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 www.sgbc-ontario.us