-102,138: On Decline in Churches of Christ

Last last week, the Christian Chronicle reported a loss of 102,138 members of Churches of Christ since 2003. They report:

“The total number of adherents — which includes members and their children — in the nation’s historically a cappella congregations stands at 1,554,579, according to 21st Century Christian’s new statistical data sheet. That’s down 6.2 percent from the 1,656,717 adherents reported in 2003 — less than a decade ago. Another striking number: 708 fewer Churches of Christ in the U.S. in the last nine years. The nation’s 12,447 congregations represent a 5.4 percent decline since 2003.”

This helpful information simply adds weight to what many have noticed over the last several years. As striking as the numbers are, what I’ve found more striking is the response of many since. Some have an appropriate response–serious reflection on what the numbers mean and why they exist. Others have been ambivalent, or worse–smug about them. The approach seems to be, “Well good riddance to them anyway. Jesus said some would fall away. And remember what Paul said about “itching ears” in the last days, don’t you?”

I will admit having a hard time respecting that way of thinking. Churches of Christ have blamed others for their problems for too long, and until we are ready to look in the mirror and ask hard questions, I don’t expect much to change. Until the pain of change is preferable to the pain of non-change, status quo is, sadly, likely to continue.

It isn’t that all of sudden within the last decade, hundreds of churches (despite a renewed emphasis on church planting) and more than a hundred thousand Christians just decided to have their ears itched, seek out “entertainment,” or became “disloyal.” 6.3% in less than a decade. Let that sink in… 6.3% in less than a decade. These numbers are self-reported by churches, meaning these numbers likely paint a rosier picture than really exists.

Now that we’re all depressed 🙂 are we willing to consider the idea that we have something to do with our problems? What if it’s not culture–other Christian tribes seem to reach people and “culture” has always been pagan. Why is ours so different? It’s also unlikely that we are being “pruned.” We are under no persecution.

Our primary enemy is us.

This doesn’t mean it’s all our fault or that hope is lost. It means we need to own this.

One thing is common to renewal movements: Humility. Until we can humble ourselves enough to acknowledge and repent of what ails us, we need not hold our breath waiting for renewal. One piece of good news is–the whole Movement need not change for you or your congregation to change.

So, let’s start with us. God will take it from there.

Question: Why aren’t some in Churches of Christ willing to own the decline?

Note: They are a bit dated now, but you can read the Turnaround Fellowship posts (10 parts), beginning with this one from January 3, 2010. Here are the links to the others:

There are also a set of Turnaround Church posts you can access by searching for “Turnaround Churches” in the search bar above.

May God bless you and your congregation.

 

Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on ChurchLeaders.com, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

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