Does Your Church’s Birthrate Matter?

birth-rateWe do often talk about birthrates at church. Well at least not in those terms. We discuss delaying conception until after we accomplish some life goal; we discuss how 1 or 2 kids is our ideal family size; and, we discuss why modern society no longer needs a family to have 12 kids. We examine birthrates through the lens of modern convenience and societal success. And as a result, evangelicals increasingly prize smaller and smaller families. At last check, the birthrate for Southern Baptist couples sits at 1.96, appreciably below the replacement birth rate of 2.1.

As Southern Baptists and as Bible believing Christians, we need to start looking at birthrates through the lens of biblical truth. But we need to do more than just talk. We need to act and act soon.

We need to begin advocating for large families. We need to encourage our young couples to have kids. The Bible commands it (Gen. 1:28). The survival of our churches depends upon it.

Why The Birthrate Matters

Let’s say we decide to be cool and start a new church plant called Last Baptist Church with fifty God fearing couples. Theses couples adhere to the Southern Baptist birth rate and have 98 kids. The couples’ kids grow up in great Christians homes where church attendance is a must. They attend Sunday school, Bible Drill, and Disciple Now weekends. They get baptized. Eventually, most of them go off to college. According to George Barna, somewhere between 30%-40% of these kids will stayChurch-retention-rate actively involved in church. We will assume that our Last Baptist church is a really godly church and will go with the higher number, predicting that 40% of the kids stay involved. The next generation is now comprised of 39 people. Thankfully, studies by Steve Parr have shown that about 40% of those church kids who walked away from the faith will decide to come back to church. As time goes on, 24 of the kids who left will return to our church’s pews. The second generation now consists of 63 adults.

These 63 adults get together and start their own families. They have 61 kids. And they grow up, leave and come back. Last Baptist’s third generation now consists of 39 people. In a matter of three generations our Last Baptist Church will see it’s young adult attendance drop from 100 people to 39.  After another generation has passed, the church adult attendance goes down to 24 and then 16.

Population Bubble

Now this does not happen immediately. There is a lot of generational overlap. The initial three generations will all attend church together for some time. The church members will think that Last Baptist Church is relevant, expanding, and reaching people. After all it has gone from a 100 people to an average attendance of 202 people in a period of 30 years. Life is good; the Senior Pastor gets invited to speak at church planting conferences. But then the senior adults begin to pass away and the kids begin to leave. The population bubble bursts. As the second generation moves into the leadership roles, the church’s attendance slowly drops from 202 to 1126. Although the church begins to struggle, the sanctuary is still relatively full. After a few more years pass, the third generation moves into leadership. Now the average attendance is down to 79. And then bottom falls out when the fourth generation takes over. Only 56 people are regularly attending. You have 24 senior adults, 16 adults and 16 kids. The leaders of the church wonder what went wrong? They wonder were all the people went. And though the answer is simple, it is a hard one to swallow. The people were never born.

Last-Baptist-Generation-BreakdownAdmittedly, no church goes through such a simple, straight forward process as Last Baptist Church. People move off, join other churches, and new members come through conversion. There are a whole host of variables at play.

But in many cases, I believe those variables do not favor the church. Some little towns will see large portions of their second and third generations move away. Of those 63 kids, perhaps only 20-30 of them will actually stay in town. Instead of going up, the birth rate will most likely continue to drop with each succeeding generation. All of these factors will serve to expedite Last Baptist’s decline. Instead of taking 60 to 80 years, the decline I’ve described could happen in matter of 15-20 years. I believe that many little, country churches may be dying today because their previous generations did not have kids. Their bubbles have begun to burst.

I know that the birthrate is not the only thing that determines whether or not a church is about to die. Tom Rainer has written several good little books such as I AM A Church Member and the Autopsy of A Deceased Church that tackle many of the heart attitudes and bad theology that undo a church. I highly recommend them to all who want their church to thrive.

But a church’s birthrate must be considered. I believe that the birthrate is a contributing factor to a church’s decline. According to the book Spiritual Champions, almost 64% of all people embrace Christ by 18. Adults are not nearly as receptive as children. Only around 6% of people over age 19 will be open to the gospel. Can we and should we reach out to adults with the gospel? Yes! I have personally seen God radically transform fifty-year-old men and women. Yet a church that does not have kids will miss its best chance to reach one of the largest and most approachable demographics. As a result, the church that is content will a low birthrate is a church that is content with decline. The SBC is already seeing this phenomenon take place. Membership continues to drop despite our best evangelistic efforts. And unless birthrates change, I predict the decline will continue.

If we want our churches to grow, we must encourage our families to grow. Are you ready to do this?

Can We Trade Church For Travel Ball?

trade blogIt’s here! Travel Ball! Families with young kids will increasingly be spending their weekends eating fast food, sleeping in bug infested motels, and getting sun burned as they sit on hot metal bleachers! Oh the life! Not too surprisingly, travel ball often requires families to miss church from time to time. This is nothing new. But the trend of bloggers justifying such excursions with biblical language is an unexpected twist that we should stop and consider.

It’s Ok To Skip?

