How many Wesleyans does it take to make a new disciple?
Our assumption is that a high number of baptisms in relation to a congregation’s average church attendance is one possible indicator of evangelistic effectiveness. Of course, there are several other gauges for evangelistic effectiveness besides baptism, and many factors (such as the size of the church, the cultural context and the community’s liturgical traditions) play into this ratio. Nevertheless, a high percentage of baptisms compared to its number of attendees is one sign that a church is fulfilling its mandate to multiply disciples.
My research assistant, Colby Callaway, and I explored one aspect of the above question recently by investigating the 2019-2020 baptism ratios (compared to worship attendance) of Wesleyan churches in North America.
Overall, in 2019, Wesleyans averaged 217,150 in worship attendance and baptized 8,681 individuals (a ratio of 25:1). In other words, it takes 25 people who attend Wesleyan churches to baptize one new believer. In comparison, the 2019 Southern Baptist ratio was 22:1. (It is of interest to note that the Southern Baptist membership to baptism ratio was 62:1 compared to 13:1 for The Wesleyan Church. This disparity can be explained somewhat by each denomination’s approach to church membership.) We chose to compare baptisms to attendance rather than membership as this is a more accurate assessment for Wesleyan congregations. To understand what is considered to be a strong ratio, we refer to Baptist church consultant, Thom Rainer, who has used a 20:1 ratio as one indicator of congregational vitality.
We searched for the 25-best attendance to baptism ratios among Wesleyan churches that baptized at least 10 people in 2019-2020 and discovered several strong, small and medium-sized congregations thriving in their outreach endeavors. Firewheel Church, planted five years ago in San Diego, tops the list with 56 baptisms and 85 attendees — an astounding ratio of 1.5 to 1.
“They do a great deal of street evangelism with an emphasis on power evangelism,” noted Pacific Southwest District Superintendent, Dr. Phil Stevenson. “They have seen a great number of salvations on the street.”
The largest congregation on the list is Meadows Church in Papillion, Nebraska, which averaged 280 and baptized 59.
“What God has been doing at Meadows is truly amazing!” said Rev. Monte Gannon. “Meadows is just over three years old, and our passion for reaching people for Jesus and leading them to purpose has only grown stronger. We cast a big vision about all of us being ministers to our community and to lost people. Ephesians says equip the people to do the ministry. One thing that really excites me about all of our baptisms is that I’ve never baptized any of them. It is the body ministering to the body: saved people baptizing other saved people. Of course, we understand that God is the one who is building his church. However, we are trying to do everything we can so he can use us fully. We do baptisms three or four times a year. We teach about it, share stories and boldly point people to it if that’s their next step. We will do one more before the end of the year, and I hope we have at least 20 more openly declaring their faith in Christ. God is doing great things … and the best things are still ahead of us!”
Rev. Melody Smith of Homeland Community Wesleyan Church (formerly The Gathering) in Parkersburg, West Virginia, is quick to credit Jesus for their outreach, saying, “Sometimes God just moves, and we stand back out of his way and watch him work!” Launched three years ago, they have taken a new name and a renewed mission to the community. Last year they averaged 84 and baptized 18.
“We serve a population of people who are, for the most part, completely unchurched,” Smith said. “We have folks who have never owned a Bible, never sat through a sermon until they came to [our church] and need extensive explanation about Communion and baptism. When a higher percentage of your people have never been baptized, you will naturally have a higher percentage of baptisms. There is rarely a day when something is not going on at one or both of [our] two campuses.”
Their activities include a huge food pantry, serving meals, providing recreational opportunities for children and clothing giveaways. “Whenever possible, we keep activities outside,” said Smith. “That gets the attention of folks in the neighborhoods.”
Zack and Carla Working serve as co-pastors of Hope Rising in Huntington, Indiana, which baptized two dozen new believers while averaging 108 in worship services.
“Being kingdom-focused starts with focusing on your circle of influence. We purposefully pour the bulk of our church resources into and stay intentionally focused on our relationships within the community,” Carla said. “God has entrusted specific people to each Christ follower so that we could experience the joy and privilege of sharing the truth of Jesus with those within our circle of influence.”
Journeymate Church, a growing congregation of 85 in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, baptized 25 new believers through emphasizing the supernatural power of God to free people from bondage and addiction. According to Rev. Tom Carney, they hold classes to teach people about baptism as the next step in their faith progression. “We are not a sanitized church by any means, and our main focus is to help people connect with Jesus and then raise them up into a royal priesthood.”
