Last year in the Standard Bearer there were two articles by Prof. H. C. Hoeksema dealing with our apparent over-supply of ministers. Prof. Hoeksema, however, pointed out that although there might be surplus at present, figured over the next five years or so, there is no surplus at all; and he very directly asked the question whether the Lord had a purpose in providing us with such an abundance.
He stated what should be a firm belief among us, that if the Lord provides us with ministers He will also have and provide work for them. In the past two to three years we have seen how the Lord has abundantly given us men into the ministry, and we started worrying so much that we almost encouraged our older ministers to seek emeritus status, (if the church had been an ordinary business, we would have given them financial encouragement to retire early, as they do in Holland at age 66). Were we right? We also started to worry already about places for the class of 179. And what happened? From one home mission post (Victoria), we went to four new fields: Birmingham, Bradenton; Monroe-Mt. Vernon; and Lansing-Charlotte; From one foreign mission field, we went to two; Jamaica and Singapore. And there is still a request for help from New Zealand. Therefore at present we; have 21 + 3 + 3 + 4 = 31 openings, and only 25 ministers.
Do we see what the Lord is telling us? From a surplus in one year we went to, a shortage—a still healthy situation, but nevertheless a shortage. Two times now the Lord spoke to us, and He is still speaking to us: “Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes; for thou shalt break forth on the right hand and on the left; and thy seed shall inherit the gentiles, and make the desolate cities to be inhabited.'” “Fear not: for thou shalt not be ashamed: neither be thou confounded; for thou shalt not be put to shame: for thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth, and shalt not remember the reproach of thy widowhood anymore.”
In this article I want to look with you at our churches’ denominational statistics, because through them the Lord speaks the same language that He speaks to us in giving us such an abundance of ministers and in then giving us so many new fields.
Through the analysis of the statistics we can not only hear the same message, but it also gives us the opportunity to project in a very concrete way the promises which our Lord gives to us when He commands us to enlarge thy tent.
The gathering of statistics and their correlation has generally the purpose of showing “Where we were,” “Where we are,” and then projecting “Where we are going.” Of course, everybody in business does this, and we find it quite normal to talk about it. However, as soon as we come to doing this with the church, we actually don’t know if we are allowed to do this. First this comes about because the church is not a human institution; it is, unique, because the Lord very directly calls it into being. However, that same God also gives us understanding and knowledge to use also these talents in His service. That same God also says to the remnant, “Enlarge thy tent,” make it sturdy because thou shalt break—out with other words, burst at the seams.
God does not say, “Maybe prepare for expansion,” or “Get material ready for expansion,” or, “Pray for expansion,” or, “Look at it and figure out how it can be done, but don’t do anything because it is all My work.” No, but He says to the remnant, “Enlarge thy tent,”period. And then that remnant has to get busy. And who before he builds a house does not sit down and figure it all out?
Our denomination is very small, and therefore using figures per church becomes meaningless. But the same holds true for most businesses. Therefore Descartes gave us a concept rule that works in most cases; and it basically involves building figures to the greatest possible combination, and then breaking these totals down again into components. This process; of course, generally is done in different ways till we see a pattern developing; and then we start projecting that pattern.
For the purpose of this study, therefore, I took the figures of our total membership from 1964 to 1979 and divided these into three periods of 5 years each: 1964 to 1969, 1969 to 1974, and 1974 to 1979.
Total membership at end of period: Period 1—3107, Period 2—3471, Period 3—4235
Total membership at beginning of period: Period 1—2885, Period 2—3107, Period 3—3471
Increase during period: Period 1—222, Period 2—364, Period 3—764
% increase from beginning of period: Period 1—7.5, Period 2—12, Period 3—22
Average % increase annually: Period 1—1.5, Period 2—2.4, Period 3—4.4
Average membership per congregation at end of period: Period 1—163, Period 2—173, Period 3—201
Over the whole period Classis East grew from 257 members per congregation (7) to 277 members per congregation (9).
