Changing the Churches of Christ

The numbers are undeniable. The Churches of Christ are losing congregations, we’re losing members and their kids, we’re losing our families and our teenagers and our college graduates. We’re losing people. Big time. According to the recently released “Churches of Christ in the United States,” we’ve lost more than 23,000 members and their children since the last edition of the directory in 2009. Since the edition before that, in 2003, we’ve lost over 102,000 people and 708 congregations! 

(As a brief aside, let me make clear my disdain for directories such as this that label and pigeon-hole congregations according to what they believe or practice regarding communion services, Bible classes, worship styles, and outreach efforts. Directories such as these are part of our problem.)

That’s the bad news. And it’s real. Brother, is it real. It needs to be seriously studied and discussed. We need to prayerfully and carefully consider the reasons for these significant losses. And we need to be wide open to where our God is leading us, to what he might be doing in other places and in other ways, and to how we can adapt to more effectively create and maintain communities of faith that will spread the Kingdom of God to his eternal glory and praise.

Here’s the good news:

We’re not alone. Most every single Christian denomination in the United States is losing members right and left. It’s not just us.

Wait a second… this is still bad news. We’re not alone. More and more people in this country are checking “none” when asked their religious affiliations. According to a recent survey by the Pew Forum, sixteen percent of Americans claim to belong to no religious organization. That number grows to twenty-five percent — one out of every four! — when you consider just the 18-29 age group.

OK, now here’s the good news:

People my age and younger (how much longer am I going to get away with saying that?) are joining community churches and non-denominational churches like crazy. Some of them are going to Baptist churches and Disciples of Christ churches, too. But most of them are worshiping and serving in these community churches. They’re not giving up on Jesus and the Christian faith. It’s just that they have no real brand loyalty to Churches of Christ. They’re looking for genuine Christian worship. They’re seeking real faith relationships with Jesus and with other Christians.

As a result, “independent/non-denominational” churches in the U. S. have over twelve million members in more than 35,000 congregations.

That’s good news, right? This move toward a non-denominational following of Jesus is right up our Church of Christ alley, right? Isn’t that how we began? Isn’t that what we’ve always taught and worked toward? Isn’t that the ultimate answer to Christ’s prayer and God’s eternal will for his children?

(I’d love to put a new sign out in front of our building in Amarillo. “Central Church of Christ: a non-denominational community church.” That’s what we are, correct? Wouldn’t most of our people claim that’s what we’re supposed to be?)

Whether there’s a restoration taking place right now in the Restoration Movement or whether we’re at the edge of another broader Restoration Movement in this country altogether, we in the Churches of Christ are perfectly positioned and poised to lead the way. “Christians only, but not the only Christians!” “Bible things in Bible ways and Bible names!” “In matters of faith, unity; in matters of opinion, liberty; in all matters, charity!” Come on, it’s all right there in our DNA! This is right in our wheelhouse. This is a hanging 82-mph slider that stays up in the zone. This is an answer to prayer.

We could be the leaders of such a movement. But we’d have to make some changes.

Like what?

Go ahead. I’d like to hear from you. To take advantage of this fluid church situation and lack of brand loyalty and non-denominational movement in a way that would bring glory and honor to God, what would we have to change in the Churches of Christ? We very obviously can’t keep doing what we’re doing. To stay viable, to remain as a voice at the table, what needs to happen?



1 Comment

  1. Josh

    The world is interested in Jesus; it is His wife that they do not want to spend time with. We have reduced the Gospel message so that it is inseparable from the institution of church. According to Reggie McNeal, “A growing number of people are leaving the institutional church for a new reason. They are not leaving because they have lost faith. They are leaving the church to preserve their faith.” It is not the local church that will change the world; it is Jesus. Attendance on Sundays does not transform lives; Jesus within their hearts is what changes people. Instead of bringing people to church so that we can then bring them to Christ, let’s bring Christ to people where they live. We may find that new church will grow out of such an enterprise, a church that is more centered in life and the workplace, where the Gospel is supposed to make a difference. What will happen if we plant the seed of the Kingdom of God in the places where life happens and where society is formed? If you want to win this world to Christ, you are going to have to sit in the smoking section. That is where lost people are found and if you make them put their cigarette out to hear the message they will be thinking about only one thing: “When can I get another cigarette?” Everything about church begins and ends with the single question: Who is Jesus to you? Jesus statement about the church has a context that begins with God’s grace revealing the identity of Jesus and ends with the work of Christ on the cross and His awesome resurrection three days later. Even if we get everything else right but skip this important question, we are not truly the church. Church begins with Jesus: who he is and what He has done. It is all about Jesus, and if it begins to be about something else, then it stops being the church as Jesus mean it to be. We want to lower the bar of how church is done and raise the bar of what it means to be a disciple. If Church is simple enough that everyone can do it and is made up of people who take up their cross and follow Jesus at any cost, the result will be church that empower the common Christian to do the uncommon works of God. The conventional church has become so complicated and difficult to pull off that only a rare person who is a professional can do it every week. Many people feel that to lower the bar of how church is done is close to blasphemous because the Church is Jesus’ expression of the Kingdom on earth…This results in a passive church whose members come and act more like spectators than empowered agents of God’s kingdom.

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