This is somewhat grumpy post, because I hate bad maths mascquerading as growth strategy. It gets used in the worlds of industry and commerce, and annoys me there, so, when it finds its way into a headline for a church growth seminar, I get very irritated!
I do 'get' what is being intended, and I am sure there are some great ideas behind the headline, but "double your number of baptisms next year" annoys me on many, many levels (not just maths ones).
Any Baptist Church, ABC, has had zero baptisms for as long as anyone can recall. So if ABC doubles the number of baptisms next year it will have - oh, zero. In fact, should ABC have one baptism it is an infinite increase (measured in terms of multiples), so out performs any church that simple doubles. Actually, my suspicion is that going from zero to one is far more significant than going from two to four, or ten to twenty.
Bigger Baptist Church, BBC, had one baptism last year. So this year it hopes for two, next year for four, the year after for eight... If this continues, BBC will have baptised the entire population of the planet in around 30 years. (It's that old grains of rice on a chessboard puzzle). Sorry, but it ain't going to happen!
Then there is Our Baptist Church, OBC. We last had a Baptism roughly five years, we had two one year, and one the year after. This year we have five. That's much more messy maths. I've been here for nearly nine years, so that will average out at a little under one a year. Doubling zero, or one or two or even five feels pretty meaningless to me; particpating in each baptism is hugely meaningful.
More importantly, and not just me doing a bit of pedantic maths, what does the number of baptisms actually measure? Is anyone counting the number of people leaving by the back door? (Of the four people I have baptised (three here, one elsewhere) two are still active in the churches concerned, one has now moved to a different church that better fits their spirituality, and the fourth has vanished depsite efforts to keep contact). If baptism is part of a 'numbers game' it is a poor choice, potentially giving false reassurance that all is well.
Defining church growth is a thorny topic, one I studied in depth many moons ago when I was researching church health. Growth isn't just - or even necessarily - bums-on-seats or baptisms or any other numerical count, it includes factors such as demography, diversity, sprituality, theological depth and breadth.
OBC - The Gathering Place - is growing numercally, we've had to ask the hotel for more chairs and had to restructure our Sunday School. We are increasingly diverse, and attracting thinking adults in their 20s and 30s including asylum seekers, overseas students and professionals. Hardly a week passes without some visitors dropping by, and former members often visit when in Glasgow. We are learning to be an Affirming church where all are welcome to exercise their gifts, whilst embracing and encouraging those who find that more difficult. I think we are a healthy church, a fallible and forgiving church, and that. for me matters far more than how many people get very soggy on any given Sunday or in any given year.