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.
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?