Last week, my blog was about the durability of churches and church-related ministry organizations. Being the guest speaker at the 150th anniversary of a Baptist Association spurred my comments on this subject. The focus of my previous blog was a biblical and theological perspective on durability. Essentially, my point was churches (particularly) and church-related ministries (more generally) are sustained by centering on eternal resources and realities—the Bible, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the gospel.
One of my readers responded immediately and enthusiastically to the blog. He has a Ph.D. in Quantitative Research and shared with me his perspective on the durability of churches. Since this is a blog, not a term paper, I won’t include all his footnotes and internet links. But his data is a startling confirmation of my observations.
According to my friend’s research, there are about 380,000 churches in the United States. Pre-pandemic, about 750 churches were closing each year—but about 1,000 were being started. During the pandemic, about 4,500 churches are expected to close while only 3,000 new churches will be started. That means, in more normal circumstances, more churches are starting each year than are closing. It is also amazing that 3,000 new churches will be launched during a national pandemic. By this data, the durability of the church is confirmed—even in spite of very adverse circumstances.
Another way to look at the data is this—of all churches in existence today, 99% of them will still be open a year from now. And, even though some will close, they will largely be replaced by new churches started in their place.
My friend then compared churches to other non-profits. There are about 1.5 million non-profit organizations registered in the United States. Recent projections are as many as one-third of them will close during or as a result of the pandemic. This means a non-profit is about 30 times more likely to close than a church—and much less likely to be replaced by any organization founded to do similar work.
My Ph.D. statistician friend ended his note with these encouraging words, “We are in the right business: training people for the church (which will endure)…. It’s what gets me up every morning…to work in Christian higher education.” We are privileged to shape leaders for the church—God’s eternal and ultimate companion.
The numbers support my biblical and theological conclusions from last week—the church will endure. Durability depends on God’s resources, not our ingenuity. That’s good news during shaky times. We know God will sustain us because his resources provide a sure foundation.
Dr. Paul Kelly provides a biblically informed theology of youth that gives youth ministers and pastors a deeper understanding of the common experience and divine purpose of teenage years. You can find an excerpt of his new publication here.
Dr. Chris Chun hosted a digital symposium with Dr. Michael Haykin and Dr. Robert Caldwell to discuss Edwards’ spirituality, devotional life and theological impact in American Christianity.