WHY HAS BIBLE FELLOWSHIP CHURCH GROWTH

SLOWED AND STOPPED SINCE 1950?

Donald Nilsson


I. Introduction


A. The Meaning of the Topic. At the outset I think it is important to tell you just what I think I am doing in this paper. The title contains the word "growth", which contrary to a superficial reading of it, covers a multitude of ambiguities. Of course, the ideal goal is to seek to measure essential growth - growth which is genuine from God's point of view involving all the results of God's regenerative and sanctifying activity. This goal can never he achieved finally; and it can only be achieved proximately by intensive on-the-scene case studies of churches. Since this course of action is not open to me, I've contented myself with the more modest goal of measuring numerical growth. I fully recognize that numerical growth may not correspond fully with essential growth and thus may be quite misleading. Conclusions drawn on the basis of numerical figures are at best only guides which should be checked out by case studies. Nevertheless, I am assuming that there is some correlation between numerical growth and real growth since numerical growth would indicate that some of men's spiritual needs are being met - enough at least to attract them to our kinds of churches. Certainly a correlation can be seen between numerical growth and real growth in those extreme cases where churches manifest either continual growth or continual decline. At any rate, let it be borne in mind that with the resources at my disposal, I'm only capable of measuring numerical growth.


Another ambiguity in the title of my topic is the assumption that the "slowing" and "stopping" of growth has only been since 1950. As a matter of fact, the "Stoppage" should be dated from 1938. In 1938 we had attained a membership of 4,000 people. Since that time--30 years long--we have added only 600 people to the church. That means one-half a person per year per church or 20 people per year for the whole conference. And what a striking contrast to the preceding two decades where we added 1,000 new people to the church every 10 years! - e.g. In


1901-1910 = 900 - 1,500 or 600 new people

1910-1920 = 1,500 - 2,100 or 600 new people

1920-1930 = 2,100 - 3100 or 1,000 new people

1930-1938 = 3,100 - 4,000 or c. 1,000 new people


So the lack of growth falls entirely to the fault of this generation of men here this morning - we can't blame it on anyone else; I'm talking to the right group of people. But it is mystifying, why growth suddenly evaporated, isn't it, brethren? It shows the necessity for a careful study of the period.


B. The Necessity of the Study. The study of our church's lack of growth is necessary not because growth is an end in itself, nor is it because a larger denomination will mean a richer church, nor a more politically powerful body, nor because it will bring greater prestige. No - the sole reason why growth is desirable is because it may reflect, as a thermometer, how well we have fulfilled the stewardship to witness that the Lord gave to us. To be unconcerned about church growth may be to be (1) unconcerned about the final command of our Lord - the Great Commission; (2) unconcerned about human need and thus belie our Gospel - for if mankind is utterly lost and the Gospel is his only recourse, then we can be unconcerned about growth only by hypocrisy or callousness; (3) to deny one of the aspects of the church's very nature, for from Pentecost on it was a witnessing body both in precept and in fact. To be sure, God gives the growth, but in saying this we must never allow this truth to be played off against our human responsibility. Sovereignty and responsibility go hand in hand. God uses means.


Thus if growth is a legitimate concern of ours as giving us an index to some degree of how well we've fulfilled oar stewardship to witness, then study as to how to achieve maximum growth insofar as this falls within the scope of human responsibility, is imperative.


In the light of our stewardship responsibilities, there are some stupendous facts for us to absorb1. There is the phenomenal population growth in the United States1790 - 4,000,000 19~0 - 179,000,000 ( 45 times larger) 1970 - There will be more than 200,000,000 1980 - 250,000,000 For the years 1950 - 1960 - total U.S. growth increase was 18.5%.


2. There is phenomenal population growth in Pennsylvania and New Jersey the two states where most of our churches are located and thus where we should feel our stewardship responsibilities most keenly.

              According to the 1960 census:

a. Pennsylvania and New Jersey were among the ten most densely populated states.

b. New Jersey had the highest density - a state where we have only two of our churches, both of which are small churches.

c. Pennsylvania ranked seventh in population density (250 people per-square mile), we have 4,500 members if we spread out the Bible Fellowship Church over Pennsylvania at the going density rate, we would cover c. 18 square miles (6 miles x 3 miles) out of Pennsylvania's 45,085 square miles. Some Pennsylvania Inland Mission? This would argue for a Biblical Ecumenism and vigorous evangelism program.

d. Pennsylvania in 1950 showed a 6% population increase over the 1940 census. New Jersey in 1950 showed a 16% population increase.

e. In 1960 Pennsylvania showed a 7.8% population increase over the 1950 census. New Jersey showed a 25.5% increase.

f. Pennsylvania shows a total of 13.8% increase over the 20 year period1940-1960 and New Jersey shows a total of 41.5% increase (one half again as large).


In all of this increase, the Bible Fellowship Church increased only 1.2% in 17 years (4,404 - 4,460).


3. There is phenomenal growth in cities

1800 - 5 out of 100 lived in cities in U.S. (city = 25,000+)

1960 - 2 out of 3 live in cities.

