Are Christian Churches Really In Decline?

By: Tia Johnson 0 Comments   7/7/2014

More than half of U.S. churches are stagnant or shrinking and more than 4,000 close every year, according to a Hartford Institute for Religion Research report.

CBANews wrote a brief on the report, stating that out of 350 thousand churches, 200 thousand are in "stagnation or decline."

While these statistics sound alarming, they need some perspective. For example, the report also says that only small churches and megachurches report growth. Could it be that the reason for stagnation in the mid-sized churches is because they've reached physical capacity? After all, a church can't keep growing and growing and growing unless, of course, if it builds a stadium and becomes another megachurch.

And if that did happen, or if a new church started in town, what would be the impact on all the other churches in that town? The introduction of a new or expanding church almost always draws members from other churches. This is simply part of the ebb-and-flow, or increase-and-decrease, of church attendance. While the numbers look bad on paper- 5 churches shrinking and 1 church growing- overall church attendance really didn't change much in this "town."

Another point to consider is the rampant turn-a-round of some start-up churches. I know of one location that has housed multiple churches in its little downtown structure. They all started quickly under a "Christian" title, had serious doctrinal or pastoral issues, and closed just as abruptly. I didn't realize these small churches had even existed until I interned for our local paper, and I'm sure there's been a few in every town.

However, with the continued population increase in our nation, church attendance really should be increasing overall. This report does shed light on a problem in our nation: people, especially young people, don't see the necessity of attending church. Some of these young people have contributed to the sudden growth of "home churches"- or churches that are not registered under any denomination but are simply groups of believers getting together for fellowship. While these churches don't make the radar for church growth, many of them operate under the same principles as a structured church.

But most young people who have abandoned the church simply don't attend church at all. This is my generation. Why are they bucking out?

One reason is because of the experience young people have associated with attending church. I've realized that many churches operate no differently than a community club: we sing some encouraging songs, listen to a speaker, collect money, and then talk about the weather on our way out the door. Many churches either neglect or ignore the supernatural work of God. Their faith has dwindled. They rarely pray for healings, rarely share testimonies of what God has done, and are afraid to rely upon God for, well, anything. Churches who have fallen into this rut probably aren't even aware of their lack of faith. They simply keep doing what they've always done, keep limping through their programs, and continue operating in what they know they can control. This is a natural tendency of human nature, but it causes a slow decay. To a young person, a church that does not operate in faith really looks no different than a community club.

There's also a lack of authenticity in many churches- both in traditional and pentecostal churches. Traditional churches can sometimes lack the personal application of scripture or the sharing of testimonies resulting from it. One-on-one conversations within the church rarely get deeper than the weather here. In pentecostal or evangelical churches, though, the other extreme can occur. People share what God has done- but they don't share the full story. They may see the corner of a miracle and claim it in their lives without allowing God to be God. Dramatic testimonies are shared in ways that elevate individuals, but rarely are dramatic needs shared that humble individuals. Young people who attend these churches see one side of the Christian life in church, and see another side in the "real" world. Frustrated with reconciling the two, they give up.

Altogether, no church is perfect, nor should we expect to find a perfect church. There's a plethora of denominations and buildings that house churches of varying strengths and weaknesses. The real Church, however, lies within us. If you are a follower of Christ, you are part of the Church, whether you attend somewhere on a Sunday morning or not. If we want to see the Church changed, we have to seek change within ourselves. In what ways are our lives no different than those of our non-believing coworkers? Do we live supernaturally, relying upon God for our every need? This doesn't mean that we give away all our money and disregard the practical necessities of life, but to whom do we attribute them to? Our hard work, or God's gracious hand?

Is our faith growing, or dwindling? Are we operating in ways we can control, or are we seeking God's will above our own? Are we walking with steps of self-reliance, or steps of bold, authentic faith?

Are we authentic believers? Authentic believers will take God's word seriously. Do we read it? Then, do we apply it? People who read, trust in, and apply scripture are likely to experience great works of God in their lives. Then, do we encourage one another with what God has done? Do we humble ourselves and confess our sins, not just to God, but to each other?

I recently heard someone say that churches should operate more like an AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meeting, and for the most part I agree. Can you imagine a church like this? "Hi. I'm Sam, and I'm a sinner…" and the conversation to equip and encourage goes on from there. There's power in Christian community, in gathering together. It was commanded in scripture, and for good reason. God knows we need to comfort, encourage, and rebuke one another in our faith in order to grow. Not only do we need the church, the church needs us.

Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 2 Timothy 4:2

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:24-25

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