Standing around with pastors during a break at an associational 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 International Mission Board 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 Missouri’s ACP (Annual Church Profile) in 2013, our churches could handle these numbers:
- 503,993 Church Membership
- 164,433 Worship Attendance
There are 1.5 million believers in Jesus claimed by evangelical churches in Missouri. Yet, there are 4.5 million who are not born-again. Three million Missourians 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 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 Missouri Baptists. The Missouri ACP also shows Average Weekly Sunday School Attendance at 113,534 people. At least 30.9 percent of 0those attending worship and a whopping 77.4 percent of our total church membership are not in regular Bible study. Thom Rainer, LifeWay’s president, says buildings feel full when they’re 80 percent 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 Missourians headed for hell. Drywall hammered into meeting cubes should not define us as believers.
When serving as a consultant at Saddleback Church in California, I learned that they did not buy property and build a building until they had 10,000 members. Their pastor, Rick Warren, used to joke, “If you can find us you can worship with us.”
So, add up all the lost in your county. Divide by 200 as if the lost were new believers. Multiply by $1.5 million that North American Mission Board (NAMB) says it takes to build the typical church building. The math’s been done for all 114 Missouri counties here: www.mobaptist.org/evangelism/demographics
When the Apostle Paul was writing the church at Corinth, he told them to not compare their spiritual growth with others: “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise” (2 Cor. 10:12). 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.
Forget the drywall. Why not train witnesses to keep at it until all have heard and responded to the gospel? 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 percent seating you’ll need to feel full may be in a gym, a school, a rented office space, 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 serves Missouri Baptists as Evangelism/Discipleship Strategist (573) 556-0318 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)