We celebrate the dynamic spiritual vibrancy evidenced amongst these churches as they faithfully endeavor to reach people for Jesus and fulfill their mission of multiplying disciples in their communities. Wholehearted mission engagement does not need to be limited by the size of the church or the community.
Read “Walking with God after baptism,” which includes 30 days of devotions to read after baptism.
Rev. Mark O. Wilson is a religion faculty member at Southern Wesleyan University and serves as The Wesleyan Church’s Catalyst for Evangelism.
Top 25 Attendance to Baptism Ratios in The Wesleyan Church of North America
Firewheel Church, San Diego, CA (Pastor James Heidrick); attendance: 85, baptisms 56 (ratio 1.5 to 1)
Larwill Wesleyan Church, Larwill, IN (Pastor Thomas Beck); attendance: 25 baptisms 14 (ratio 1.8 to 1)
Riverview Wesleyan Church, Portsmouth, OH (Pastor Michael Queen); attendance: 30, baptisms: 13 (ratio 2.3 to 1)
The Anchor Church, Graham, NC (Pastor Stephen Hall); attendance: 38, baptisms 15 (ratio 2.5 to 1)
Encounter Church, Burton, MI (Pastor Christopher Forystek); attendance: 56, baptisms 19 (ratio 2.9 to 1)
Journeymate Church, Bloomsburg, PA (Pastor Thomas Carney); attendance: 85, baptisms 25 (ratio 3.4 to 1)
Dryden Wesleyan Church, Dryden, MI (Pastor Christopher Terbus); attendance: 57, baptisms: 15 (ratio 3.8 to 1)
Great Love Church, Annandale, VA (Pastor Joshua Park); attendance: 45, baptisms 12 (ratio 3.8 to 1)
CORE Church, Charlotte, NC (Pastor Darrell Williams); attendance: 45, baptisms: 12 (ratio 3.8 to 1)
Oakfield Wesleyan Church, Crooksville, OH (Pastor Daniel Hinkle); attendance: 61, baptisms: 15 (ratio 4.1:1)
CrossPointe Trinity, Evansville, IN (Pastor Duane Allison); attendance: 74, baptisms: 17 (ratio 4.4:1)
Crown City Wesleyan Church, Crown City, OH (Supply Pastor, Jr. Preston); attendance: 48, baptisms: 11 (ratio 4.5:1)
Hope Rising Church, Huntington, IN (Pastors Zack & Carla Working); attendance: 108, baptisms: 24 (ratio 4.5:1)
Free Life Community Church, Terre Haute, IN (Pastor Dan Willis); attendance: 120, baptisms: 26 (ratio 4:6:1)
Meadows Church, Papillion, NE (Pastor Monte Gannon); attendance: 280, baptisms: 59 (Ratio 4:7:1)
Homeland Community Wesleyan Church (formerly The Gathering), Parkersburg, WV (Pastor Melody Smith); attendance: 84, baptisms: 18 (ratio 4.7:1)
Monterey Wesleyan Church, Monterey, TN (Pastor Ted Stepp); attendance: 50, baptisms: 10 (ratio 5:1)
Memorial Drive Wesleyan Church, Muncie, IN (Pastor Forrest Miller); attendance: 53, baptisms: 10 (ratio 5:3:1)
Skyview Wesleyan Church, Tipp City, OH (Pastor John Hughes); attendance: 55, baptisms: 10 (ratio 5.5:1)
New Life Community Church, Indiana, PA (Pastor David Henderson); attendance: 175, baptisms: 31 (ratio 5.6:1)
New Hope Wesleyan Church, Corydon, IN (Pastor Charles Morgan); attendance: 134, baptisms: 24 (ratio 5.6:1)
Iglesia Cristiana Wesleyana Casa de Restauracion, New Berlin, WI (Pastor Emmanuel Rios-Flores); attendance: 62, baptisms: 11 (ratio 5.6:1)
Utah Valley Church, Spanish Fork, UT (Pastor Kyle Gudmunson); attendance: 85, baptisms: 15 (ratio 5.1:1)
Spirit Alive Wesleyan Church, Yakima, WA (Pastor Jeff Allen); attendance: 90, baptisms: 15 (ratio 6:1)
Brandon Center Wesleyan Church, North Bangor, New York (Pastor Juanita Brooks); attendance: 61, baptisms: 10 (ratio 6.1:1)