I was raised a Free Will Baptist. My family has a rich heritage in the FWB denomination. I am extremely grateful for the history of FWBs and the work that some of its leaders have done all around the world for God’s glory.
But I’ve been worried about FWBs for a while. I’m worried that our denomination isn’t reaching enough people with the gospel. From what I can gather, FWBs have had about the same number of members since 1950 (around 200,000). We need to recognize that it’s a problem, but there’s no sense in arguing about why we haven’t been growing. We need to move forward by developing strategies for reaching people. Quite simply, I believe the best way to reach more people is to go where the most people live: the cities. So let’s have an honest discussion about what we, as FWBs, can do to reach the masses.
Free Will Baptists are mostly suburban and rural. I’ve suspected as much, but I had no idea how true this was until I started researching. The National Association of Free Will Baptists’ website allows users to look up FWB churches by city and state. I recently used that site, along with a list of the largest 100 cities in the United States (found here and here) to research what FWBs are doing in the cities. For this study, I searched for FWB churches in the 100 largest cities and only recorded churches that had an address within the city limits, as this is how population is determined.
1. Out of 2,400 FWB churches in the United States, 94 are in the 100 largest cities in the United States (that’s 4% for those of you that appreciate percentages instead of raw data). Forty-six of those churches are in the 50 largest cities.
2. There are 48.1 million people in the 50 largest U.S. cities and 46 FWB churches to reach them.
3. Forty-six of the 50 largest cities in the U.S. have two or fewer FWB churches. Thirty-two of those cities have no FWB church.
4. The ten largest cities in the U.S. have 25.4 million people and one FWB church.
5. New York City has over 8 million people and zero FWB churches.
6. Here are the largest U.S. cities, in order by population, which have no FWB church:
New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Phoenix, Philadelphia, San Antonio, San Diego, Dallas, San Jose, San Francisco, Austin, Fort Worth, Charlotte, Memphis, Boston, Baltimore, El Paso, Seattle, Denver, Milwaukee, Washington, D.C., Las Vegas, Portland, Atlanta, Long Beach, Omaha, Oakland, Colorado Springs, Minneapolis, Arlington, and Honolulu.
Plainly spoken: We have failed to spread the gospel of Jesus to people in the cities.
- Free Will Baptists will not see substantial growth unless we go to the cities. Don’t believe it? Since 1950, FWBs have not created a substantial presence in most major cities, the population in those cities has doubled (or more), and FWBs have not seen any substantial growth. As people continue to move to the cities, we must move as well.
- It will take a different approach on the part of FWBs to reach people in the cities. This is because cities have a different demographic than most FWBs. Race, politics, and socio-economic statuses are all wild cards in the city. Free Will Baptists are mostly white, conservative, and middle-class. We cannot build Alabama churches in Philadelphia. It’s not going to happen.
- An intentional effort should be made to educate FWBs about the importance of urban church planting. A FWB movement toward the cities won’t happen on accident. Because there has been little emphasis on urban churches, there will be few who decide to do it. Those who are interested in urban church planting may look to other organizations for support and guidance.
So what do you think? Are there other conclusions we should consider? Can FWBs make a difference in the cities? I want us to have a real discussion on how to move forward. Leave your comments here instead of on FB so that everyone can read it.