Boom or Bust? State of the Church in America
The church in America is in decline.
The United States is home to more than 81 million unchurched people with more joining their ranks every day. Every year, over 3,500 churches close their doors. At the present rate of decline, we will need 6,500 new churches a year in the United States with 200 people each just to keep pace with the population growth. The Christian Post reports that we are presently adding only 500 churches a year—far short of what we need.
The way I see it we have two choices:
- We need to do something drastically different in our existing churches.
- We need to start new churches.
The problem with the first solution is that existing churches typically reach a point where they do not grow, except through other churches. However, newer churches show more promise. A study conducted by Dave Olson (2008) showed that newer churches grow much faster than older ones (see chart below).
Additionally, most growth happens within the first ten years of a new church, when there is a noticeable drop-off. New churches best reach new generations, new residents, and new people groups. Consider the following:
1. New churches convert more people. McGavran and Hunter (1980) have demonstrated through dozens of studies that the average new church gains 60%-80% of its new members from people who are not attending any prior church.
2. New churches offer a fresh start. It has been said that, “it is easier to have babies than raise the dead.” A church plant gives opportunities for new enthusiasm, creativity, and growth without the baggage from a traditional church.
3. New churches attract young people. Less than half of people in existing churches are 15-49 years old. However, in new churches, the percentage in this age bracket is increased to sixty-nine percent.
4. New churches reach ethnic populations. Every ethnic group needs to hear the gospel in a way that makes sense to their culture. It is difficult for established churches to become diverse. Church planting can effectively create both ethnic-specific and multiethnic congregations.
In the book of Judges, we can read what happened after Joshua, the leader of Israel, died. “After that generation died, another generation grew up who did not acknowledge the Lord or remember the mighty things he had done for Israel” (Judges 2:10).
We have been given an opportunity to change our future. We can watch the faith of our young people fade away or we can actively help them come to know Jesus.
The choice is ours.