Home > Commentary, Deaf Ministry > “My Deaf Church Is Dying!” Part 1

“My Deaf Church Is Dying!” Part 1

Or The “Numbers Are Important” Fallacy

Recently I talked with one of my church members (hereafter CM for “church member”) about a group discussion in which CM took part. CM was telling me about an issue they were discussing, in which apparently “church growth factors” or some such nonsense was being discussed.

Long story short, once it was disclosed to the group that our church (Louisville Baptist Deaf Church) has a membership of about 35, with an average attendance of 25, CM was in no uncertain terms immediately told by CM’s peers (all of whom were hearing), “Your church is dying! It may already be dead!”

Needless to say, CM was upset by such an assertion. This was, quite honestly, an assertion made from ignorance. Moreover, this assertion assumed that numbers is a valid judge of the “health” of a church.

First of all, these people failed to understand the unique ministry setting of the church. They failed to understand that not all churches are the same. Deaf ministry is a totally different paradigm from hearing ministry. Ed Stetzer (author of Planting Missional Churches and Breaking the Missional Code) would say that CM’s classmates failed to break the missional code. In Deaf ministry, numbers is the #1 most insignificant factor. A Deaf ministry which focuses on numbers will soon die.

Why? Because numbers are dangerous in a Deaf church. For example, when a certain number of Deaf people begin congregating regularly, gossip will not be far behind. It is difficult to convey the impact of such a concept to a hearing person. Usually such a person dismisses this phenomenon without taking the time to understand it. The most common dismissal I have been met with is “Oh, every church has to deal with gossip!” Gossip destroys Deaf churches faster and more destructively than just about anything. For a person to fail to take the issue of gossip seriously in Deaf culture is to immediately remove any hint of credibility from that person.

Not only that, a Deaf ministry focused on numbers makes a ministry’s true health irrelevant. Deaf people tend to be guilty of this error more egregiously than their hearing counterparts. (Another way of saying egregious is the common Deaf expression, “Deaf FAMOUS for.”) Often you will find Deaf people asking the question, “How many?” regarding social and church events, wanting to know the numbers that showed. If the number is “disappointing,” it will not matter if that event/ministry/etc. is exactly what that Deaf person needs.

The reality is that very few Deaf churches have memberships greater than 30 to 50. Ours is pretty large, comparatively. Deaf “mega churches” like Brentwood Baptist Deaf Church in Nashville, TN (membership reportedly about 150) are rare. The average Deaf church likely has 15 to 25 members. Why don’t more Deaf attend Deaf churches? Probably because, as a rule, many like to go to interpreted ministries. They want to go to the local mega church or to a church with an interpreted ministry located close to their homes, or close to their social network. Or they may go to church with their hearing families, especially if their church has an interpreted ministry. They like being around numbers. Deaf-led churches are more commonly the exception to the rule. Our church could be considered a “Deaf mega church” here in Kentucky. Would that were the case!

A Deaf church focused on numbers is — as was skillfully put by a Deaf minister friend — “an inch deep and a mile wide.” In other words, numbers are unhealthy.

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Categories: Commentary, Deaf Ministry
  1. Steve D
    April 13, 2007 at 2:16 pm | #1

    Amen to that, bro! Too much focus on numbers will pull people away from the true meaning of church. if one is not willing to come to church and focus on worship, then whats the real purpose of coming to church for. Too many have come and questioned the size of the deaf group rather than focus on the deaf group’s relational output.

    Also, it seems that those who keep numbers as a priority tends to be one that will swell up in pride. Which aint too good. As a pastor once told me, “the numbers of the people that you helped become saved do not determine the numbers of blocks built around your mansion in heaven” Pretty much to the point!

    BTW, Hey when are we going to get together soon for some lunch?

  2. G. F. McDowell
    April 13, 2007 at 11:56 pm | #2

    I didn’t realize gossip was one of the peculiar challenges faced by deaf churches. What about them do you think makes them susceptible to that particular scheme of the devil?

  3. Steve D
    April 16, 2007 at 1:11 pm | #3

    Well its probably the same in the “hearing world” those who gossip, tend to want attention or to make sure another’s role or reputation is not above their own. The Deaf world is so small that any form of story is of interest no matter if its true or not.

  4. Tee
    April 16, 2007 at 8:31 pm | #4

    I would have to disagree with what Steve D says. Mostly because it’s not the same in the “hearing world”. In the “hearing world” the people are more mature in the emotional sense. All “hearing” people are in schools where they are around peers that are both younger and older then them. They see people change and they change to “go with the flow”. This is not the case with some the deaf people. Some deaf grows up but then are forever stuck in the teenage mindset. They don’t see themselves growing or achieving anything beyond their potential. Some deaf does grow up and achieve things. Those that does grow up are labeled as outcasts. Because then the “deaf” accuse them of trying to fit into the “hearing world”. When applying this to the deaf churches, those who achieve still wants to be among their deaf peers and learn more about God’s word with them. This tends to make the other deaf more suspicious and from there start the gossip mill. In regards to the whole numbers thing, you can’t just accuse the deaf for doing that. Hearing churches do the same thing. You have to look at the whole picture before someone exclaims “Your church is dying!”

  1. April 23, 2007 at 5:52 pm | #1

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