    

Pennsylvania has 23 cities with population of 25,000 or better. Of these, we have works in nine of them. In these nine cities, there is a total population of 620,189 (not including Philadelphia); with Philadelphia, it is 2,622,701. Plenty for us to do. In the light of these figures - study is imperative.


II. interpretation of Yearbook Statistics from 1950-1967.


A. Methodology of Approach. I was shut up to the statistics of the Bible Fellowship Church Yearbooks as sources for this study; therefore I attempted by a series of graphs to detect any identifiable pattern in our past church growth or lack of it that might help hopefully to isolate any causative factors. My procedure can he summarized as follows-


1. The construction of a graph showing overall denominational growth since 1950,

2. The construction of a graph showing the growth life of each individual church in our denomination since 1950.

3. The setting forth of the figures showing "new number" growth in individual churches that developed exclusively as a result of evangelism. Church growth resulting from membership transferral was excluded. These figures were then computed to show the percentage of "new member" growth beyond the 1950 membership enrollment figures of each individual church in the denomination.

4. The setting forth of the figures showing membership loss due to "moving" or "withdrawal" for each individual church in the 17-year period of 1950-1967. The figures set forth are very conservative as I excluded from consideration the membership loss due to being "dropped." If those listed in this category were included, the membership loss would be extremely high. These figures were then computed to show the percentage of membership mortality which was lost from the "new member" growth due to "withdrawal" or "moving." Again this resulting mortality rate would be much higher if all loss including the figures listed in the "drooped" column in the yearbook were computed. I included only the figures I did so that I might:

(1) Show the growth due to the direct evangelistic outreach of the church unobserved by the artificial growth of membership transferral and the "net" figures resulting after the mortality figures had been deducted.

(2) Show any decline in church membership due to regional problems such as economic factors or population mobility.

(3) Show, indirectly at least, the true cause of our mortality rate.

       Thus, we might be able to discover what it is not.

5. The placing of churches that were geographical "sisters" on the same growth graph to see if any area trends could be detected which might point to economic or social factors in church growth.

6. The associating of pastors with the individual church's growth life to see if there was any correlation between church growth and (1) length of pastorate or (2) pastoral style or (3) pastoral competency. The attempt was made to associate pastors with (1) growth, (2) decline, or (3) stagnation with the recognition, however, that such correlations might be quite unfair and may be due to completely other factors than those contributed by the pastor. Again, a word of caution about the unreflective usage of statistics seems to be needful here. At best, our "sources" for this study are very tenuous and correlations drawn may not be based on sufficient knowledge of the situation lying behind the statistics to support some of the judgments we will render below.


B. The Interpretation of Statistics.


1. The Churches. A consideration of the growth life pattern of the individual churches can be categorized as (a) those that show overall growth during the period 1950-1967; (b) those that show overall decline; and © those that show overall stagnation, I have arbitrarily interpreted "growth" to mean an increase in 1967 of twenty or more than the membership figure posted in 1950; likewise "decline" means twenty or more below the 1950 figure; or below the 1950 membership figure. Placing the respective churches in these categories, we find:

a. There were 11 churches showing overall growth from 1950-1967. Out of 38 churches, this means 29% of the denomination is composed of growing churches.


Sunbury

Harrisburg

Lancaster

Emmaus

Fleetwood

Denville

Hatfield

Nazareth

Graterford

Wallingford

Blandon


There were 8 churches showing overall decline or 21% of the total denomination.


Allentown - Bethel

Shamokin

Easton

Scranton

Reading

Bethlehem

Maple Glen

Jersey City


There were 20 churches showing overall stagnation or 52% of the total denomination. This is a very high figure and ought to cause us serious thought.


York

Coopersburg

Royersford

Zionsville

Harleysville

Catasauqua

Philadelphia Calvary

Quakertown

Spring City

Allentown - Salem

Lebanon

Staten Island

Stroudsburg

Walnutport

Mt. Carmel

Terre Hill

Lehighton

Philadelphia - Emmanuel

Paradise

Macungie


Though this classification is provocative, it is not the only way to slice the "growth" pie nor is it even the most revealing. For example, a church which shows decline or stagnation in the above classification may really be experiencing a great deal of internal growth but growth which is offset in the final "net" figures by a large membership mortality rate. I tried to take this into consideration as the following chart will reveal, In this chart, I have sought to show only the "new member" growth and thereby get some kind of index to the degree of direct evangelism each church is carrying on, Then I sought to show the degree of the new member growth that is lost due to mortality factors. The mortality figures given are very conservative as I excluded from consideration all those listed as "died", "transferred to other Bible Fellowship Churches" and "dropped." Thus, in reality, though the mortality figures here given are high, the true mortality rate is still higher, The higher mortality rate ought to be computed by someone, I had intended to do so but time would not permit.


