Recently Bobby Ross, Jr. shared some alarming stats on his Christian Chronicle blog which indicate that Churches of Christ are in decline. Based upon data compiled by 21st Century Christian (the publisher of the Churches of Christ in the United States directory) there are now 102,000 fewer people worshiping in our churches then there were in 2003. Further, the data reveals that over these last nine years 708 of our congregations have shut their doors.
This information puts hard numbers on what many among us have suspected. I know that the majority of the congregations of which I am familiar are smaller than they were just a few years ago.
Based on this information here are a few personal observations:
- Of this 102,000- my guess is that many of them are in the 20 something age group. I have no hard evidence for this except what I see in churches where I minister and hear from other people. A huge discussion can be undertaken about why this group is leaving us (post-modern thinking; not grounded enough; natural rebellion of the age, etc.), but there is no denying it. Recently a friend of mine who has a 20 something child (who grew up in a vibrant Church of Christ; involved in youth group activities; summer camp; foreign mission trips; and graduated from one of our universities) told me that she is now worshiping in a community church. She calls Churches of Christ, “old school.” Whether we like to hear this or not- we must listen and prayerfully address why this group is leaving us. We are having this ongoing discussion at Levy. It remains a challenge.
- Some among us have (in perhaps trying to address this challenge) left behind some of our traditional core values like A cappella singing and restrictions placed on women in public assemblies. These moves have not been without controversy, of course. What some see as simply an evolution of our restoration heritage, others view as an affront to clear biblical teaching. My mention of this is not to enter into a debate about this- just to recognize what has happened. And to ask these questions- have these congregations seen real, significant growth from among the truly unchurched? Has their move to a more ecumenical, contemporary approach to worship and beliefs attracted people- including the 20 somethings? It would be interesting to see if these churches among us are having any greater success.
- Isn’t Jesus still the answer? The first church in Acts had very little of what we recognize as church- buildings, programs, staff, Sunday morning worship emphasis, etc. yet they penetrated deeply into their culture with the message of Christ to the point of transforming entire cities. Their secret? They lived, breathed and taught Christ, him crucified and resurrected. The more our American culture moves into a post-Christian era, the more it resembles the culture of the first century in which the church then flourished. Is Christ the center of our message in Churches of Christ? As disciples are we genuinely living out his values in our life in a way that stands in contrast to the world around us? Are we losing our life to find it? Are we proclaiming the Good News of Jesus outside of our church walls? The church grows in the marketplace- not in church buildings. The darker our culture becomes the more brightly the light of Jesus will shine. Our challenge is not to hide this light under a bushel that we keep inside our church buildings.
I love Churches of Christ. I am alarmed at these numbers. I am praying for wisdom and guidance from God on how to be more faithful in proclaiming Jesus as a member of the Church of Christ.
It just hurts to see us in decline.