What Church Statistics Show
by J.H. Patterson
Some interesting facts have been brought to light in the “Comparative Summary of the Church in the United States for the Last Five Years” published in the July 2 Christian Observer. In this treatise, at the Presbyterian Church in the United States, with a little more than 2,000,000 communicants, has lost 4,322 members since 1926. This is certainly not an insignificant loss. And, too, the decrease in new members for 1929 was 2,500 over the decrease in new members for 1928. (The figures for the 1928 over 1927 decrease in new members were not given.) This means that within the past few years the Presbyterian church has been receiving several thousand less new members yearly than was expected. In other words, not as many people are joining the Presbyterian church now as formerly.
It is indeed interesting to note that, while the membership has plainly decreased, the number of ministers has constantly increased. The Presbyterian church has 174 more ministers than it had in 1926. More men are coming to the pulpit each year. More people are leaving the church. More pulpits, more ministers; smaller and smaller congregations. What does it all mean? When a church’s membership decreases, It follows, per corollary, that its contributions decrease. So the situation is that of an ever- decreasing membership supporting an ever-increasing ministry. The predicament is a ludicrous one, indeed. But imagine how much worse It will be, say, twenty years from now. Every church will have at least one minister for each communicant. This means that every church member will have to support, besides his own family, a minister with his family.
The church has already noted the effect of its failing membership. Contributions for the last five years have decreased $1,000,000. The pastors are plainly worried about this. One brother, Rev. Bernard Bain, has hatched a plan with which to kill the deficit. His plan, in short, is to start advertising for souls. He figures that every soul saved will mean that much more money in the pot. Fearing his plan would shock the conservative Presbyterians — the Blue Stockings — Rev. Bain split a hair:
I do not hold up money as the motive, but the result, of soul winning. We are traveling over a treacherous sea of financial depression. In the distance beam two lights side by side: one is aglow with spiritual fervor, while the other is beaming with evangelistic zeal.
Rev. Bain suggested the “indirect method” of advertising. He said, “If the church is to have financial success, we must not only get the members to give more, we must get more members.” Clever, Indeed!
So, in the future we may expect the Presbyterians, long noted for their coldness and dignity, to adopt the Big Business tactics of the ranting-panting Baptists and Methodists. The high-hat Blue Stockings will fight this with all their old hauteur. But the Methodists and Baptists may as well gird up their loins, and prepare for a new era of competition in the Soul Saving Business.