Growth Churches

Total members in 1950

Total members in 1967

Total New Members 1950-1967

% of increase over 1950 membership

Members lost due to moving or withdrawal

% of New Members lost due to moving or withdrawal

Sunbury

182

211

139

76

23

17

Hatfield

75

148

196

261

49

25

Harrisburg

76

134

100

133

22

22

Nazareth

56

113

98

175

21

21

Lancaster

40

60

41

102

16

39

Graterford

38

75

47

124

11

23

Emmaus

158

198

123

78

45

36

Wallingford

111

175

158

142

24

15

Fleetwood

114

161

122

107

18

14

Blandon

66

93

64

97

3

5

Denville

18 (1958)

41 (1964)

52

36 (1964-67)

88

5 (1964-67)

14


Decline Churches

Total members in 1950

Total members in 1967

Total New Members 1950-1967

% of increase over 1950 membership

Members lost due to moving or withdrawal

% of New Members lost due to moving or withdrawal

Allentown - Bethel

407

296

461

113

160

34

Reading

401

303

232

58

129

56

Shamokin

158

130

101

65

32

32

Bethlehem

374

305

208

55

64

30

Easton

160

88

85

53

80

94

Maple Glen

219

70

83

38

59

71

Scranton

97

57

56

58

33

59


Stagnant Churches

Total members in 1950

Total members in 1967

Total New Members 1950-1967

% of increase over 1950 membership

Members lost due to moving or withdrawal

% of New Members lost due to moving or withdrawal

York

170

172

128

75

42

33

Mt Carmel

87

99

94

108

22

23

Spring City

89

90

77

87

40

52

Royersford

81

89

62

77

11

18

Lehighton

68

64

34

50

9

26

Lebanon

61

54

36

59

10

28

Harleysville

68

72

46

68

16

35

Catasauqua

38

48

31

81

1

3

Paradise

49

42

22

45

1

4

Walnutport

46

42

34

74

2

1

Quakertown

149

152

128

86

36

28

Coopersburg

127

133

80

63

23

28

Terre Hill

85

93

102

120

29

28

Allentown - Salem

90

76

57

63

18

31

Zionsville

32

51

32

100

4

13

Philadelphia - Emmanuel

47

44

52

110

18

35

Staten Island

47

40

27

57

6

22

Stroudsburg

38

32

39

103

22

56

Philadelphia - Calvary

62

61

84

135

44

52

Macungie

(-1959)

25

19

10

---

5

---



Some general observations are in order. It is interesting in the first place to note that those "growth" churches are generally located in middle-class residential areas. Those "'decline" churches by contrast are almost all "city" churches - that is, they are located within city environs. Whether the congregations are "city" congregations or not is another matter. I am inclined to think that most of our "city" congregations are "drive in" congregations whose homes are located generally in middle-class residential areas. This in itself may indicate a factor in their decline, viz., that the congregational members are scattering and eventually locating elsewhere. Another factor in connection with the "decline” churches may be the limitation in facilities imposed upon them by their locations. At least four "decline" churches have had location or facilities problems-which would bring them into conflict with the prevailing American cultural values and standards. With respect to "stagnation" churches they almost all, with a few exceptions, tend to be located in small communities away from the population centers and growing residential areas.


The statistics showing "new member" growth in general correlate surprisingly well with the "growth", "decline," "stagnation" classification above. Thus, almost all “growth” churches have a "new member" growth rate of over 100%. That is to say that if there was no membership loss over the 17 years from 1950 -1967 almost all of these churches would be double their 1950 membership size. This would suggest that these churches are carrying on a fairly effective direct evangelism program. It is also significant that the highest mortality rate is found in the "decline" churches. Also the growth rate is generally lower than that found in the "stagnant" churches so that high mortality and minimum growth combine to produce a declining church .


The exceptions to this pattern call for comment as they indicate another possible causative factor. Some churches have a very high "new member" growth rate but register an overall growth pattern of decline or stagnation. Some of these churches are:


Allentown - Bethel - 113%

Terre Hill - 120%

Philadelphia - Emmanuel - 110%

Philadelphia - Calvary - 135%

Mt. Carmel - 108%

Zionsville - 100%

Stroudsburg - 103%


Two of these churches show fairly high mortality rates - 50% or better of the "new member" growth lost due to "withdrawal" or "moving". This would indicate that population mobility in some of our churches is a factor in our lack of overall growth. Initially, I had intended to disregard this as a factor since it did not seem to be supported by the mortality figures with which I had been working. Now, however, I am inclined to think that population mobility is a much bigger factor in church decline and stagnation than I had anticipated. Discussion at the Ministerial Convention indicated that many pastors are placing members in the "dropped" column of their yearbook statistical reports whose whereabouts are not known. This can almost be inferred from the large discrepancies occurring between the high "new member" growth rate and the contrasting low mortality rates of those churches which nevertheless appear in states of "decline" or "stagnation." The answer to the discrepancy is to note a large mortality in the "dropped" category, of which a great proportion is a result of people having moved away. This could explain the statistics from churches like Mt. Carmel, Terre Hill, Zionsville, Philadelphia - Emmanuel, and perhaps many others whose "new member" growth is good and their mortality rate "appears'' low. Therefore, it appears; that population mobility is a very significant factor in our lack of church growth.


