One convert every twenty years

Thom Rainer, CEO of Lifeway, writes a blog about church leadership issues. His concerns are far afield from mine, but he helps me stay current on how institutional church insiders are thinking these days.

Yesterday he offered a listicle of diagnostics for checking the health of a church. One caught my eye:

Little evangelistic fruit. As a general rule, a healthy church will reach at least one non-Christian for every 20 in worship attendance. A church with a worship attendance of 200, for example, should see at least ten new Christians a year.

I have three observations. First, this sounds daunting only if you view it collectively. Individually, it means each church member makes one convert every twenty years, right in line with Rodney Stark’s estimate of the growth rate of the church for the first four hundred years. Conversion as a twenty year project sounds realistic to me.

Second, Western Christianity as a whole fails this test, and no matter how you define subgroups most of those fail as well.

Third, I’ve failed this test.

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