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Declining vs. Growing Churches

In the last twenty-five years, the population in the United States has grown twenty times faster than the church. Research conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has revealed that most mainline Protestant churches have steadily declined in membership over the past few years. For example, the Christian Chronicle reported 78,436 fewer adherents and 526 fewer churches in the churches of Christ since 2003.

However, some groups have actually increased in membership, such as Jehovah Witnesses, the Catholic church, Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists and the Assemblies of God.

Why are some “tribes” growing while others continue to decline? The answers are complex, given the changing face of Americans. Following are some broad observations about why some churches are growing based on current research:

1. Conservatism. In theological terms, being conservative purely means belief in the basic tenets of Christianity, such as the inspiration of scriptures and the existence of God. Seventy-two percent of orthodox Christians are absolutely certain that God exists, as contrasted with over ninety percent of Jehovah Witnesses and Mormons who hold this belief. Additionally, some growing groups thrive despite non-mainstream beliefs. For example, Seventh-Day Adventists attract people by promoting vegetarian lifestyles. If we do not believe in the existence of God and his active presence in our daily lives, what is the Good News we are sharing?

2. Creativity. Churches that are growing are not afraid to go against the flow of traditional church models. Some Seventh-Day Adventist churches have created “Christian cafes” that encourage natural conversations and relationships in a relaxed environment. If we want to grow, we need to establish non-traditional niches that meet the needs in our communities.

3. Clarity. Some churches, for fear of losing people, are afraid to take stances on things like membership qualifications and tithing. One newcomer to a Seventh-Day Advent church was attracted by its clarity of what is expected of Christians. She said, {I} “never got the information I needed to know about what is meant to be a Christian” until she attended a Seventh-Day Adventist church. We need to communicate to others what it means to “take up their cross daily and follow” Jesus (Luke 9:23).

4. Commission. Jesus called us to make disciples, but we often get too caught up in a “consumer approach” to church and neglect to challenge or equip people to reproduce. Twenty-seven percent of Mormons have served in full-time missions, and that group is still growing. Evangelism is not a program of the church; it is themission of every Jesus follower!

Which of these areas are most important?

What are some other ways the church can break the cycle of decline?
 
 
Sources
Pew Forum

Christian Chronicle

USA Today

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