“That’s a weird combination!”
I often hear this statement right after answer the question, “What do you teach?” My response to the question is “I teach pastoral ministry and math classes.”
Many think it strange to have math so connected to ministry courses, but I believe it is a natural pairing. Statistics in particular is very helpful for the pastor. We are to be students of the word, but also aware of the world, much like the sons of Issachar in 1 Chronicles 12.
In 1 Chronicles 12, King David was preparing to go to war. Among the divisions of armed troops, Issachar’s descendants were identified as “men who had understanding of the times to know what Israel ought to do.” Similarly, Jesus offered the criticism of the people of Israel. He said they understood the signs of changing weather but couldn’t discern the times.
Pastors should understand the community and culture in which they live, and research is a helpful tool to acquire the proper understanding. The Caskey Center engages in various forms of research in order to identify tools and best practices to help churches and their pastors to conduct their ministries with excellence.
In the upcoming months, I intend to post regular blog posts (probably monthly) sharing research findings with significant implications for ministry. For this post, I’d like to share about a website called The ARDA (https://thearda.com/). This stands for The Association of Religious Data Archives, and is a collaboration of denominations and religious organizations across the United States. There is an abundance of data available on this website, but one thing that pastors would find helpful is the religious adherence data reports.
Below is a chart of the adherence to Religious Traditions for residents in Jefferson Parish, LA between 1980 and 2010 (2020 data will be released soon). As you can see, there has been a decline in the number of Catholics and a slight increase among Evangelical Protestants. Evangelicals made up 13.2% of the population of Jefferson Parish in 2010. The population of Jefferson Parish in 2010 was 432,552 which means that there are 57,097 Evangelicals in Jefferson Parish. How is this helpful? It helps us understand the times and what the church ought to do. If Evangelicals comprise 13.2%, then Jefferson Parish is 86.8% lost (assuming that you hold to an Evangelical definition of salvation). With this information, what ought the church be doing?
Closer to home, the Southern Baptist Convention’s 2021 Annual Church Profile revealed that of the 34,766 reporting churches, 16,656 churches reported zero baptisms. Stated another way, 47.9% of reporting SBC churches did not have a single baptism in 2021. What ought the churches of the SBC be doing?
We certainly need to be doing better at engaging the lost in our communities with the gospel. I am thankful for the 18,110 (52.1%) churches that did report at least one baptism. I invite you to join me in efforts to raise the number of churches who are engaged in evangelism. Let us join Paul in his commitment expressed in 1 Corinthians 9:19: “Although I am a free man and not anyone’s slave, I have made myself a slave to everyone, in order to win more people.”
Jeff Farmer, PhD, serves as professor of church ministry and evangelism and he is the associate director of the Caskey Center. He oversees the research efforts of the Caskey Center and consults with smaller membership churches.