.

 

14 hours ago

A victory in court for school choice

The U.S. Supreme Court recently delivered a “big win” for school choice and religious freedom. School choice enables competition, which economists find generally improves the quality of goods and services. I believe that this result will apply to education, and specifically public schools.

Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue involved 2015 legislation allowing tax-deductible contributions for scholarships to private, non-profit schools. The Montana Supreme Court struck down the act in 2018 as an unconstitutional use of public funds for religious purposes, including any school or college controlled by a church. Montana’s constitutional provision is a “Blaine Amendment” dating to the 19th century to prohibit state aid to parochial schools; 37 states, including Alabama, have Blaine Amendments.

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The constitutional issues involved were the First Amendment’s separation of church and state and religious discrimination in government policy. Chief Justice John Roberts’ majority opinion found the Blaine Amendment discriminatory: “A State need not subsidize private education. But once a State decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.”

The Montana Supreme Court struck down the entire school choice program based on the Blaine Amendment. Although Montana’s legislature could have enacted a scholarship program applying to only non-church private schools, this would have significantly restricted parents’ choice. According to the Institute for Justice, which litigated Espinoza, Blaine Amendments are often used to block school choice. Only a narrow interpretation of Alabama’s provision allowed the Alabama Accountability Act to withstand challenge.

Separation of church and state is wise constitutional doctrine. Still, I do not see the scholarships as violating separation of church and state. The public “dollars” involved are taxes foregone. Church-affiliated schools often operate at a loss, so tuition scholarships will not yield profits to support other activities and presumably provide enough education to qualify as schools.

George Mason law professor Ilya Somin offers an illustrative comparison. No one worries that tax exemptions for religious charities or police and fire protection for churches constitute state support for religion. Tax deductions for scholarships do not establish a state religion.

Church-affiliated schools provide a variety of education consistent with their doctrine and moral teachings. The goal of school reform should be, as economist John Merrifield emphasizes, a diverse menu of options to suit students’ varied learning styles and parents’ values. Church-affiliated schools accomplish this.

School choice policies will make Americans more equal. Affluent Americans, who can afford private school tuition, have long enjoyed school choice.

American higher education features school choice. Alabamians can attend any of the state’s 14 four-year universities or more than 30 two-year colleges at in-state tuition rates. These institutions offer diverse educational options. Two-year colleges offer vocational programs and inexpensive core classes. Four-year universities include one modeled after a liberal arts school, large and small campuses, and numerous online degrees. Federal student aid and loans help make private colleges affordable.

By contrast, K-12 public schools require students to attend their assigned school. After paying taxes to support government schools, many families cannot afford private school tuition. The economic case for public education stresses ensuring all students can afford schooling, which school choice accomplishes.

Choices unleash quality-enhancing competition. Some of America’s best public schools are in affluent suburbs where districts must compete for students because parents can afford private schools. It is tempting to attribute suburban districts’ quality spending, but statistics show otherwise. In 2018, Baltimore city schools spent $250 less per pupil than Montgomery County (Maryland) and $1,000 more than Fairfax County (Virginia) in suburban Washington, two of America’s most affluent counties.

In time school choice will force beneficial changes in public school curriculum. Currently, the curriculum is a political football which both parties seek to control. Teachers educate children in classrooms; politicians in Montgomery or Washington shape learning only through bureaucratic controls forcing a curriculum on local schools. School choice will empower parents to find schools that help their children learn. To successfully compete for students, control will need to be devolved to schools and teachers, which I see as a very good thing.

Daniel Sutter is the Charles G. Koch Professor of Economics with the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University and host of Econversations on TrojanVision. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Troy University.

15 hours ago

VIDEO: More municipalities opt for mandatory masks, schools head towards in-class instruction, Sessions/Tuberville race nears the end and more on Alabama Politics This Week …

Radio talk show host Dale Jackson and Alabama Democratic Executive Committee member Lisa Handback take you through this week’s biggest political stories, including:

— Will Governor Kay Ivey consider a statewide mask ordinance as more municipalities adopt ordinances and pressure continues to mount?

— Are parents going to feel safe sending their kids to school in the Fall?