Some of our churches show decline for other reasons as well. Allentown Bethel shows excellent "new member" growth but overall decline because of giving up some of its congregation to begin a new work, The same is true of Reading whose growth rate, however, is not as vigorous. This kind of membership loss is really a denominational gain. Some of our churches have shown decline because of membership loss due to internal doctrinal schism.


Let me now attempt to summarize what I feel to be the causative factors in church to light at this point in the discussion.


(1) Population Mobility. This seems to play more of a part in explaining lack of church growth than had been at first anticipated. How much of a factor this plays is difficult to assess under present methods of keeping statistics as some pastors include people in the "dropped" column who have in reality moved away. Also, there is no way to ascertain how many of those appearing in the “dropped" column are there because they've moved away or because they’ve been disciplined or dropped from the rolls because of lack of continued interest.


(2) Economic Depression. I could discover no regional pattern developing which would indicate that economics played a part in church growth. In the depressed coal region areas, only the Scranton church has a high mortality rate. Mt. Carmel has a very high "new member" growth rate but still shows stagnation. Shamokin shows decline but has a low "new member" growth rate which probably accounts for it. All in all, economics does seem to be a factor insofar as it causes people to move in search of work. The statistics are not sufficient to measure the economic "type" of person to which our churches appeal on a regional basis. All that I have been able to observe is that there does not seem to be a regional "'pattern" of growth.


(3) Length of Pastorate. This does not, in itself alone, seem to be a determinative factor in church growth although it is a factor. The statistics showed that there is almost always a membership loss at each pastoral change. This, however, is probably due either to cleaning the rolls by the new incoming pastor or to instability created by a loyalty shift. There are churches in which there is indication that a rapid turnover of pastors has not been harmful to their growth. On the other hand, there are churches which have apparently suffered under short-term pastorates. Also, there are churches which have had long pastoral terms but which show no particular growth. Thus there must be some other factors which offset the length of pastorate factor and some factors which work to reinforce any detrimental effects of it. Length of pastorate alone does not seem to be a factor of sufficient strength to operate for good or ill apart from other reinforcing or offsetting factors.



(4) Discipling of Believers. The high amounts of mortality especially that indicated by the "dropped" column in the yearbook suggests that we have not succeeded in maintaining the interest of people in the Gospel. This may possibly mean that we have failed to adequately teach and train professing believers. This means that we should cast a more critical eye over our educational work in the church. Do our sermons have content? What about catechism?


(5) Church Locations and Facilities. Some of our churches have been located poorly in two respects. They have been located poorly with respect to the major population centers and they have been located poorly with respect to the local areas in which they are found. With respect to the former, all of our churches showing stagnation have been located in small communities and away from major economic and population centers. By contrast, those churches which are growing are located in areas which are residential to major population and economic centers. Those showing decline have been city churches which have not kept up with their congregations in their flight to the suburbs. The result is a "drive in" congregation which experiences a great deal of membership loss due to the scattering of the members. Here the problem is just a form of the population mobility problem. Some thought ought to he given to meet these kinds of problems well in advance of their outset by the establishment of "branch" congregation churches in the residential areas from which goodly numbers of the came.


With respect to their own local environment, some of our churches have been poorly located as well. Of those showing stagnation, at least six are located in out-of-the-way places, places difficult to see, difficult to find, and difficult to distinguish from the other houses in the area as a church. Of those churches showing decline, four have had either these location problems or a limitation in facilities. These matters which may appear superficial to us are quite crucial in terms of presenting an attractive image to the prejudices of the average American's value system. An attractive interior and exterior are required hy twentieth century Americans. Anything short of this creates a "cult" image in the minds of unchurched people. This is, at bottom, a communication problem; we want to communicate to the American public that the Gospel is modern, urbane, and relevant. Attractive modern buildings and well-planned plant facilities go far toward conveying this to people. This need not mean lavishly expensive churches. But it does mean a studied avoidance of using converted houses for churches and preferably the avoidance of old church buildings from another generation which lack the look of modernity and urbanity.


