Standing around with pastors during a break at a pastor’s conference, one pastor lamented that his church had stopped growing. When I asked why, he said that his building could only hold so many people. When I asked him why a little thing like drywall would prohibit growth, it was like scales fell off his eyes.
“Reaching people for Jesus doesn’t depend on our building size!” he almost shouted.
An IMB missionary once challenged me to add up all the available worship seating in our town. Taking that number I was to double it for churches that might do two services. Were there enough seats for everyone that was not born again?
In the cities that I have visited and lived, I have yet to know of a single place that could seat all the lost people in their community.
According to CABA Churches’ ACP (Annual Church Profile) report for 2016, our churches could handle these numbers:
17,344 Total Church Membership
8,508 Worship Attendance
There are about 300,000 followers of Jesus claimed by evangelical churches in our nine counties. Yet, there are 1.5 million who are not born-again. One million people in our association’s counties are not claimed by any religious organization!
Here’s why I hate that building material we call drywall: Churches erect really well-designed and beautifully ornate structures that can actually become barriers to growth. When we “max” out Sunday worship everyone gets so incredibly excited! (Most pastors can quote Easter attendance numbers…just ask.)
Call it the Drywall Effect. It is closing in on Cincinnati Area Baptists. The CABA ACP also shows Average Weekly Sunday School Attendance at 5,400 people. At least 49% of those attending worship and a whopping 12,000 (69%) of our total church membership are not in regular Bible study. Thom Rainer, LifeWay’s president, says buildings feel full when they’re 80% full. Praise the Lord and pass on the drywall.
Don’t think I’m against high attendance drives, buildings, and building programs. I’m just against thinking that it is enough to seriously bring spiritual transformation to millions of our Cincinnati Area neighbors headed for hell. Drywall hammered into meeting cubes should not define us as believers.
When the Apostle Paul was writing the church at Corinth, he told them to not compare their spiritual growth with others: “For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise” (2 Cor. 10:12 NKJV). The same can be said of churches that become content just filling their meeting rooms while millions continue to be ignored outside of the drywall.
Why not encourage small group leaders to take disciples into their own homes and meet there so that they could grow numerically and spiritually? And why not start some new churches while you’re at it? Some of that 80% seating you’ll need to feel full may be in a gym, a school, a rented office space, a dance studio, a grocery store, a truck stop, a show barn, a machine shop, or your own home.
Reaching people for Jesus shouldn’t be hindered by drywall.
Mark Snowden is the Director of Missional Leadership (DOM) for the Cincinnati Area Baptist Association.