— Who will win the Republican runoff between former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville?

Jackson and Handback are joined by former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to discuss the runoff election for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-AL).

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Jackson closes the show with a “parting shot” at people who think the government can’t put in more restrictions when they have shown they can, and probably will, do more if the coronavirus pandemic doesn’t get under control.

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 AM weekdays on WVNN.

17 hours ago

Alabama sisters continue their family’s farming legacy

Sisters Allie Corcoran and Cassie Young loved growing up on a farm in Eufaula, but once they left home and earned their degrees at Auburn University, they realized their hearts were still at the family farm.

“I always knew I wanted to come home and be part of the farm, but I didn’t know where I would fit in,” Young said. “The only things I have ever felt close to, or had a desire to be a part of, were farming and working with people. At Auburn, I considered a career in family and adolescent counseling, but I knew it would be difficult to find work in this field near home and I was unwilling to move.”

When the sisters were growing up, their family raised crops such as cotton, peanuts, soybeans, corn, grain sorghum and wheat, along with cattle. The family managed a peach orchard.

Their childhood experiences and love of farming pushed them to find their eventual calling, and they opened Backyard Orchards near Eufaula in 2010.

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“Our father had the idea to start a u-pick operation,” Young said. “We had an exciting concept for a new family venture and found the perfect location, so we decided to become entrepreneurs.”

Backyard Orchards gave the sisters the path they longed for in fitting into the family business. They offer u-pick and freshly packed produce.

Fruits currently ripe for picking are peaches and blueberries. There is a variety of fresh vegetables available, including potatoes, onions, squash, zucchini, tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, field corn, sweet corn, peppers, peas and okra.

There is an onsite cafe that serves homemade pies, fudge and ice cream – the perfect end to a day on the farm. The barn, pavilion and grounds can be rented for weddings, birthday parties, corporate events and more.

Under COVID-19 safety measures, visitors are not required to have a reservation, but should follow these guidelines:

  • Stay with your group and remember to social distance while in the fields and store.
  • When the store is busy and social distance is challenged, send one group representative into the store to pay for and/or order food and ice cream.
  • There are sinks for handwashing located in the restrooms. Hand sanitizer is located throughout the store.
  • Pick up café orders from the window located outside on the front porch.

The orchards allowed the sisters to carry on the traditions from childhood that they always dreamed of passing on to their own children.

“Some of my fondest memories are the simplest ones involving our whole family: playing in the cottonseed and corn, jumping on hay bales and cotton modules, riding around with my dad to check on pivots or crops and playing in the irrigation with my sisters and cousins,” Young said. “Farming is a difficult life, but the family experiences have made it a wonderful life.”

Young and her husband have three children: Gardner, 10, Sterling, 7, and Cade, 4.

“Gardner has been picking squash with me since he was a baby,” Young said. “He now helps his dad pick and sell watermelons. Sterling wants to start helping me at the local farmers market. Cade is still too young to help on the farm, but he loves to eat the ice cream.”

Young sees them creating memories and experiences like she had with her sister as a child.

“I hope they all want to play a role in either the orchard or the family farm one day, but only if that is where their hearts lead them,” she said. “Right now, they are growing up the same way I did and enjoying the simple joys of childhood on the farm.”

The sisters continue looking for ways to enhance the orchards and develop the business. Plans are in place for planting blackberries, expanding the peach orchard and increasing the strawberries plants.

To learn more about Backyard Orchards and plan a family outing, visit the website or follow them on Facebook.

(Courtesy of Alabama News Center)

21 hours ago

Alabama native Rachel Baribeau is Changing the Narrative and expanding her own

Sportscasting is a tough business for anyone, but has been traditionally even more difficult for women. That’s why the change in direction for Rachel Baribeau won’t make sense … until you hear her explain it.

“I am always evolving – as a woman, as a queen, as a daughter and a friend and as a fiancee and a future wife – I am always trying to be better. I’m a lifelong learner.”

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Rachel Baribeau is Changing the Narrative in college sports and beyond from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The Auburn graduate and former Pell City resident had a career many would consider perfect: covering SEC football and other sports, from the sidelines and from her college football talk show on Sirius/XM (where she was the network’s first female college sports host).

