Here is a quick update from the research arm of the Caskey Center. Beginning in June, I (Jeff Farmer) have been given the opportunity for a sabbatical break from teaching in order to pursue an ambitious research project. I will be posting updates on a regular basis (perhaps monthly) as I travel across the United States from June to October. I will be visiting Southern Baptist Churches that qualify as healthy, growing churches.
In 2016, there were 25,857 SBC churches with 100 or less in average worship attendance. This represents approximately 71% of churches in the SBC. Utilizing a set of criteria developed by Dr. Bill Day for the Leavell Center for Church Health, NOBTS, I identified 755 churches from among these 25,857 that are healthy, growing churches.
The criteria utilized to identify the churches are:
- At least 10% growth in AM Worship Attendance over five years.
In order to determine healthy church growth, I looked at the Annual Church Profile of all SBC churches in 2016 and 2020. This represents five years of a church’s growth or decline. First, I removed all SBC churches with an average worship attendance of greater than 100 in 2016. Next, in order to identify growing churches, I removed any church that did not grow at least 10% between 2016 and 2020. This provided me with all smaller SBC churches that had experienced 10% growth over a five-year period.
- At least one baptism in the first and fifth year.
My next concern was to identify healthy growth. After all, a church can grow by transfer growth or biological growth, and that would not necessarily be healthy church growth. So, I removed any church that did not report at least 1 baptism in 2016 and 2020.
- Conversion growth must account for at least 25% of the growth in the fifth year.
I limited transfer growth in 2020 in order to emphasize the importance of conversion growth for healthy church growth.
- Worship Attendance to Baptism Ratio of no more than 35 to 1.
Finally, I calculated the worship attendance to baptism ratio and removed all churches with larger than a 35 to 1 ratio.
This process left me with 755 churches that met the criteria for healthy, growing, smaller membership churches.
The next stage of research is a site visit in order to understand the context of the church. This will allow me to identify principles of healthy church growth within the context of the local church. Some of the churches will be in urban areas. Some will be in rural areas. Some will be in other population sizes. Churches are found all across the United States. Nearly every state has a church within the 755 healthy growing church sample.
It is hoped that this study will provide enough data to help the Caskey Center to provide appropriate resources to help pastors serving on the front lines for the kingdom.
Stay tuned to the Caskeycenter.com website for updates from the field!