Why we need new church plants on the Jersey Shore5
In the famous words of Dave Letterman, “96% of all statistics are made up on the spot.” Yes, it is true that according to whomever does the research, it is difficult to have no bias whatsoever in the work. And it’s also true that you can often hear two statistics concerning the same topic that completely and utterly contradict one another.
In prefacing with this, I want to share with you some research I did this morning. My goal in this basic research was to give a sort of “state of affairs” for the Jersey Shore, similar to what we see Nehemiah doing upon his first visit to Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2). The questions I sought basic answers for:
- How many protestant, evangelical churches are on the Jersey Shore?
- How many on the Jersey Shore are evangelical, born again Christians?
- How many on the Jersey Shore are NOT evangelical, born again Christians?
COMPONENTS OF MY RESEARCH
In order to do this, I had to define what would constitute the Jersey Shore, but not only the Jersey Shore. I had to take into account the townships and cities that people live in who travel to the Jersey Shore to attend church. To begin this, I looked at our church, Redeemer Fellowship, and looked at where people in our own church body travel from, and the townships that surround them.
The results were about 39 different townships, stretching as far north as Long Branch, as far south as Seaside Park, and as far west as Jackson. This area is around 430 square miles.
I researched (via google) the latest population counts from each of these townships (most originating in 2013)
The total population count was 651,969.
Then I went and researched (via google) the amount of churches within each of these zip codes. I counted all protestant churches, but I want to focus in on the number of evangelical protestant churches available to these 600,000+ people within these townships.
Via Google Place (and other online avenues), I found that there are about 251 protestant churches. Within that 251 number, there are only around 163 evangelical protestant churches.
Weekly Attendance Averages
Now if I wanted to, I could call each of these churches in order to ask them the questions of “how many attend your church?” - but time does not avail itself. I resorted, then, to using national averages from George Barna. According to the multitude of research his group has accomplished, they have found the average church in America to have 89 people in attendance on a given Sunday.
So let’s suppose that these 163 evangelical churches in this area close to the Jersey Shore are at the national average (which, according to what knowledge I have of the area in ministering here for a number of years, it sounds about correct).
This means that within the 651,969 population, only 14,507 of them are attending evangelical, protestant churches on a given Sunday.
Percentage of Evangelical Christians on the Jersey Shore
So, now we can ask the question: what percentage of these townships around the Jersey Shore would identify themselves as evangelical, protestant Christian?
Somewhere between 2.2 and 2.3%. This means that, yes, that in these 39 townships 97.7 - 97.8% do not identify themselves as evangelical Christians, or would not call themselves "born-again." The Joshua Project labels a country “unreached” if it has an evangelical presence of “equal to or less than 2%.” The Jersey Shore and it’s surrounding areas therefore can be classified as “unreached.”
If that does not shock you, just wait: there is more to come.
National Average of weekly attendance in evangelical protestant churches
According to the Hartford Institute of Religious Research, when surveys are conducted, 40% or so of Americans claim they attend church weekly. The reality, though, when churches are surveyed? Only 20% actually do. Having what limited tools I have, the 20% seems to be a decent number to arrive at concerning national weekly attendance of Americans (although, presumably, this number could be significantly lower for evangelical churches).
Let’s say this is true, but knowing that our area is predominantly catholic and that these numbers represent attendance in all religious services in America, let’s cut the 20% in half to 10% and ask this question: If the average weekly church attendance in America is 89 per church, and 20% of Americans attend church weekly, but we want to see 10% of the Jersey Shore attend evangelical services and identify themselves as “born again” in Christ - just how many churches would it take, if each one was around 89 people, to reach that 10% number?
It would take 732 churches. We are currently at/around 163.
So just to see 10% become a reality, we would need to plant 569 MORE churches.
What does this mean for Redeemer Fellowship? And not just for Redeemer Fellowship, but for all the evangelical churches around us? I think it means a few things:
PLANT MORE CHURCHES
We must plant more churches. Period. If we only focus on each of our little churches and pretend like we are enough to reach our area, we are fooling ourselves. There is a massive amount of work to do, and it is largely undone.
Churches cannot be threatened by one another, but rather we must rejoice that we each exist! We must work together, and not participate in shuffling Christians around at these churches but rather seek to grow our churches by conversion growth. We must seek to have all our members be missionaries in their neighborhoods and workplaces.
We must realize that the place where we must devote the majority of our money for missions should no longer be international missions - because right here, in North America and in our very backyard, the vast majority do not know Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
May we see a movement of churches planting churches expand and spread on the Jersey Shore!