Let's Analyse Our Successes:

A Look at Churches That Have Grown and Produced Leaders in the Last Twenty Years


Willard E. Cassel


    Success in the work of the Lord is a commodity that is hard to evaluate. I also realize that it is easy to say we are growing "spiritually" as an excuse for lack of numerical growth. If the Lord was not interested in numbers, He would not have included the books of Numbers and The Acts of the Apostles in the canon of the Scriptures. The emphasis of this convention is obviously due to the fact that the growth of the Bible Fellowship Church membership has not kept pace with the population growth of our country.


    The Program Committee has allowed me to set my own criteria for evaluation. also realize that most any criteria will not tell the total picture of a particular church. It has been said that should the Annual Conference choose not to publish the statistical reports in the back of the Year Book -- especially the pastors' income -- we would sell about half as many books as we now do. So as many do, I turned to the statistical reports of the 1946 Annual Conference which are the first after the reorganization of the Annual Conference in 1945. To go back beyond 1945 would have added confusion to the picture. Also there are no figures available beyond October, 1967. I have heard of some sizeable additions which have already been made this conference year, so we trust that the Statistical Committee's report will reflect a net increase in October of this year.


     I have used the following criteria in making the evaluation for this papers: Average attendance of the Sunday School, membership of the Church and the Total Offerings. I have found that the Average attendance of the Sunday School is usually a more accurate indication of growth. However, there is always the possibility that a particular pastor places a greater emphasis on the Sunday School to the neglect of the membership of the church. I also know of the difficulty of making the transition from Sunday School attendance to church attendance and membership in the fellowship of the church. It is also known that some pastors are reluctant to clear the church membership rolls and plenty of "dead Flood" exists in the churches, I heard of one of our pastors who always practiced not to drop more people from the roll than he took in in any one year. This practice was obviously done to make his statistical picture look good to an admiring public. While I was culling the information from the Year Books, I also noted the name of the pastor for each year. In some cases this was also revealing. I will deal further with this fact later in this paper.


    Some years ago, in the report of the Director of Church Extension, William A. Heffner, a statement was made that the growth of that year was internal. By this was meant that there was a need for more personnel to be pastors as circuits had been broken. In almost every case when a circuit has been broken there has been growth in all departments of the particular churches. When I entered the ministry in 1943 and was assigned to Philadelphia Emmanuel, some of the people spoke of the great problem of supporting a pastor and a church program. History has shown that Philadelphia Emmanuel has seen the blessing of the Lord and has become a self-supporting church at the Annual Conference of 1967.


    After extended "circus riding" among the churches of Fleetwood, Blandon and Terre Hill, a movement developed which culminated in 1947 with the appointment of a pastor to Terre Hill. The average attendance in Sunday School in the report of 1947 was 91. In 1948 it was 107 with constant growth to 198 reflected in the report of 1966. I doubt that this growth would have been possible with the services of a third of a pastor.


    The circuit of Fleetwood and Blandon was divided in 1958 when each church was granted a pastor, The average attendance in Sunday School of Brandon in 1958 was 127. There was steady growth to 197 in 1965. It must be said that new educational facilities were used from 1960. The fact of new facilities will be noted in this paper but the significance of new or relocated buildings will be dealt with by Pastor Ronald Mahurin at this convention.


    Anyone who has pastored the church at Graterford or has even the most casual contact with the church must rejoice in what the Lord has done in that community. It must be noted that we are the only church in the immediate community which has grown from a '"wide spot" on Route 29 to a sizeable community. The Graterford Harleysville circuit was the last one to be divided in 1963. The few years previous to this division were a time of seed sowing in Graterford which resulted in a harvest during the past three years. We all know that the past four years a new church auditorium and Sunday School facilities were planned and built. Some may also know that the congregation is in the midst of the investigation of the purchase of over an acre of land and some small buildings in preparation to build again. The Sunday School is bursting the building at the seams. The average Sunday School attendance has grown from 98 in 1963 to 182 in 1967.


