Every once in awhile I read (as I am sure you do) something that stops me in my tracks! An article in the April 11/18, 2010, issue of CHRISTIAN STANDARD was just such a heart-stopper. The article was titled “Mega See, Mega Do,” by Kent Fillinger.
Kent, a friend of mine, has for several years undertaken the study of megachurch growth, an American religious phenomenon that has been quite spectacularly manifested inside the Restoration Movement. How, where, and why it is occurring are very important issues, and Kent has gathered and processed tons of statistics surrounding these assessments.
According to his data, there are 54 Christian church/church of Christ megachurches that range in size from 2,000 to 20,000 members. Their average attendance was 4,314 in 2009. In the emerging megachurch category—that is, churches that averaged between 1,000 and 1,999 for weekly worship during 2009—there were 60 congregations; of those churches, the attendance average was 1,400. So far, so good! Upon combining both categories, there were 114 congregations listed on the chart, representing more than 300,000 in weekly attendance. Great stuff!
But here’s the comment that got my attention: “For 2009, the average cost per baptism was $22,074, down more than $5,000 per baptism from 2007. The amount invested per baptism ranged from $2,800 to $100,000 per baptism.”
Investing in Fertile Areas
Does that strike you like it did me? From $2,800 to $100,000 for one person to enter the kingdom of Heaven in the United States via the doorway of a megachurch! Now, I totally agree that a soul is priceless and that large churches are making a large impact in my culture and country. But as a former 20-year missionary to Africa, a current partner of a global parachurch organization, and a follower of Christ, I have a dilemma: I see the daily need to mobilize people and resources to redeem the time (Colossians 4:5) and to seek the lost (Luke 19:10)—globally!
We must be about winning our neighbors to Christ in the United States. But at the same time, I have seen a church of 30 born in India as the result of one Sikh military man listening to a $1 audiocassette and inviting his family and friends. I have seen God’s Spirit move in the hearts of key African village leaders in Kenya, and an entire village come to Christ during a weekend seminar. And, through my partnership with Good News Productions, International, I have heard of 3,200 baptisms occurring in a single day!
So while I want all my U.S. neighbors to be ushered into the kingdom through baptism—good stewardship invites me to consider investing in fertile areas in other places in the world too! And while there is massive inequity worldwide in terms of material and financial resources and access to key human needs like clean drinking water, adequate health care, and properly working systems of justice, I have to remember that in Heaven one is one and all are equal—there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female (Galatians 3:28).
Imagine what an additional $10,000 a year would do for the budget of many missionaries. Imagine what $100,000 a year could do for globally positioned parachurch organizations working in India, Africa, and South America. Imagine if we simply went “beyond our borders”!
James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, said as his father neared death, the phrase the elder Dobson spoke over and over was: “Just one more . . . if I could only reach one more . . .” Is that our passion? Is that our goal?
The great news is that if we, the wealthiest nation on the planet, will invest globally, there is a large harvest waiting (Matthew 9:37, 38). And the good news is we can do this simultaneously with local outreach for pennies on the dollar. That might be God’s view—which is “mega see and mega do!”
Mike Schrage is director for sub-Sahara Africa and director of development with Good News Productions, International, in Joplin, Missouri.