Last week, Saddleback Church celebrated an amazing spiritual milestone. Since their founding 38 years ago, they have baptized 50,000 new believers.
That is something the entire body of Christ needs to pause and thank God for. 50,000 people making commitments to Christ in one local church is an amazing and beautiful thing.
It’s also amazing and beautiful when 50,000 people come to Christ and are baptized across 10, 100 or 1,000 congregations.
Breaking Down The Numbers
As I considered those numbers, I started wondering what equivalent stats would look like in churches of those different sizes.
According to Outreach magazine, Saddleback averages over 26,000 attendees every weekend. They’ve been in existence for about 38 years. That’s just over 1,300 baptisms per year. But that’s not an accurate average for their current size because they obviously had a lot fewer baptisms in the early years, with a lot more in recent years.
According to this article in ChristianityToday.com, Saddleback hit the 45,000 baptism mark in October of 2016, which means they baptized 5,000 people in the last 22 months. That’s a current average of 227 baptisms per month, or 2,727 baptisms per year. That is also great cause for celebration!
If you take those figures and average them for 26,000 church members across churches of different sizes, it looks like this:
- 1 church of 26,000: 2,727 baptisms per church per year
- 10 churches averaging 2,600: 272 baptisms per church per year
- 100 churches averaging 260: 27 baptisms per church per year
- 1,000 churches averaging 26: 2.7 baptisms per church per year
Why is it that while the first figure is rightly applauded as an astonishing accomplishment, the churches in the last line are usually made to feel like abject failures?
Investing Your Talent
By those calculations, any church of 26 people that is faithfully preaching the gospel, reaching out to the community and baptizing 2 or 3 people per year is doing their part. They’re investing their talent, not burying it. (Matthew 25:14–30)
Those churches won’t make the headlines, not because what they’re doing doesn’t matter, but because they are one of hundreds of thousands of other faithful churches running similar numbers. And that’s okay.
Celebrating 50,000 baptisms in one congregation is the right thing to do. Count me as one of the celebrants. But the Bible is very clear that there was an even more important celebration in heaven for every baptized new believer (Luke 15:10) whether they were the only one baptized in that church, or one of 50,000.