The Church in Crisis- Part 1

Crisis is really not too dramatic a term to use to frame the current state of the Christian church in America. More and more the “church” is losing ground. Consider this information released back in February in the U.S Religious Landscape Survey for 2007.


  • In 2007 there was only one church growing faster than the population rate- the Independent Christian Church. (Only one other- the Catholic Church- was able to remain static with the population. All other churches lost membership.)
  • More and more Christians in America are claiming no allegiance to any church and another growing percentage of folks call themselves “secular nonaffliated.”
  • There is no longer any church “brand” loyalty. Here is a quote: “Fluidity is the rule today, not the exception. There’s greater diversity and greater movement — a quantum leap in the rate of change.”

Now, let’s narrow the focus to Churches of Christ. Here are some stats from Flavil Yeakley who is the leading church growth statistician among us from his Good and Bad News: A Realistic Assessment of Churches of Christ in the United States 2008


  • Churches of Christ rank 12th nationally in number of members (1,264,000+), but we rank 4th in number of congregations (21,791).  Comparatively, the Southern Baptist Convention churches have some 16 million members and some 41,000 congregations.
  • The average Church of Christ has about 60 members and about 75 total members and adherents. 
  • Churches of Christ declined from 1980-2007 in the following states: Missouri (-18%), Texas (-3.8%), Oklahoma (-7.1%), Illinois (-5.9%), Kansas (-9.3%), Michigan (-7.5%), Arkansas (-2.0%), Massachusetts (-18.2%), Oregon (-4.3%), Ohio (-1.2%), North Dakota (-41.7%), Alaska (-16.7%), Vermont (-23.1%), Nebraska (-3.9%), New Hampshire (-6.3%). 

And finally let’s just learn from observation.


  • Most Churches of Christ are now smaller than they once were.
  • Most Churches of Christ now are “older” than they once were.
  • Most Churches of Christ now are not as evangelistic as they once were.  

Putting all of this hard and soft data together is why the word “crisis” does apply to the current situation of most churches today in terms of health and growth for the future. A big problem is that most churches and church leaders fail to recognize this. Churches who are able- even with smaller numbers- to continue maintaining staff and ministries just do not seem to be alarmed- even as their church grows smaller and older. But when you objectively combine all of the data and see the trends, the future for institutional churches does not look bright.


Consider one more data set. This information comes from the book UnChristian which chronicles what 16-29 year-olds who are outside of any church tradition currently think about the Christian church. Based on research done by authors David Kinnamen and Gabe Lyons six negative themes frame how this generation thinks of us.


  • Hypocritical- pretend to be something unreal
  • Too focused on getting converts- they feel like targets rather than people
  • Anti-homosexual- bigoted against and “fixated” on curing
  • Sheltered- boring, old-fashioned and out of touch with reality
  • Too political- overly motivated by political agendas
  • Judgmental- doubt we really love people as we say we do 

Because of all of this there is a tremendous challenge in front of churches. Either we can ignore or discount all of this information, continue on our current course and hope something will change or we will petition our Father to give us wisdom to negotiate the changing landscape with faith and vision to better and more effectively present the Good New message.




One of the leading theologians in America today, Brian McLaren coined the phrase “leaded and unleaded Christians” referring to the often vast differences between older and younger (or newly converted) Christians. These terms illustrate the tension between these two groups which in so many ways is at the heart of most church problems- problems which contribute to the current church decline and failure to address the real cultural issues we face.


The tension results when the “leaded” Christians in the church (who are more settled, traditional and moneyed) resist attempts by the “unleaded” to change, adapt to the new realities of cultural attitudes toward church and adopt new methods of communication, ministry and outreach. Since the “leaded” usually occupy leadership positions and also control the treasury they usually have the ability to limit the influence of the “unleaded”. This results in either an uprising (split) by the “unleaded”, their departure to another church or them just quitting church altogether. (This illustration simply represents what has happened over and over again in many churches of all stripes. It is not an attmept to lay blame on either the “leaded” or “unleaded” but just a general observation. This is a too complex issue to try to solve on this post.) When this happens it not only cripples the church and continues a failed pattern, but it undermines the credibility of that church to its community and reinforces the negative opinions many already have.


The point is- something has to change. We simply cannot expect to continue along this type of path and get different results (isn’t this the definition of insanity?). The fact is our culture has changed around us (the data in UnChristian bears this out) and we have to recognize that and come to grips with the fact that the same ole way of doing church work is leading us to an ever shrinking body.


