Today a copy of the book “Churches of Christ in the United States” 2006 Edition was placed into my hands for my review. This was quite an opportune time since my only productive function this week is to attend to my wife, who is ill, and help boost the stock of Kimberly-Clark, the makers of “Kleenex”. I have the mother of all allergic reactions, a condition I unintentionally succumb to at least twice each year. After an injection in my left hip today, beginning a “Z-Pack” and various and sundry other remedies my wife forced me to take, I am still a mucus fountain. Enough with my complaining, back to the book.As I thumbed through this volume I was impressed with the obvious time and effort spent to produce such a large book with well over 600 pages of facts, statistics, and detailed data. My hat is off to anyone who embarks on such a task. I think it is very well done. It did raise some questions though.
First, since we are a fellowship whose favorite text of the Bible is Acts 2:38, and since our teaching on baptism is one of the distinctives that separates us from the rest of the evangelical world, I thought it was curious that baptism only got a category in the stats along with “adherents””(both baptized and unbaptized individuals)”, who regularly attend in a given location. “Members” include only those who are “baptized”.
Had I been gathering data for such a volume, one of the most important questions I would have asked would have been something like, “How many folks has your congregation baptized since we last surveyed?” If think the absence of a question such as I suggest is a glaring omission. Why would we not want to measure baptisms? It is interesting that Southern Baptists (the historical objects of our collective scorn) measure their churches effectiveness by “baptisms”. Although their numbers are in decline, in 2006 they reported 364,826 baptisms (world wide), down from 2005 by 7,024. They don’t measure their evangelistic efforts by how many “prayed the sinners prayer”, or “how many came forward” but by number of converts they baptized. I can’t imagine why we in churches of Christ would not want to know that about ourselves.
The second curiosity is that in the book, “mainstream” congregations include both what I would tag “traditional” and “progressive”. All of the other usual divisions result from different nuances of methodology and teaching about how a congregation “does” what it does on Sunday morning. I too find this interesting since the largest 1,000 congregations in the United States and its territories comprise only about 7.5 % of the total congregations, yet have about 35% of all members. It is comical to me that at the top of that list is North Richland Hills church in Texas, slowly inching its way toward being double the size of any other congregation in our fellowship. If I am to believe the “brotherhood” publications, blogs, and messages given in several lectureships, NRH is hardly “mainstream” to many, many of our brothers. I don’t have the information, but it would be interesting to know how many of those largest 1,000 congregations have been the objects of brotherhood wrath because they are not perceived to be “mainstream” in teaching and ministry?
Perhaps in the future, more and more congregations will lift high the blood drenched banner of a crucified and resurrected Christ, who alone is the only answer to man’s common evil enemies, sin and death. I pray that it is so.