The arguments for skipping church go something like this. My daughter’s coaches pray before every game. As she plays, she learns teamwork, how to be an encourager, how to overcome adversity through Christ, and she gets tons of opportunities to share about Jesus. Moreover, all the travel provides our family with quality time together. Surely an event covered in prayer that teaches our kids tons of godly life lessons must be a good thing. Thus, parents and kids should not feel bad about skipping church. Essentially they are still doing the Lord’s work.

I have personally witnessed the benefits of sports. God used baseball to humble me and to expose many bad attitudes in my heart. And today, my exploits on the baseball diamond continue to supply my sermons with helpful analogies. Positively, sports teach kids leadership and relationship skills. Because God created sports, they can and should be used to advance his kingdom.

Dress Shoes or Cleats?

But the question still remains. Should the diamond be allowed to replace the pew? Is this a good trade?

To answer this question, we have to determine the purpose of church. Why do we go to church?

Biblically speaking, the church exists so that the people of God can display “God’s glory and wisdom” (Dever). The church accomplishes it mission using a three pronged approach. First, People go to church to worship God together through hymns, the preached word, and prayer (Col 3:16). As people glorify God, they grow in their knowledge and understanding of Jesus. Second, people worship together to encourage and edify the body of Christ (Heb 10:25). They main way people learn to live out the gospel is by being around other believers. And lastly, the church comes together to demonstrate the love of God to the lost and dying world (John 13:35). What should make the gospel compelling to the outside our church doors is how Christians care for each other. As the song says, “They will know we are Christians by our love.”

Don’t Skip?

When we skip church, we are skipping out on our chance to grow in knowledge of God, to be encouraged by our bothers and sisters, and to demonstrate the love of Christ to the world. What do we what do we get in return for swapping dress shoes for cleats? We get a short prayer, valuable life lessons, and some quality family time. None of these things are bad. But, they are not a substitute for the church. This swap is the spiritual equivalent of the trade that sent John Smoltz to Atlanta Braves for Doyle Alexander. Yeah, the Detroit Tigers will not be celebrating Mr. Alexander’s election to the Baseball Hall Of Fame anytime soon.

If we consistently skip church, our lives will suffer. We will become more stressed, will struggle more with sin, and we will become a poorer witness. As Jesus says, we do not survive on life lessons but on “everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD” (Deut. 8:3). To know God well, we must spend time with his bride, the church. There is not substitute for the church.  As Thom Rhainer writes,

Corporate worship is not one option among many. It should be a consistent and persistent practice of all believers.

Travel Ball is not evil. But it can never take the place of the church. Are you ready to treasure the Bride of Christ?

Love Politics? Love Humility More!

Nothing that follows comes easy to me. I struggle with pride every day I talk politics.  Just ask my wife. But if there was ever a time for humility in the church it is today. And so I venture forth with you as one who daily needs to be reminded to address political issues with humility.white-house-754766_1280

 I know the political stakes are high. Everyone thinks our country is at a tipping point. We fear that electing the wrong president will tip our country over into the abyss. Understandably, denominational leaders, pastors, Sunday school teachers, and the average church goer are all in a tizzy over this election cycle. Most of us are proclaiming this candidate or that candidate to be our country’s savior. And if people disagree with our divine conclusions, we join with Robert Jefress (Pastor of First Dallas) and denounce our opponents as “fools.” I think things in Christendom are starting to get a little nuts! We need to once again inject some humility into our political discussions.

The Need For Grace

The biblical doctrine of humility demands that we should treat our opponents with grace. Yes, we may all disagree over which candidate to support. We may disagree with each other concerning what role government should play in our society. And these things are important. But at the end of the day, governments do not save us. As Augustine pointed out many years ago, men were never called to subdue and rule each other. Human governments exist to provide order until the King of King returns. They are not eternal.

The gospel is.  When we all affirm the same gospel, we have the freedom to lovingly disagree over politics. And as far as I know, being a Cruz, Trump, Rubio, or Kasich supporter does not imply that one serves a different gospel. As weird as this cycle has gotten, there has yet to be a gospel of Trump, Rubio, or Sanders released in LifeWay. Lord willing, there never will be! We can support all these candidates and more and believe that God reigns, that man is fallen, that Christ died to pay for our sins, and that men and women need to respond to Jesus with faith and repentance.  capital blog

We should not be calling our brothers and sisters in Christ fools, bigots, or any other derogatory term simply because they disagree with us politically. Such attacks are not motivated by Christians charity or by a desire to see God’s glory defended. Such attacks are motived pride. We assume we know God’s plan for the world and are mad that other people fail to recognize our genius. And, we lash out to punish them for their ignorance. There is no way around it. Such verbal assaults are sin.

Need For Humility

In reality, we do not know God’s unrevealed will. And his revealed will? The Bible declares that we are to count others more important than ourselves. Instead of calling our political opponents fools, we need to cook them dinners, send them encouraging notes, and offer to take the kids to the next game. As Thom Rainer says,

This cantankerous and ornery church member is one of those you have pledged to serve

We may have good opinions; we may have good an understanding of what is happening in our nation; and, we may have good ideas how to move the nation forward. But we are not God. We do not know what is best. We do not know what political outcome will bring God the most glory. So as we advocate for our candidate, let’s do so with humility and kindness of heart. We need to advocate for what is best, realizing our opinions are just that, finite opinions!  At the end of the day, we are all sinners saved by grace. We all owe everything to Christ even our intellect. God rules! Are we ready to act like it?