Delta Air Lines recently announced a record profit of $1.4 billion. Just six years ago it was mired in bankruptcy.
There are many reasons for the amazing turnaround. Lower fuel costs. More flexible labor contracts. An improving economy. The merger with Northwest.
But one factor towers above the rest: Delta is financially healthy because they got rid of the empty seats.
A decade ago airlines would add flights wherever they thought they could make a profit – or gouge a rival. As a result there were lots of duplicate routes and many empty seats on planes.
But over the past decade airlines have pared their capacity. They are very cautious about adding new routes. As a result most planes fly full, which greatly increases the revenue per flight.
Getting rid of empty seats. Paring capacity. One wonders if God isn’t doing the same thing with the church.
There are approximately 330,000 churches in America, and an estimated 3,000 will close their doors in 2013.
At October’s Future of the Church Summit, Thom Schultz, founder of Group Publishing, pointed out the obvious: there are plenty of churches in America, and most have an abundance of empty seats. Thom asked a great question: why are we planting more churches when existing congregations are struggling to fill the pews?
Church planters will tell you there’s still plenty of need for new congregations. Only about 20% of Americans go to church on a given Sunday. If we’re to reach the unchurched 80% we need more capacity, not less, they tell us.
So where is God in all this? Does he want us to establish more churches, even when most congregations run well below capacity? Are there too many churches, or not enough?
And from a purely practical standpoint: would Christianity be healthier financially if there weren’t such a large number of congregations to support? Churches require a lot of overhead. The average church plant burns through almost a quarter million dollars in its first two years of existence. It’s not uncommon for a mid-size church of 300 souls to consume a million dollars – or more – in an average year.
Could that money be more profitably invested for the kingdom? What if we allowed more mediocre congregations to fail so that more effective ones could rise up and absorb their members? Many evangelical churches today are virtual carbon copies of one another. Why don’t they merge? These are discussions we need to have. In fact, I’d love to hear your take on this issue. Do we need more church seats or fewer? Add your comments below, or join the discussion on our Facebook page.