The Jesus Film ministry would (maybe they still do) market their efforts by stating that for every dollar given, “X” amount of people would hear the gospel and “X” amount of people would accept Christ through the showing of the Jesus film. I think it was a highly effective fund raising method. Many folks heard those stats and said, “if I give $100, “X” amount of people would come to know Jesus? Where’s my checkbook?” In a moment of complete honesty, it always made me feel a little uneasy to place a dollar value on conversions. But I understand what they were trying to communicate and I certainly appreciated the evangelistic efforts of the Jesus Film/Harvest Partners.
So, in spite my admission of uneasiness of putting a monetary value on the Lord’s work, I am about to do the same. We can all agree that Jesus called us to make disciples and baptize folks. Most Christians can quote some (if not all) of the Great Commission. It is job #1. We must baptize people.
According to the latest numbers put out by the General Secretary, the Church of the Nazarene in 2018 baptized 97,566 people. Not bad you say. In one year, nearly 100,000 converts were baptized. We are accomplishing the Great Commission. But at what cost?
Those same General Secretary stats show that the Church of the Nazarene raised for all purposes $935,131,440. That’s a lot of money. The following is the statistical break down for the cost of our effectiveness in carrying out the great commission of baptizing people according to region:
Region Baptisms Money Raised Cost per baptism
Africa 33,065 $8,556,239 $258.77
Asia/Pacific 3,477 $34,234,857 $9,846.09
Eurasia 17,220 $11,697,241 $679.28
MesoAmerica 14,273 $19,936,915 $1,396.83
South America 12,235 $43,452,457 $3,551.48
USA/Canada 17,296 $737,997,223 $42,668.66
I’m not a mathematician nor the son of a mathematician, but when we spend over $42,500 per baptism in USA/Canada can we admit we are doing something wrong? Probably we don’t want our USA/Canada Regional director to stand before our District Assemblies like the Jesus film people and implore our folks “Please give only $42,668.66 and we will baptize one person next year! Give $85,337.32 and we can baptize two people! Get out your check books!” I’m not sure that approach will be quite as effective as the Jesus film plea.
Listen, we need to emphasize baptisms! All 4,602 churches in USA/Canada need to be baptizing people. Every one. If our pastors aren’t baptizing folks, what are we doing? Just two paragraphs up, we stated that the Great Commission is our #1 priority. If it is costing us in excess of $42,000 per baptism it doesn’t seem that we are taking a very cost efficient approach in the USA/Canada region.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s famous work is the Cost of Discipleship. He wasn’t referring to the actual dollar amount but rather our commitment and denial of self to be and make disciples. Well, the dollar amount of our discipleship seems to show that in the USA/Canada region we have given up our commitment to making disciples or we are doing it very poorly. It’s my prayer that we renew our efforts and recognize the cost of not doing discipleship and the cost of not baptizing people will be the death of the church.
There are plenty of good things that our churches are doing in USA/Canada. Even some of our smallest churches are shining lights in their communities (I would never suggest otherwise), but if we aren’t baptizing people, we are doing it wrong. We must get back to first things first—and renew our zeal to prioritize baptisms and making disciples.
Edited to add: For full disclosure… in my current assignment, if we baptized folks at the cost of those baptized in Africa, we would have needed to baptize about 10,000 people. In case you are wondering, we did not baptize 10,000 people in 2018. Not even close. In other words, I need to be more serious about the Great Commission too.