To be sure there are other factors involved in our non-growth. Growing secularization and consumerism within Christian homes; Lack of urgency concerning evangelism; Lack of commitment to Scripture; Lack of commitment to a church home- all contribute. 


The bottom line is that the institutional church is increasingly viewed as irrelevant- as more concerned with serving its own needs and maintaining the institution, its traditions and property, than about serving the needy and hurting in the community. This is why we are in a crisis.


The good news is that first, we know we are in this crisis and second, with crises comes opportunity. The question that remains to be answered is- are we going to effectively engage the opportunities and therefore revitalize and renew our churches?


Next week I will post part two- with suggestions on how to address the crisis.


15 Responses to The Church in Crisis- Part 1

  1. Gordy says:

    I look forward to next week.

  2. Royce says:

    I have met some younger and older folks who are committed to Jesus but not an established local church.

    Our congregations are filled with people who are very committed to their church, their denomination, or in our case our Restoration tradition and teaching, but have only minimal devotion to Jesus Christ. Many, many people have no viable, personal relationship with God through Christ but have been baptised and are considered “faithful”. And, they are faithful. they give, they attend regularly, they do all the right stuff but have a from of godliness while in daily living deny His power.

    Many local churches are no better than the Lions club or some other civic group, they just have a different name. What do most of those local churches with about 60 members do in one year, or five years, that a civic group don’t do or can’t do? The honest answer is very little.

    The greatest need in our movement is to preach Christ and to disciple our people so that they are walking in the Spirit and not just becoming accomplished actors. Churches of Christ have preached against the Baptists and each other, preached the Church of Christ, preached on singing, preached on water baptism, but have done far to little preaching Christ. A very well known and respected coC leader and author says on his website that people become Christians by submitting to “a gospel system”. Men need a saviour, not a system. What is passed off as “gospel preaching” often has very little gospel if any included.


  3. lesjr says:

    Good stuff, Danny. When church is what we do on Sundays, church as we know it is all we will get…

  4. That Girl says:

    This is very interesting.

  5. Brad Adcock says:

    Great stuff, Danny. I’ve got to digest and ruminate on this a bit before commenting more than that…keep up the good work.

  6. dholman says:

    Good post. Our organization/club is dying because we see ourselves as trying to convince other people to leave their organization/club and join ours. I agree with the earlier comment about returning to the heart of conversion to Jesus and building the world he wants. If all we have is dueling sectarian church clubs, no wonder “unchurched” are not interested in the debate, and think we have nothing to offer them. I worry we have lost sight of what Jesus established, and this religous club has slipped into its place. Everything we see and conceive about the church is shaped by this lens of the “country club” church, its concept of membership, and the “by laws” of the club. We have trouble getting our minds around anything else.
    Good post. I too worry that our branch of the Restoration movement is in its final hour. I look forward to hearing your prescription. Maybe we need to develop an online community on restoring exegetical, doctrinal, missional, and ethical vitality to our heritage. Thanks for opening this post.
    Danny Holman

  7. ben overby says:

    Clear observations, Danny. I’ll have to check back in next week.

  8. D. Meadows says:

    I participate in the World Bible School outreach where I attend. Tonight I sent out the next set of lessons to one of my students. As I was reading his comments on the lesson I had just graded, I noticed his answer to a question on the return sheet. The question asks “What is the name of your church where you attend?” This very astute guy answered with “It’s not my church. It belongs to Jesus.” It seems that we have forgotten to whom the church belongs and what our role in it is. We just want things to be the way we want them to be, regardless of what God has told us to do. Yep, we had better wake up and smell the latte before we find ourselves in a country (and world) that we no longer “control” (as if we ever did!). I have thought for a long time that we as Christians have been quiet too long for fear of being seen as not doing things “decently and in order.” We’d better start making some noise!

  9. jim miller says:

    The institutional church wasn’t the focus in Acts either. I mean, think about how effective Paul could have been if he had just built a building!!!

  10. Donna says:

    I don’t know how to comment on this. Other than to say I too look forward to the next installment.

  11. […] weave it into my sermons throughout the year. If you read either of my two earlier articles on the Church in Crisis, then you will know the reasons why we need to wake up. I also noticed that the Gulf Coast Getaway […]

  12. […] older and smaller. And this is not the kind of trend we should want. (I discussed some of these matters in two previous […]

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  14. Michael says:

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