(6) Evangelistic Method. Statistics indicate that churches showing overall growth have also very high "new member" growth. This suggests a sustained congregational involvement in direct evangelism over the seventeen-year period under study. Could it be that churches showing low "new member" growth have a corresponding lack in direct evangelism by the whole congregation? Could it be that our denomination has been depending upon a faulty evangelistic method in the garnering of new members? We have had a generation of a particular type of evangelism with apparently meager results. This method has been predominantly clergy-centered and church-building centered. The preacher and the evangelist have been looked upon and indeed have considered themselves the primary evangelistic agents of the congregation. They are the paid soul-winners. Thus the pastor is usually given the job of talking to someone or engaging in visitation. The evangelist is a paid specialist whose specialty is elocution or oratory. The congregation is given the job of bringing their non-Christian friends to hear the specialist. This all conveys to the congregation the impression that their job is to be respectful hut passive spectators in the extravaganza. The concept of lay evangelism seems lost in this. The advantage of this method in the past has been that it has exposed the church to the benefits of a wider sphere of preaching gifts and talents than those possessed by their pastor. But if the proof is in the pudding, this method must be faulted for during the years of the ascendency of this method in our church (1938-1967, roughly 30 years), our denomination has not grown. Would we not do better to seek an alternate evangelistic method, one in which we would seek to involve our whole congregational membership in a program of evangelism where indeed the pastor is the leader but a leader of a team. To mobilize the membership in evangelism should bring new life and excitement. The vast bulk of our churches fall into the "stagnant" and "decline'' categories of growth. Many Of these churches show very minimum "new member" growth suggesting a loss of vitality and sense of mission on the part of the congregational members. That is to say that these churches show that their members are personally "stagnant" as well. Involvement in lay evangelism may recreate that dormant sense of mission and excitement about the Gospel that has been lost over the years in some congregations. The possibilities are many; there are a number of church visitation plans that have been found effective in which the laity are carefully trained and enlisted in evangelism. I am impressed particularly with the possibility of a Bible Fellowship Youth Corps in which graduating and college youth could be utilized in summer evangelistic efforts. The Christian and Missionary Alliance has a program like this and even sends young people to the mission field for the summer. The Christian Reformed Church has a program called Summer Workers in Missions in which high school seniors are utilized in the summer months for community evangelism. They also receive an impressive on-the-job training and exposure to different types of Christian work. For example, the youth in my area are being introduced to inner city work in Harlem this summer in addition to community evangelism. They attend lectures on Jewish evangelism, attend services at a synagogue, a Roman Catholic church, a Russian Orthodox church, a Christian Science church, and read several helpful books during the summer. Among these last are Little's How to Give Away Your Faith; Trueblood's Incendiary Fellowship; Miller's Taste of New Wine; Bayly's The Gospel Blimp; Griffen's Black Like Me; and the entire New Testament. In addition, they receive a "Communicator's Christian Leadership Course" which teas developed by Young Life in Colorado, a Christian Youth organization which witnesses to high school and college young people. I have been told that many young people have received a call of God to the ministry as a result of these experiences of summer evangelism. This could be an effective means of recruiting good ministerial stock not to mention the good effect these young people would have in evangelism.


Another program that we ought to explore for its evangelistic potential is the neighborhood Bible study groups. These are Bible study groups begun in the homes of church members but held primarily for their neighbors in their areas. These are not designed for Christians. Their purpose is to attract non-Christians to the Gospel. They have been carried on here in Rockland and Westchester Counties with good success. For more information on this methodology write to Neighborhood Bible Studies, Dobbs Ferry, New York, 10522. These people would be happy to put on a demonstration for you and introduce you to helpful materials. The lay class leaders could conduct these as the presence of "professionals” have not been found desirable. This would provide a means of dynamic Christian witness with a maximum of lay involvement.


(7) RapidChanqe. Lack of growth may be attributed to some degree to the instability created by rapid change. There has been a great deal of change during the past seventeen years both in the social and in the doctrinal areas. In the social area there has been an increase in the level of education enjoyed hg the society in which our churches have been located. This has resulted in a secularization of church mem'lers and society alike so that the church has not kept pace with the problems being posed for its Gospel by humanistic culture. The result is uncertainty, nervousness, and weakness - paralyzing ingredients for a strong Christian witness. Also in this connection, though, there is no means to measure it apart from case studies, there is the very real possibility that the level of the congregation's education and/or ability has not kept pace with that of its surrounding community. This would have an effect on growth as well as it is difficult to witness up the social scale.


In the doctrinal area, in addition to the general feelings of uncertainty due to unresolved problems posed by society, there is the uncertainty created by doctrinal changes within the Evangelical World at large and the Bible Fellowship Church in particular. Within the Evangelical world, there has been an almost imperceptible toning down of the moral and ethical antagonism between the Christian and his society so that a sense of mission seems to have become noticeably blunted. We hear little of the utter sinfulness of man, the coming judgment of God and the reality of hell. In fact, we feel a little nervous and embarrassed when these topics come up for discussion in educated conversation. This may result in the relaxing of tension in the Christian's attitude toward humanistic value systems. In the right and proper rapprochement of Christianity to culture and the working out of a Christian world view let us avoid humanism and "worldliness."


Doctrinal change in the Bible Fellowship Church has created a situation of growth-thwarting instability as well. As the implications of our new doctrinal statement have become appreciated by the laity there has been a great deal of confusion and uncertainty. Perhaps this situation can be aided by strong doctrinal preaching. At any rater some of our mortality rate is due precisely to this matter of doctrinal confusion and Its resulting alarm and uncertainty. Those who counsel doctrinal silence and indifferentism are not, in my opinion, doing the church a service. What is needed is clear doctrinal teaching to clear up the confusion. Any solution short of this is merely a solution in appearance only.


(8) Faithfulness. Much of our lack of growth will probably be found to boil down to a lack of faithfulness and committed living from day to day. There is an awesome cloud of silence that enshrouds the church today, a silence made the more awesome by its startling contrast to the command to witness given to the church. Perhaps repentance and prayer ought to characterize us on a more day-to-day basis.


