Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Integrity In Church Membership -When Pastors Can't Do Math

HT: SBC Outpost

Two Rivers Church (SBC) is advertising the results of a vote to affirm their pastor.

I'll waive commentary about the reasons for the vote, as that's not my concern here. My concern is this:

Brother Bennett Willis noted:

Sutton said “less than 4% of the total church membership” voted for his removal. The 2006 Annual Church Profile showed that Two Rivers had 6,829 members. About 20 percent of the total membership cast ballots.

Unfortunately, I've poked around the TN Baptist Convention website and could not find their ACP. I poked around Lifeway too to no avail. However, I did find this:

Two Rivers averaged 1,836 people in worship services in 2005 among a membership of nearly 7,000, according to the Annual Church Profile.

So, let's break this down, shall we?

1. Two Rivers is getting just about 25 % of it's members into church on Sundays. This is the number we generally use to talk about "active" members.

2. So, if we use that number, 60 percent of the "members" voted to affirm their pastor. (1101/1836 = 60 percent).

3. But Two Rivers is broadcasting that it has almost 7000 members.

4. So, which is true:

a. 60 percent voted to affirm the pastor?
b. 16 percent voted to affirm the pastor?

5. This strikes me as incredibly schizophrenic. On the one hand, Two Rivers is held out as a "flagship" church in Nashville, and its pastor sought the SBC presidency in 2006. Its numbers were put out there to show this, and the church can claim that its pastor was recently "affirmed," presumably, by 60 percent of the active members, or something close that give or take a few percentage points. Yet, on the other, roughly a quarter show up to church on Sunday. The problem is this: the pastor claims that 286 is less than 4 percent of the membership, so is he claiming 1101 represents just over 96 percent of the members? Heavens, let's hope not.

You see, the vote was 1101 to affirm, 286 to disaffirm.

This, folks, is when an "affirmation" is no affirmation at all. Before talking about the way they affirmed the pastor, they need to trim the rolls. Maybe over half of them did affirm the pastor - but maybe they didn't. Until the church is honest about its membership, nobody will really know - but what we do know is that Pastor Sutton is self-deceived or unable to do basic math.

Here are his exact words:
I want to thank you for your overwhelming support. Quite honestly, it saddens me that it ever had to come to a vote. Having said that, I felt like the church spoke very clearly about its desire for me to remain as pastor. There were 1101 votes to affirm me as pastor, with 286 voting for me to vacate my position. That's less than 4% of the total church membership desiring my removal.

1. On the one hand 1101 is overwhelming support.

but on the other

2. 286 people is less than 4 percent of the members.

Maybe he doesn't have any math teachers in his congregation or believes his congregation cannot do math, but if 286 is 4 percent (and I'm using 4 percent because it's a nice round figure that he gives himself so I'll just round up to it) then that means there are 7150 members in the church.

Let's review some basic math for the folks @ Two Rivers. You see, if 286 = .04 (eg. 4 percent) of x (x = membership of the whole church) then we can say:

286 = .04 * x or .04x = 286. To solve for x, we divide 286 by .04. The result = 7150 members.

so, if there are 7150 members in the church, then we take 1101 and divide by 7150. That means...

3. 15.4 percent of the members voted to affirm him. Please, somebody who knows him, kindly point out to this brother than FIFTEEN POINT FOUR PERCENT of your members is NOT "overwhelming" support, and no matter how much you elevate that number to make up for the estimation I've given, you're not going to get much more than that.

Brother Jerry, are you counting on people seeing 1101 and 286 and drawing a conclusion based on that comparison? Had you not given the percentage of members represented by 286, nobody would have known.

This "affirmation" was no affirmation at all
, if, that is, we use your own yardstick as to the membership of your church. However, if you'd rather admit that only 1/4 or a bit more of your members are true members, that's a different story.

This, brethren, is precisely what happens when the SBC's churches systematically lie about the membership numbers. Amen to bloginafogpastor who wrote:

2) The number voting versus membership versus active participants really should be yet another wake up call to us that we as a denomination are collectively lying about our numbers.


  1. Charles Rosson10/10/2007 10:00 PM

    As every used car salesman (and MANY others) know so well numbers can be used to prove (conceal)almost anything.

    They can be spinned or twisted to say whatever the user desires to make his case and fool the simple.

    This is just another instance of the tricks (perversions)that are played on unthinking people every day of every week of every month.

    Good job, Gene, of "poking around" and exposing the shame of some who use numbers to make themselves look better than they are.

    Many thanks, beloved brother, for not being GULLIBLE!

  2. Gene,

    I have to admit, when I saw that BP article, I thought the exact same thing. Less than 4% voted for removal? 4% of what?

    I'm glad you caught this and wrote on it. Saved me from having to do it. ;)

    Sometimes I wonder if the pressing need to deal with unregenerate church membership would wane or be found wanting for continual emphasis. Yet after this week, we have more incentive to emphasize this call than in a long time.

  3. Whatever happened to integrity?

    Seems the American church cares more about democracy, and politics than loving Christ.

    The Church has lost it's contrite [nakeh] spirit.

    "And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven, but smote [tupto] upon his breast, saying, God be merciful [mea culpa] to me a sinner." Luke 18:13

  4. intentional inconsistency=lack of integrity

  5. The 1836 figure is probably high. On a given Sunday, I'm sure that a substantial portion of those in attendance are not members. So the average number of members in attendance would be substantially less than 1836.


  6. Good point, Matt. Of course, that could also be a "High Attendance Sunday" number too. Just goes to show - we work with the numbers we have and at least try to be generous. Sad, isn't it?

    By the way, just for the readers, I'm not picking on TRBC here at all. This is just a handy and, at the moment, relevant example.

  7. Is this what they call "cooking the books"?

  8. Gene,

    It is sad, but not unexpected given the state of the SBC and our obsession with mean numbers.

    Maybe we should send out DVDs of the Enron documentary Smartest Guys in the Room to all SBC churches. :)


  9. I noticed the 4% figure right off as well. I don't think that comes off well for that number to be thrown out. It looks like spin. A better number would be to point out what % of votes cast the affirmation was or % of votes cast seeking the end of his role in the church. I don't have anything against Sutton and he has clearly done a lot of good for a number of years at his church. Sometimes when we feel backed into a corner and attacked we will use whatever we can to bolster our cause. He should have thought this one through a little better because it comes across badly even to those who aren't necessarily opposed to him.