Over the whole period Classis West grew from 92 members per congregation to 145 members per congregation.
Let me now on the basis of these past statistics project the next five years, Dec. 31, 1979 to Dec. 31, 1984. Our past growth period shows each period at an almost doubling growth of 1.5% 2.4%, 4.4%. We project therefore for the next period an average of 8% per year, which means an increase of 1694 members from 4,235 to 5,929.
Projecting 8%, you ask, if I am not too optimistic (actually, you probably use another word). I feel I am not: first, because in our last 5-year period we showed a growth greater than the national population growth; and that is generally a healthy sign. There are all indications that there is a growing interest in our denomination by others, by people who are coming to their wits’ end and finally have to come to that little and despised church to be fed again from sabbath to sabbath with the sincere milk of the gospel. Our present average is 201 members per congregation; with a 1694 increase, we must expect five new congregations in the next period, bringing at the end the average per congregation to 228 members. Past figures seen above; show increases from period to period of 10 and 20 members per congregation; this increase calls roughly for 30 more members per congregation, including 5 new congregations.
Five new congregations over the next five years is not much if you consider all direct facts available to us.
Grand Rapids: one more congregation. Grand Rapids statistics:
1964: 5 congregations, 354 members average
1972: 5 congregations, 362 members average
1973: 6 congregations, 324 members average
1979: 6 congregations, 368 members average
You can see from these statistics that in Grand Rapids we are almost due for a seventh congregation, although due to the relocation of First this will probably be at the end of our projection period when the average congregation in Grand Rapids should have 390 members.
Presently we have four mission posts; assume 2 new congregations out of our home mission work.
Look at your map of Canada, and realize that at present 5 families from our Lynden church are living in the B.C. lower mainland and have to cross the border every Sunday. The area has something like 23 churches of Dutch Reformed background. It seems logical that with a few more families a new congregation would be born in that area.
In Alberta there is the beginning of 2 young families and 4 individuals (12 members) in Lacombe. They are now traveling a 160-mile round trip every Sunday.
Our church in South Holland should have grown too large by the end of the period.
There are now inquiries out of the province of Ontario, where there is the greatest concentration of Reformed churches in Canada.
The above are only things that I am aware of. But I think it shows that an expectation of five new congregations is not too high. Except for First, Grand Rapids and Isabel, all our congregations, although there are ups and downs, show a continual increase and steady growth.
So what should we expect by the end of 1984? May I project that we have grown to 26 congregations, still 2 classes, from 4 home mission fields to 8, from 3 foreign missions openings to 6, including possible assistance and help to churches in New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, South Africa, Ireland, Scotland, Holland; Germany, etc. All of this adds up as follows:
26 congregations + 4 theol. professors + 8 home missionaries + 6 foreign missionaries = 44 ministers
Presently we have 25 active ministers, from which during that period probably 2 will seek emeritation, leaving us with 23 ministers. We have 6 students, and we will need in the next five years 21 new ministers. Considering all the above, there is no surplus. We are heading for a shortage. So we had better start asking the Lord, Who also commands us, “Enlarge thy tent,” to call men to the ministry. And we also should start asking our young men very directly, intreatingly, to consider the call to the ministry. See, the fields are white for the harvest! Pray the Lord of the harvest that He send forth reapers.
We have heard about reformation in the-past, but we do not expect one more today. O ye of little faith! If ye had faith like a mustard seed! Why no more reformation? Is it for us to decide that there will be no more reformation? Could it be that the Lord will use us, even us? Could it be that for the gathering, that reformation, He created the Protestant Reformed Churches in 1924, and that therefore 1953 was necessary?
Let us therefore come boldly before the throne of grace as congregations and ask for additional ministers. Let us therefore come boldly as young men and say, “Speak, Lord, for they servant heareth.” So that generations not yet born may say of us, “By faith…”