By Ed Thompson

I love the day the statistical reports are released. It feels like a holiday to me. It’s something I look forward to each year. I admit it doesn’t measure up to Christmas, Easter, or even Pentecost. Nor is it as festive as Thanksgiving or even the 4th of July. The Opening Day of the Major League Baseball season (which starts next week) as well as the day Daylight Savings Time ends and we get an extra hour of sleep also probably rank higher on my list of favorite days as well.

Nevertheless, I do get excited to look at the statistics from our churches for the past year. In some ways, it’s not a pretty picture. Last year, the churches in our presbytery continued their unbroken streak of losing members. That’s happened every year since this presbytery was formed in 1987. (To be fair, the streak probably reaches back much further than that. I suspect the last time the churches in any of our antecedent presbyteries saw a net gain in membership was probably 1963 or maybe 1964. Again, to be fair, those losses are also a reflection of the state’s loss of population during those years as well.)

Overall, our churches lost 323 members this past year, with 48 churches reporting a net loss and 16 showing a net gain in membership. That’s where things start to get tricky and what sparks my interest. Doing a little deeper dive shows 40 churches gained members and 61 churches lost members during the past year. Breaking that down even further shows there were 48 youth professing their faith and 73 affirmations or reaffirmations of faith. While those numbers could be higher, we still had 48 youth professing their faith. That’s a good thing. Seventy-three affirmations or reaffirmations of faith means that 73 adults were willing to come forward and take the step to join our churches. While the numbers again could be higher, that’s still something to celebrate.

Our churches also reported 75 baptisms last year. Forty-eight were presented by others, most of them probably parents or perhaps grandparents. That’s not bad. Fourteen baptisms happened at confirmation. Considering the number of Baptist churches around and the influence they seem to have on the wider culture of the state, those numbers aren’t that surprising. There were 18 “other baptisms.” I probably would have preferred that we just come out and call them “adult baptisms” because that’s most likely what they were, but they still happened. Again, the numbers could be higher, but you’ve got to start somewhere. As I tell the presbytery each year at our February meeting, we can’t just rely any more on doing infant baptisms and assume those kids will grow up and join the church and have kids who will be baptized and grow up and join the church. That pattern stopped working a long time ago (maybe 1963 or 1964?). It’s not a bad thing when we have an infant baptism. It’s a good thing. It’s something to celebrate. However, we’ve got to overcome our reluctance to ask people to join the church and our hesitation to ask adults if they’ve been baptized – and if they haven’t been baptized, we need to extend that invitation. If we can’t or don’t make that change, our churches will continue to lose members year after year. I will admit that’s an oversimplification of what’s happening, but I also believe that’s at least part of the answer.

Of the 16 churches that had a net gain in membership last year, 6 had between 101 and 200 members; 5 had 25 members or less; 2 had between 26 and 50 members; 2 had between 51 and 100 members; and 1 church had more than 200 members. Those numbers give me hope. It tells me that churches of any size can gain members. For the most part, it can also basically happen in any part of the state. Of those 16 churches that had a net gain in members, 4 would have been in the old Quad 1; 5 would have been in the old Quad 2; 2 would have been in the old Quad 3; and 4 would have been in the old Quad 4. That’s pretty evenly spread out.

I’m not going to be around at next February’s presbytery meeting to ask you how many churches had an adult baptism in the past year, but with three quarters of this year left, every church has plenty of time to do something about that. I hope that happens. I hope every church has at least one adult baptism this next year. Not every church has members of childbearing age, but I’m sure every church has members who have adult friends, neighbors, and/or colleagues who have never been baptized. May 2023 be the year we finally break the streak of showing a net loss of members.


As some of you may remember, I set a goal for this year of visiting the churches that I had not worshipped with since I came been back in 2016. That became a little more complicated since I’m going to need to fit those visits in before the end of July when I retire. I started out the year with 13 churches on that list. I feel I’ve done really well this first quarter as I will have made it to 5 of them – and perhaps 6 if the weather doesn’t mess me up this coming Sunday. Considering the number of churches remaining on that list, the commitments I’ve already made to preach, the fact that I’m going to have to miss Memorial Day Sunday because of my niece’s wedding in Georgia, and the fact that I will probably take my birthday off since it falls on a Sunday this year, I’m not going to be able to accept any more invitations to preach. I’d like to help you out – and I’d love to visit your church again – but there’s just not enough Sundays left before I get off the bus.