Pastor Chip Smith has served as pastor of the “Got Faith” Community Church in Barnesboro, Pennsylvania since 2004. Barnesboro is a small rural village located near Altoona, but since it is situated off the beaten path and has a declining population the church has difficulty attracting new members.
The church was known for many years as Faith Community Church but Pastor Chip’s predecessor changed the name reckoning that a new, cool sounding name might attract more people. But many in the area choose instead to drive to Horseshoe Curve Christian Center, a large mega church, on the outskirts of Altoona.
The church growth idea began innocently enough but in retrospect Pastor Chip feels it was a sign from the Lord. It was on a Sunday morning that Mandy, a high school student, brought a computerized baby to the Morning Worship service as part of a parenting class weekend assignment. The “baby” was programmed to cry at specified times, intending to remind the student of the rigors of parental responsibilities.
The small congregation warmly welcomed the new baby. They refered to the baby as “it” since it was gender neutral from its external appearance giving passersby no indication of whether it was a he or she. Mandy generally sat in a pew with her parents and grandparents, but the addition of a new baby made for an even warmer sight.
Following the service many photos were snapped of the smiling four generation family. An older member quipped that it was refreshing to hear a baby cry (even if it was during the congregational Scripture reading). He welcomed more of the same as he looked from one side to the other of adults gathered in the sanctuary.
The idea later hit Pastor Chip when he observed the offering and attendance slip prepared by the ushers. It stated the number of people in attendance and just below that number the ushers also added, “Computer Baby”.
“It was like a light that came on” chimed Pastor Chip when interviewed by our ALFN reporter. He had agonized over the slumping church attendance and then began to wonder if he might count the baby as part of the attendance. After all, it did use the nursery services and it was publicly welcomed during the opening exercise. Then it hit him; why not invite more of the babies to church as a supplement to attendance?
He called the local school and spoke to Ms. Frackville, the teacher of the parenting class. She was pleased to allow the babies to be used by the church during the summer vacation. She assumed the church would likewise use them for parenting classes. That summer the church had a sudden spike in attendance of 25, doubling the usual summer attendance. This bolstered Pastor Skip’s self-esteem and he was lauded by his pastor peers for the increase in church growth during the usual summer dog days of church attendance.
But a looming crisis was on the horizon as the date was approaching for the new school year to begin. The babies needed to be returned.
After a bit of brainstorming Pastor Smith went online but found that computerized babies were very expensive even if purchased “used”. However in a board meeting Frank Davis recalled a baby doll his sister played with as a child. It had a pull spring that uttered phrases such as, “I love you Mommy”; “I want a drink of milk”; “Hold me Mommy”. The board determined that this talking baby had enough human-like qualities to count as a real baby toward church attendance and the good news was that these doll babies were available in both sexes and less expensive than the computerized models.
The church is now running 275 though admittedly a large number are now in the nursery. Buzz about the church’s growth began to spread in the small community about Got Faith’s growing attendance so that the adult congregation has expanded as well.
The board did vote down a suggestion by Deacon George Zeal to purchase an entire lot of 1,500 beanie babies he found at clearance price on Ebay. They determined that the beanie babies just weren’t real enough to count toward legitimate attendance.
This prompted a church split with George departing to start his own church in nearby Beantown which now reports an attendance of 1501. He named the new church, “The Matthew 19:14 Church”.
Our ALF reporter interviewed several concerning this new innovative church growth method. Charles Harris, a long time professor of Bible, declared, “You’ve got to be kidding me!”
But James Logan of the Emerging Church Network lauded the concept as a creative way to see church growth. He referred to the Great Commission where it states, “Go into all the world” and asked, “What part of ‘all the world’ do you not understand?”
Pastor Chip is now in demand as a church growth specialist and has had the opportunity to speak at several large church growth conferences.
Asked concerning future plans he said they are considering another means of growth; a life-like “Mr. Wonderful” his wife gave him for Valentine’s Day several years ago. “Mr. Wonderful” is handsome with a big smile (big feet also.) When you press his cloth hand, in his distinguished deep male voice, he utters phrases like, “Honey, take all the time you want. I don’t mind waiting for you one bit.” Or “You’re perfect JUST the way you are; I wouldn’t change ONE thing.”
Pastor Smith considers how having some Mr. Wonderfuls around might just prompt the men in the church to tend better to their marriages. And who knows; perhaps taking couples to the next level will include the addition of a few Mrs. Wonderfuls who are known for such thoughtful expressions as, “Here Dear, you take the remote control. Whatever you choose we’ll watch together.”
At the conclusion of the interview with our ALFN reporter Pastor Chip stated, “These are exciting times at Got Faith. It’s almost like we have a revival.”