2. Pastors. Turning to a consideration of the relation of pastors to church growth we find that twenty out of sixty-three men or about 32% of the ministerial manpower have been associated with growth over the 17 years; of these, four are now dead, two are retired, four are no longer with us, one is a District Superintendent, and six are young men just starting out who may statistically in time prove out badly. This Leaves only three men of the older generation who are associated with growth. At best, with those newer men who have started since 1960, we have a total of nine men out of an active ministerial manpower pool of forty that are associated with growth or 22% of the ministerial fellowship.


Over the seventeen gears, there have been nineteen out of sixty-three with whom decline has been associated. Of these, five are no longer active due to either death, retirement, or withdrawal. Five more are new men and so again statistically don't reveal much as to the productivity of their ministry. But if we include these last five men, we arrive at a total of fourteen men out of a presently active ministry of forty men or 35% with whom decline is clearly associated.


There have been twenty-four pastors out of sixty-three over the seventeen years that have been associated with static growth. Of these, seven are no longer with us. This leaves us a total of seventeen out of a presently active ministry of forty men or 43% that are associated with stagnation.


These figures and associations may not prove a great deal in that one is blind to the situation behind the statistics and in that a pastor may have little to do with a church's growth pattern. Nevertheless, we shall proceed on the assumption that there is some correlation. The correlations are more plausible in those cases where a pastor is consistently associated with church decline and where decline occurs under his ministry in a particular church where growth was occurring in that church under another man. One striking fact that has emerged, however, is that we've had a great deal of new pastoral blood in the seventeen years' period. Since 1960 alone we've added fifteen new men to a total of forty. This means that within seven years' time, one third of our ministerial staff is new. This confirms some of our observations above to the effect that a great deal of rapid change creating some instability is a likely factor in lack of church growth. Hand in hand with this goes the inexperience also of a younger clergy.


In the light of the above data, let me offer the following interpretations:


(1) Proper Theology. It has been asserted by different individuals in our church that our lack of church growth is due to our commitment to an improper theology. One group says that it has been due to a departure from Dispensationalism. Another group says that our growth problems will clear up if we can get out from under the superficialities of a dispensational theology. much as f feel that it is necessary and proper quest to develop and adhere to a correct Biblical theology, I am not at all certain that this is the key factor in our growth problem. For one thing, the champions of a dispensational theology have been associated with stagnation and decline; likewise the champions of the Reformed theology. For another thing, groups expressing these theologies outside the Bible Fellowship Church have likewise experienced decline and stagnation. So theology per se does not seem to be the basic factor in so far as lack of agreement creates confusion and uncertainty within.


(2) Evangelistic Concern. Another claim that is made in explanation of growth atrophy is that it is due to a lack of evangelistic concern and a preoccupation with intellectualism. The statistics, however, indicate that the champions of evangelistic concern are also associated with decline or stagnation. Also, it has already been noted that we've had thirty years of little growth under this advocated evangelistic method that dates back to the days of Charles Finney's “new measures." This should suggest that there are other factors rather than this lying behind our lack of growth.


(3) Theological Depth. The counter claim to the above is that our lack of growth is due to a lack of concern for theological purity and depth. But again those who champion this claim are themselves associated with church decline and stagnation. Thus, this does not seem to be the reason for our lack of growth. I personally do not think that evangelistic concern and theological depth are mutually exclusive. I think that both are proper and necessary concerns for a healthy church. Our only concern here is that we should not oversimplify a complex problem with easy and palatable answers and thus blind ourselves to the real causative factors in stunted growth.


(4) Education. Pastoral education does not seem to be a factor either as the highly educated men are doing poorly according to a purely statistical analysis. This may be because of a communications problem between pastor and people or even a reaction of parishioners to a fuller application of the Gospel to their lives. This latter could result in both practical and doctrinal rubs.


(5) Relevant Personal Contact. Involvement in lives of people and a vigorous application of the Gospel to peoples' needs seems to be a factor in church growth. Some men of the older generation have built churches on this basis and we would do well to observe their method. They were successful in spite of an impoverishment of sermonic content.


(6) Relevant Preaching. Other pastors built churches by relevant preaching. Statistics show that some pastors (C. L. Miller and W. Frank) experienced consistent growth wherever they went. This suggests advice in two directions; to the theology "lobby" it counsels the need to better communicate. Our church desperately needs a popularizer--indeed several of them. Orthodoxy in doctrine, important as that might be, will not go it alone. We've got to get to where people live. It will take more than a pulpit ministry to reach people. To the evangelism "lobby" it counsels the need to put more Biblical content into its "relevance"; and this means more study of the Bible. It also means that enthusiasm and warm-heartedness, important as that might be, will not go it alone. Evangelistic fervor and concern needs hard-headed Biblical study and content to keep it from becoming weak moralism and sentimentalism.