Baribeau was well-respected enough among her peers to be granted a Heisman Trophy ballot. But it was her work away from the microphone that made the most noise.

“The idea that there is royalty inside of all of us; that there is legacy and purpose and greatness.” Baribeau beams as she describes the impact of the conversations she had been having with college athletes.

Changing the Narrative” was Baribeau’s passion project – a movement that promotes positive mental health and inspiring people to build a positive legacy for others. She took her “Purpose – Passion – Platform” message on a nationwide tour of college football programs, filled with candid heart-to-heart conversations.

After spending four years on this consulting journey, Baribeau announced last October that she would be walking away from sports to concentrate on Changing the Narrative full time.

“I started with this desire and belief that athletes could trend for something other than bad news,” Baribeau said.

Now a nonprofit, Changing the Narrative has expanded further. Baribeau is now in demand in locker rooms, board rooms, law enforcement agencies and entire athletic conferences. “We already have the Big Ten on board; how great would it be to be in all of the Power Five conferences?”

Baribeau is scaling the program in several ways. First, the pandemic has forced a shift to more online training and modules. Second, the material is being tweaked to skew younger for high school audiences. Finally, Baribeau is training a network of other speakers including former athletes who can bring their own experiences of Changing the Narrative to even more audiences.

(Courtesy of Alabama News Center)

22 hours ago

Alabama entrepreneurs can apply now for Walmart’s Open Call for products

Walmart’s seventh annual Open Call is underway for entrepreneurs dreaming of landing U.S.-manufactured products on Walmart shelves by successfully pitching their wares to company officials during online meetings.

“Walmart’s Annual Open Call event gives us a unique occasion to identify new suppliers who can meet our customers’ needs with unique and innovative products manufactured or produced in the U.S.,” said Laura Phillips, Walmart senior vice president for Global Sourcing and U.S. Manufacturing.

“During this year of unprecedented challenges for U.S. businesses, Walmart remains committed to sourcing products made, grown or assembled in the U.S.,” Phillips said.

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In 2013, Walmart announced a 10-year commitment to help boost job creation and U.S. manufacturing through buying an additional $250 billion in products supporting American jobs. Walmart’s Open Call is one way the company continues to invest in the commitment.

“By Investing in products that support American jobs, we are able to bring new exciting products to our customers, support new jobs in our local communities and invest in small business across the country,” Phillips said.

The Open Call, scheduled for Oct. 1, kicks off Walmart’s celebration of U.S. Manufacturing Month and will include programming similar to previous years. In addition to one-on-one pitch meetings with Walmart buyers, participants will have an opportunity to hear directly from Walmart executives and learn from company leaders during small breakout sessions designed to inform, empower and encourage suppliers.

“For the first time, this year’s Open Call event will be virtual, enabling even broader participation from potential new suppliers,” Phillips said. “We know how important this opportunity is for many small businesses, especially this year, and we are looking forward to seeing the new product submissions and meeting potential new suppliers.”

This year’s Open Call attendees could secure deals ranging from a handful of stores in local markets to supplying hundreds, or even thousands, of stores, Sam’s Clubs and on Walmart.com.

Gwen Hurt, owner of Shoe Crazy wine, participated in Walmart’s 2018 Open Call, where a Walmart buyer decided to test her product in 66 stores.

“We were walking into an entirely new and welcoming world,” said Hurt. “Everyone was so professional and kind throughout the process.”

“We’ve been thrilled to work with Walmart and are excited about the continual growth of our product,” Hurt continued. “Thanks to this relationship, we’ve been able to expand our operations to 15 employees while reinvesting in our community through the purchase of a once-abandoned warehouse and additional resources.”

“It’s a dream come true for our family,” Hurt said. Walmart is expanding Shoe Crazy Wine to 118 stores across Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia.

The deadline to apply to participate in this year’s Open Call for U.S.-manufactured products is Aug. 10. The application and information about the event are at Walmart-jump.com.

Information about Walmart can be found by visiting corporate.walmart.com, on Facebook at facebook.com/walmart and on Twitter at twitter.com/walmart.