Declining church membership means rethinking church

“The proportion of Americans who consider themselves members of a church, synagogue or mosque has dropped below 50 percent, according to a poll from Gallup released Monday. It is the first time that has happened since Gallup first asked the question in 1937, when church membership was 73 percent.”


I saw this and it didn’t surprise me.  The trend has been moving in that direction for decades – although it has sped up in recent decades.  This also matches up with each generation’s relationship with institutions.  Gen X was the first generation to stop trusting institutions like previous generations. And that mistrust has only grown with each passing generation since.

Instead of spending time and energy on pointing fingers of who to blame, let’s look at what we do with this information.

Here’s the first thing we do – we recognize that how we are doing things no longer works. The numbers don’t lie. I am reading “Church Refugees” which was published in 2015. It’s about the “Dones” – those people who were very engaged in the life of the church and finally called it quits for a variety of reasons. Here’s one of the quotes that sticks out – “In short, what worked for churches to attract and keep people in the 1980s or 1990s can be the same practices that drive people away in the 2000s.” (Pg. 28-29).   

In other words, we need to rethink church. And that’s not something to be sad about. That’s a great thing as far as I’m concerned. Because the church is the Body of Christ. Which means that it is a living thing, made up of living people. And you know what living things do – they adapt to meet the challenges of their environment. That means we need to do something as a church that hasn’t been done in a long time – be creative. Thankfully we worship a creative God. How do I know – I open Genesis 1 and 2 and I hear about God’s creativeness. If we are made in the Image and likeness of God, then we are also creative. What a wonderful opportunity to start using the creative muscle.

Secondly, while I appreciate the article, there is something we need to keep in mind – that this is not a world-wide problem. It’s a Northern Hemisphere problem. Christianity is growing in huge ways in the Southern Hemisphere. The North could learn something things from our Southern neighbors if we can let go of the idea that we know better than our Southern neighbors. Soon, they will be sending missionaries North. We might want to listen to what they have to say.

Now is the time to pick our heads up, look at the situation, scrap what isn’t working, and try new things and new ways of doing things. Now is the time to try new models of church – like an anchor church model, like ecumenical partnerships, like partnerships with non-profits, like new mission starts, like digital options, like house churches, and more. What do we have to lose? Nothing frankly because the expectation is that they won’t work.

But here’s the last thing I want to remind you of – Jesus said, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20). So if Jesus is with us, then what do we have to lose?

This is a great time to be church. One of the best times actually.

Forget the numbers. What this means is that church has to be clear on why it exists. And when it does, look out! The impact on people’s lives will be immense. How could you not be excited by that?

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