    Before we leave this section on circuits, we must also give you facts from Spring City. Again it must be noted there are other factors which influence or hinder growth than the facilities available. The building or relocation, which was eventually done, was an absolute necessity. Although the statistics do not show as great an increase in Sunday School average attendance as one would like or expect with the spacious facilities, yet there has been steady growth. The Sunday School average attendance the year immediately before the division (1959) was 96; 1966 was 121.


    In my investigation of facts and in conversation with the pastors involved, I learned of a small spiritual awakening that took place in the Hatfield area during the years of 1950-1954. This caused an influx of people that necessitated the planning and building of the new church building which was begun to be used in 1955. Let me cite you figures for comparison Sunday School average attendance in 1946 - 85; a consistent increase with some relapse to a high of 240 in 1964.


     In analyzing the Harrisburg congregation with its poor facilities of pre-1950, it is a point of rejoicing to See what the Lord has done. Some of us remember the auditorium on the second floor of the fish market in downtown Harrisburg. It was said by some of the congregation that they would not invite anyone to church and that it was not safe for any woman to walk alone at night in the neighborhood. The Lord gave them a vision of what could be done and what needed to be done. It would seem that they lived in anticipation and began to work. The Sunday School average attendance was 78 in 1946 and 116 in 1950. The new church building was not used until August 1950 so most of the report to the 1950 Annual Conference reflects the work in the old building. It has been noted that the facilities in the new location -- a basement church -- did not give as many private rooms as the old "fish market" facilities. The Sunday school continued to grow during the following years necessitating the building of the first floor auditorium between 1954 and 1958. The 1967 average attendance of the Sunday School was 182.


    Many of us know of the mission that was started in Newark. It had various locations until a church building was finally purchased. Through the deterioration of the neighborhood and other contributing factors as the relocation of nearly the whole of Newark proper, it was decided to relocate the congregation. This was done in 1957. After a few years of meeting in the Denville library, a church building was erected on Diamond Spring Road. The statistics of the congregation show in 1958 - the first report in the new location -- a church membership of 18 and a Sunday School average attendance of 35. The latest statistics available show a church membership of 52 and an average attendance in Sunday School of 106. It might also be noted that there are only two families left that made the move from Newark.


    There has also been another relocation among the conference churches. I speak of Chester-Wallingford . There are some interesting statistics on this congregation. The highest Sunday School average attendance in the old building was 218 in 1951 with a church membership in the same year of 122. The need to relocate was evident before definite plans were made in the early l960's. Statistics for 1959 were Church membership -- 129; Sunday School average attendance - 202. The latest statistics reveal a church membership of 175 and a Sunday School average attendance of 225.


    Earlier In this paper I made a passing reference to the personality of the pastor. There are some men who exploit their personality to the fullest. It would seem that people are attracted to them rather than to the Lord or the Word of God which they preach, I have heard it said that such a church would have prospered if the conference had not moved the pastor. Also facts prove that there are people attracted to a particular church while a certain pastor is there and then leave soon after his exodus. They are commonly known as "ites" of the pastor.


    A further observation was made relative to the pastor's activities and the membership of the church. In some cases there is a definite drop in the church membership soon after the change of pastors. Could this be that the standards of membership in some cases are low and possibly set by the pastor? I heard of one pastor of whom it was said, he led a person to the Lord in the kitchen of the parsonage, baptized them in the dining room and received them into the membership of the church in the living room. It was also said that hardly anyone in the fellowship of the church knew anything about the individuals received and did not realize they were candidates for membership until they walked down the aisle of the church. Do we not have a membership committee with whom the examination of candidates for membership should be shared?


    My assignment was to analyze the successes of the past twenty years. I am appalled with you that so few of our churches have shown the kind of numerical growth which they should have. I must shoulder some of the blame as there were few churches that I have pastored which have fallen in the class that could be included in this paper.


    In speaking with various pastors and laymen, I realize that one of the factors which we need the most is a heaven-sent revival in all of our churches. This will begin to set right some wrongs which have stood for many years unconfessed. Could it be that there is an Achan or Achans in the camp?