(7) Pastoral Competency. The statistics indicate that in some churches the membership declines because of incompetency in the pastoral ministry. I have noted five pastors, most of whom are no longer serving with us who appear to be incompetent in that everywhere they have gone, their churches have suffered loss of membership. This seems to be confirmed by the consistency with which this pattern recurs. It is also clear that there are some churches that grow because of the man; e.g. N.H. Wolf, H. Hartman, C.L. Miller and W. Frank have been consistently associated with growth. These observations should counsel us to work out some program to secure competent men. "Competent" should be defined in terms of the qualifications for ministerial office given in I Timothy and Titus. These qualifications involve moral, spiritual, psychological, social and intellectual gifts. These qualifications we ignore to our own church's harm. We should study to develop an effective procurement method to secure capable men. We ought, for example, to give consideration to the policy of underwriting the cost of seminary education for promising seminary students from our church. This is a plan that other evangelical groups have adopted (e.g. the Christian & Missionary Alliance) and found helpful. But, at any rate, we must stop preserving and fostering mediocrity in the ministry.


3. Home Missions. In 1950, the Home Missionary Society had five missions; Glendale, Trenton, Binghamton Roxborough, and Lancaster. Of these, by 1967, seventeen years later, only Lancaster has survived and it has become a conference appointment. Since 1950, the Home Missionary Society has opened nine missions and received three from conference. Of these, by 1967, two have been closed (South Bethlehem and Jersey City), three have been experiencing difficulty (Belvidere, Macungie, and Finesville) one of which has shown virtually no growth over the entire seventeen year period, four show some growth potential (Millersville, Miller Heights, Walnutport, Ephrata) and three have become conference appointments (Paradise, Denville, Sinking Springs). Thus, in seventeen years, we have closed six missions and opened nine. Those we have closed have all been city churches.


The statistical data seem to warrant the following observations;


(1) The location of mission churches had to do directly with church growth. For some reason or other our mission churches do not do well in the inner cities.


Of the six churches closed, five have been in the city. The one that wasn't (Trenton) and was more suburban was thriving for a short time. Why it eventually closed has remained a complete mystery to me. Perhaps it was related to the last two men that were there (Bickel and Huratiak) though the former had brought the church membership up to 46 two years before it was closed.


Churches that have shown sufficient growth to become conference appointments have been located in either suburban or rural areas. We have no single example of a successful inner-city mission,


Thus our successful missions seem dependent upon an economic and population center. Therefore, as a matter of principle, we ought to plant new churches in the suburban areas of urban complexes. Related to this is the observation that at least two of our successful missions benan as "branch churches"'– this should indicate to us a method that needs more exploitation (note current '"experiment" of Cedar Crest and Ephrata).


With respect to inner city work, our past experience ought to indicate several things to us. We ought to avoid this very difficult and complicated field of labor until our church has greater resources. With our limited manpower, and financial capacity, we ought to invest where we can expect the most yield. Suburban areas and middle class people seem to be a proven fruitful field. Therefore, we ought to seek to establish beach-head churches in as many suburban population and economic centers as we can. From these churches, we can ban population and economic centers as we can. From these churches, we can work the "branch-church" plan and gradually move into the inner city. This is necessary because inner city work lacks stability. This is due to (1) Population mobility; (2) social and moral instability; and (3) economic instability; for these reasons inner city works rarely become self-supporting. Because of this, with our limited resources, we ought to avoid this type of work until we can better afford it financially. Also rural work should he investigated carefully before a commitment is made.


(21 Church buildings: Closely related to the above topic is that of the church building and its location in the local area. The six mission churches which we closed in the past 17 years were all characterized by at least on of the following:


(1) they were churches abandoned by other groups– Binghamton, Trenton, So. Bethlehem.

(2) they were converted houses--Roxborough, Glcndale, Jersey City.

(3) they were located in out-of-the-way places--almost all,


By contrast, the mission churches which became conference appointments and showed good growth were either:

(1) newly built churches– Denville, Sinking Spring, Lancaster.

(2) excellently located--Paradise (?); and the above 3.


The mission churches that are struggling apparently suffer from the lack of these 2 things:

Macungie and Finesville (Both are located in out-of-the-way places and Finesville has a church building abandoned by another group.)


In the light of this we ought to:


(1) Avoid purchasing property abandoned hy other groups unless carefully investigated. It may be that there were economic and population reasons as to why the church became defunct in the first place. To buy such properties "cheap" may be a poor investment. It would be better to rent and seek out a choice piece of ground on which to put up something new. Why buy someone else's trouble?


(2) Avoid purchasing houses and converting them to churches. The American public expects clean modern church buildings. Anything less than a church building suggests to the modern American prejudice a "sect" or a "cult." Also an old church with archaic architecture suggests that what goes on inside the building is just as out of date, irrelevant, and lacking in life. New church buildings, on the other hand, need not mean lavish and expensive structures.


(3) Avoid out of the way places: Home mission leaders warn against locations where the building cannot easily be seen or found. Mission churches ought to be built in strategic places with enough land for expansion and parking.


(3) Length of Pastorate: Turnover of Pastors in young mission churches certainly has had some effect on church srowth.


Finesville: there is a loss of membership after each pastoral change. The church began to rally, however, under Ellingson's extended stay.

Macungie: the church shows growth and then discouragement with pastoral turnover.

