Superfluous Churches -- By: Frederick W. Palmer

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 074:295 (Jul 1917)
Article: Superfluous Churches
Author: Frederick W. Palmer


Superfluous Churches

Frederick W. Palmer

I. The Scandal

How to do away with superfluous churches is a problem that must be faced. It comes near being the most difficult religious task in this land of sectarian enterprise. Every denomination has its task cut out for it, and the job will be both drastic and delicate.

The situation and the scandal of it are notorious. In almost every hamlet and crossroads are found little churches with no visible reason for existence, except denominational stubbornness or the factions of the fathers. They violate dictates of economy and efficiency, belittle the big religion of Jesus, and caricature the apostolical idea of the church. Note the churches utterly insignificant in membership and resources sprinkled over the columns of the yearbooks, and one is hard put to it to obey the Scriptural injunction, “Despise not the day of small things.” It is not surprising that the National Government has been impressed by these features of every census, and has lately been making a study of overlapping religious effort. As a field for conservation is it not worthy to be ranked along with’ forests and water power?

Through the courtesy of the Census Bureau, and of Mr. Joseph A. Hill, Division Chief, I have been permitted to see some tabulations and they reveal over wider areas the same discreditable facts we are all familiar with locally.

Here are a few that will serve as illustrations, — all from central New York. In the hamlet of S. are a Methodist church of thirty-two members, an Episcopal of twenty-two, and a Universalist of seventeen. The village of C. supports two Baptist organizations and three Methodist, totaling 227 communicants. In the town of W. are three folds of a combined membership of fifty-three. In thirty-five towns of adjoining counties, there were fifty-two churches with not over fifty communicants each! Of these, twenty-five have thirty members or under, while three report a membership, respectively, of nine, eight, and five. The conclusion is irresistible. In these four counties the churches generally are small. Most of the fifty-two should cease to be, after having thrown in their weight where it will do most good!

Are all denominations alike responsible for this state of things? From the statistical tables some appear to be sinners above others. One minor sect is reported with seven churches of from five to thirty-seven members each, and all. but one of them located in towns provided with several other denominations. Another, a prominent division of the Lord’s army, maintains ten churches with an enrollment of from nine to twenty-six members; and they, too, located where there are other folds not too l...

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