Reformed Baptist Fellowship

Counting Sheep

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on August 24, 2010 at 9:49 am

Drawing a crowd is not something we, as Reformed Baptists, have developed into an art form.  It is often very easy for us to “count our sheep” week by week.  There are a few large Reformed Baptist churches around the nation.  Most often, it is a blessing when we find a Reformed Baptist Church that is able to own its own building and have a full time pastor, or better yet, pastors!  However, we praise God for the many small but serious congregations who struggle week by week, whose people love the Lord, and who faithfully come to worship Him and labor for the kingdom.

It is only natural that the pastors of these larger churches receive a little more national respect than those of the smaller groups.  However, a little perspective helps.  A lot of what we as Reformed Baptists consider “large” is in reality nothing more than “Big Fish/Little Pond” syndrome.  In the fundamentalist college where I was initially trained (in the ‘70’s), we were told that we could not even begin to think of being invited to speak in chapel until we had a church of 300 because “anybody can grow a church to 300 in a couple of years”.

When it comes to “counting sheep” it is estimated by the Hartford Institute that there are 50 Protestant churches in the United States who have an attendance of 10,000 or more each Sunday (btw, how many pastors of these “fabulous fifty” can you name?).  Moreover, 1,300 Protestant churches have a Sunday attendance of 2,000 or more (the general definition of a mega church).  It is estimated that there are 18,000 churches that average 500-2,000.  While that number is huge, it should be noted that an estimated 35% of the people who attend services go to a church with an attendance between 100-499.  Furthermore, more than half of all the churches in the USA average less than 100 and the median size of an American church are 75 (half are smaller, half are larger).

With so many churches in the 500-person range, most of these pastors are not famous and most of these “smaller” large churches (large by RB standards) are unknown outside their area.  I visited one of these churches this summer — in a little Arkansas town of 9,000.  The church had more than 500 in attendance.  They were a Southern Baptist Church following the Willow Creek model.  They opened the “worship service” with an extremely well done instrumental version of Ozzie Osbourne’s “I am Ironman”.  I’ll admit to being surprised.  I began to try and guess how this would tie into the sermon or worship theme.  Evidently, I was wasting my time.  It was a performance to open the “worship” (break the ice, I guess) complete with impressive lighting and special effects.  The pastor took the “stage” afterward – proclaiming, “Wasn’t that great!” while the “audience” was applauding wildly.

I had a private conversation with a non-believer afterwards and he asked me what I thought of the service.  Not wanting to be negative, since a “lite” gospel message had been preached, I simply stated that it wasn’t what I had expected.  He smiled, shook his head and said, “I never thought I would hear Black Sabbath played in a church.”  It was obvious that he was unimpressed.

Will we live long enough to hear Black Sabbath “hymns” played in our Reformed Baptist churches?  If we give up the Regulative Principle of Worship — why wouldn’t we?  It did draw a crowd!  The younger folks loved it.  The middle aged folks seemed to relate.  The older folks didn’t even yell, “Turn down that racket!”  In fact, the older folks seemed quite happy to see their church building filled; probably thinking back to the days not all that long ago when their church building was relatively empty.  This was after all, “The First Baptist Church of …” I fully expect, in five years if I visit again, the church name will have been changed to something a little more “contemporary”.  That might help boost attendance even a little more in that church, which is the fastest growing church in their area.

Steve Marquedant
Sovereign Grace Reformed Baptist Church
Ontario, California
  1. I am not surprised, Pastor Steve, to hear about the church you visited. Nor the figures you mentioned. I thank God that I have found sound teaching, a worship service that glorifies God and fellowship that is uplifting and where I can serve, also, in my small way. I’ve been in some of those mega churches and while you might feel good while there, you leave without knowing who God really is. Our world and our churches are changing.

  2. And their new tag-line would be “This ain’t your great grand-daddy’s Sabbath”

    Wow…a far cry from devoting ourselves to the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayers. Certainly no fear coming upon every soul! May we hold the line in our generation!

  3. Thanks Pastor Steve.

    What an encouragement! I remember when RB people took comfort in being faithful and not always successful. I don’t mean to be confrontational. Can we sinfully take refuge is this? Yes. Are we to labor with the belief that God will bless our Labors? Yes. Should we review our behavior to ensure we are doing what we should? Yes. Are we doing all that we can? No.

    Yet—at the end of all it: Should we not labor for the Well done of our Father? Yes.

    Oh may we see our churches full! May we get out of our comfort zone and do the work of the ministry. May we plead that God would send forth laborers into the fields!

    Yet brethren, at the end of the day—let us not despise what God has and is doing among us—regardless the size of our churches.

    I remember Spurgeon once saying, that he thought those ministers who would be honored most have been heard of least (country preachers he called them).

    “Showers of blessing, we need: Mercy-drops round us are falling, but for the showers we plead…”

    Mike Waters

  4. Not too long ago we had some visitors worshipping with us. They were Dutch Reformed folk from another state, and we were the closest Reformed church they could find. There were 15 of them (an extended family), and their presence nearly doubled our attendance for the day. They commented that they were grateful to “find a little church out in the middle of the country where the people are trying to preserve the worship of God.” That comment has stuck with me. It is important that when the Son of Man comes He will find faith on the earth.

  5. In a society, that has sold its soul for the celebration of personalities (thus the term celebrity) and finds comfort in entertainment, God’s worship always is a great offence.

    May our churches never lose sight that the Lord’s Day gathering is for the purpose of God’s people to meet with Him by way of His stated means.

    Thank you Steve for such clear thinking!

  6. Steve – Great message! Thank you. Jesus made it clear that numbers were of no signifance when He said in Mat 18:20 “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” What was signifancant is that they were gathered in His name, and that He was there among them. He, not the numbers, must ever be the focus and concern of the church that belongs to Him.

  7. I was appalled to read, in 1 Kings 12 last night, how Jeroboam set up the golden calves and his own priesthood in order to win the favor of the people. It is sad to hear what some churches will do to win the favor of the people. I’m so thankful for men like you, Pastor Steve, who speak encouragement to God’s people to stay the course. 2 Ch. 16:9 “For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him…”

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