Paradise and Millersville: Both churches show continuing gains in spite of short pastoral terms. Possibly the growth would have been greater if they would have had a continuing leader.

Denville: The church shows continuous growth and was one of the few mission churches which enjoyed a continuing pastor.


(4) Personnel: This is certainly an immense factor in church growth. This seems to he involved in the demise of Trenton. There are other mission churches which under the ministries of certain men just did not grow. This underscores the importance of getting competent men and of not making Home Missions the pastoral proving grounds for "Cape Conference."


Perhaps serious thought should be given to closing down certain works that show little or no growth potential and concentrate our manpower in a more fruitful field. Some churches have been with us for years and haven't grown; e.g. consideration should be given to closing Zionsville, Macungie, Walnutport; perhaps Macungie should be relocated.


Ill . Concluding Suggestions. I believe that much of the previous discussion can be crystallized around five basic factors.


1. Pastoral Competency. We ought to give serious study to measures that can be taken to upgrade the ministry. This means we should actively seek to attract able men and then to conserve both the good men we already have and those we attract. We ought to do this with an eye only for the ultimate good of Christ's church.


2. Location and Facilities. Serious thought ought to be given now to plans for future church locations and facilities so that we don't begin works in hopeless locations. Also we ought to consider closing some of our churches that have been unproductive and possibly relocating them. We ought to lay systematic plans (develop a "master plan") for covering our geographical area of evangelistic stewardship with "beach-head" churches in major population and economic centers. In my opinion, this would necessarily involve the planting of Bible Fellowship churches in Western Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Delaware, and Maryland.


3. Population Mobility. With the high rate of population movement in America and the consequent loss of membership which it has brought, we ought to give serious consideration to a program of biblical ecumenism in order to conserve our mobile membership. We ought, then, to be on the lookout for other likeminded church groups with which we could unite. Our evangelistic capability would be greatly strengthened by church merger as well as conserving our membership. But it must be a union guided by agreement in doctrine. This in turn demands that we become clear about our own doctrinal commitments, we ought also to keep track of our congregation's moves as these may be the key to beginning new "beach-head" churches. Also, in local areas, the "branch" church method ought to be utilized where our congregations begin to scatter to various parts of the suburbs.


4. Evangelistic Method. We ought also to broaden our concept of evangelism and strive for greater lay involvement in witnessing, It would be well to remind ourselves that the "Evangelist" of the style of the 20th century is not the same as the "evangelists" of the N.T. first century. In the first century the office of evangelist corresponded roughly to what today we call the "missionary." We ought to expose ourselves to new methods in an effort to discover an effective church planting method in American Communities. We ought to create a central file somewhere, that would serve as a bibliographic resource for conference committees and churches. Perhaps the Home Mission Board could begin gathering this kind of information. It would be to our advantage even to send key personell to workshops devoted to these subjects as, for example, the District Superintendent and the Home Missions Director. We ought to seek to develop a corps of professional church planters as well.


5. Need for repentance. Much of our lack of growth, I'm fairly sure, is due to our own pride and sinfulness. We have in the past driven good leadership away because of our pride, provincialism, and ignorance. Some competent men have been lost to us because we would not accept people whose ideas and views were not in keeping with the "tradition" of the church and the cultural ethos of the Pennsylvania Deutsch. This is the sin of provincialism and ignorance; it might conceivably be excused but for the fact that we continue in our narrowness even after we have been better instructed; and this is the sin of pride! We have lost competent leadership in this sin as well. This sin comes to expression in our attitudes of superiority and self-sufficiency. We insist that ministerial candidates come to us-not we to them; that they will come to give everything to the Bible Fellowship Church; that they come asking nothing and expecting nothing of the church; that they be willing to submit to the churches advancement program in which the candidate rises by seniority rather than by gifts and accomplishments. There is no program by which a candidate may come in laterally at some point higher in the advancement scale. The candidate must also be seen and not heard at least not too much, until he is 40 years of age. We must thank the Lord that much of this is changing; but nevertheless, it has characterized us in the past and has driven able leaders away from us. This attitude accounts for our failure to learn from other church groups, to feel the need to investigate what other evangelical groups are doing. It accounts for our smug complacent attitude about ecumenism. We are not really interested in merging with other believers of like-mind. Even within our ranks we have busied ourselves with devouring each other through mutual competition. We look upon each other with suspicion as potential threats to our jobs. What is greatly needed by our church is a sober estimation of what our own gifts are, a recognition that they are gifts from God, and then an appreciation for the gifts of others. This would bring a renewed appreciation for the unity of the body and would go far toward eliminating that grasping, clutching scramble for positions of prestige and power that so mars our fellowship. Perhaps, then, we would not appear so unlovely and unattractive to outsiders. We need to recognize that we need those men with intellectual gifts, those men with an interest in theology. To despise them is to despise the gifts God has given them. Likewise, we need those men with an evangelistic interest, those men with a bent toward activism. To despise them is to despise the gifts God has given them. Perhaps, armed with this mentality we can constructively solve some of our real differences and begin to see genuine growth in the church of Christ. May God save us from psychological cannibalism and bring His church to perfection.