Competitive Childbearing as a Church Growth Strategy
Marion D. Aldridge
(Note: I thought this was funny when I wrote it five years ago, but I never had it published. So, here it is, finally, as true as ever…)
The mantra of most American churches is “Grow, Grow, Grow.” This refrain springs from the wells of Wal-Mart, capitalism, and the American Way, not from the Bible. The Jews of the Old Testament did not have a “growth strategy.” The words and life of Jesus repelled as many people as they attracted.
But, since enlargement is at the heart of American evangelicalism, I make a modest suggestion to ensure success.
I recommend competitive childbearing as a means of helping numerically declining congregations and denominations return to the robust and vigorous expansion of their former days—before birth control.
We all know families in which the adult siblings race to have the first grandchild, or the first grandson, or the brightest or most athletic children, or more kids than their brothers and sisters. The contest may never be acknowledged overtly, but it happens in millions of families all over the world.
Competitive childbearing plays itself out in a thousand ways: Who gets Grandpa’s name first? Who looks like Grandma? Who will inherit Mama’s china? Who will receive Dad’s blessing? Who gets the family fortune?
Middle class and upper middle class families are simply not having a sufficient quantity of babies to keep our churches as populated and growing as they were through the 1960s.
I propose that churches not already using this natural sibling competitiveness as a strategy for swelling attendance and income are missing a grand opportunity. How can a congregation realistically expect to increase numerically if the following pattern is followed?
- Four grandparents produce…
- Two children who only manage to procreate…
- One grandchild.
That is the definition of a downward demographic trend.
It is an ugly fact for increasingly wealthy denominations that the higher up the educational and social ladder parishioners go, the fewer newborns they produce. As Pentecostals become Baptists, as Baptists become Presbyterians, and as Presbyterians become Episcopalians, their capacity for and interest in breeding a new generation diminishes.
Any church paying attention to numbers (traditionally, budgets, butts and buildings are the important issues) should consider competitive childbearing as a growth strategy. Imagine these numbers:
- Four grandparents (two sets) have…
- Twelve children (six per couple), each of which in turn has their own half-dozen babies, totaling…
- Seventy-two offspring.
That’s serious church growth.
Ask for advice from the Protestants and Roman Catholics of previous centuries when large families were the norm. More recently, since Roman Catholics outlawed birth control, their numbers continued to expand while Protestants, embracing all manner of contraception, watched their numbers shrink. The growth of the church in South America and Africa is less about dynamic preaching than about shunning birth control. Nor is the principle of competitive childbearing limited to the Christian religion. Muslims and Hindus have also practiced this strategy with success. Children having children is always a good thing for increasing religious population.
In the Baptist church of my childhood, we gave awards on Mother’s Day for the oldest mother, the youngest mother (sometimes age 15 or 16) and the mother with the most children. Forget Christmas and Easter! If your congregation will focus on Mother’s Day with the right rewards, competitive childbearing will happen naturally.
Ask for advice from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS). They can’t build fast enough to house all their offspring/constituents. Their men are allowed to marry multiple wives. That helps the toddler totals even more. Maybe Plural Marriage is a Biblical idea that Protestants should consider. Let a 65-year old man marry 6 wives, ages 65, 55, 45, 35, 25 and 15, and I guarantee there will be a steady supply of fresh infants.
The answer to almost every church growth problem is “Just Have Babies.” By the way, you certainly don’t want non-productive, non-procreating homosexuals in a church committed to a strategy of competitive childbearing.
The wonderful thing about this approach to church growth is that it allows American Christians to continue to worship their three Great Gods:
- Competition—We love to have winners and losers in our culture, especially if we are the winners. Forget this win-win stuff. We all want to be Winners. Losers are just losers.
- Materialism—We love Stuff. We love the Money that buys Stuff. I know that Jesus said some weird things about hoarding and greed, but Jesus was not an economist. So be careful about giving his opinions too much weight.
- Size—Oh, how we worship Bigness. Big Houses. Big Box Stores. Big Churches. Big Cars. Big Stadiums. Big Guns. The Bigger the Better. There is no place in a True America for modesty in size. More than half of the pop-up ads on the computer are selling products to increase Size. Surely, if we understood him correctly, Jesus was more interested in growing the numbers of the local Synagogue than healing the sick, or feeding the hungry, or making peace, or any of that other humbug stuff. Right?
If competitive childbearing is the perfect solution for the problems of our church culture, then have lots of kids. By the way, I don’t know any pastor-search committee or any group of deacons that wants to grow their church with old people. Another mantra in our culture that will be resolved by a steady supply of children is “Youth, Youth, Youth.”
It will baffle me if congregations don’t leap to this policy of competitive childbearing to increase their size.
This would be an especially effective approach if we could retroactively get Jesus to be married.
If only Jesus had practiced what we preach…