Church of Christ Statistics – Growth in Light of Larger Population Trends

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After reading two different posts on membership statistics in the Church of Christ (one by Alan Rouse and the other by Jay Guin) I thought I would toss my hat into the ring and crunch a few numbers. One of the problems you run into in looking at numbers like these is that it is really easy to compare apples and oranges instead of apples to apples and oranges to oranges. Another thing that is often not accounted for in these statistics is how well the membership numbers of the Church of Christ is tracking with general population growth trends of the United States at large. The following numbers are from two data sets, one from Kairos and one from US Census data.

1980 – 1,239,039 members in Churches of Christ in the U.S.

1990 – 1,280,178 members (+41,139, +3.32% increase since 1980)

  • US Population growth 1980-1990 = +9.78%
  • Projected CofC growth based on U.S. population growth 1980-1990 = 121,178
  • Actual CofC growth 1980-1990 = 41,139 (3.32%)
  • Difference = -80,039

2000 – 1,262,445 members (-17,733, -1.39% decline since 1990)

  • US Population growth 1990-2000 = +13.15%
  • Projected CofC growth based on U.S. population growth 1990-2000 = 168,343
  • Actual CofC growth = -17,733 (-1.39%)
  • Difference = -186,076

While the Church of Christ grew between 1980 and 1990 its growth is pretty weak when compared to the census figures of the country at large. The decline from 1990 to 2000 is even larger when seen in light of the enormous population growth the US had in that same period of time. Based on these numbers we are not growing in proportion to the population of the U.S. at large and need to invest heavily in domestic missions and church planting.

27 Responses

  1. Good news/bad news situation. While I’d rather see 1000% growth, a 1.39% decline is not too bad when you consider the overall shift and a decreasing of the white population to the increasing Hispanic population which tends to embrace Catholicism and reject New Testament Christianity because they are so tied culturally to that religious body.

    1. Actually, Hispanics are converting to conservative evangelical Christianity in large numbers. While our English speaking service attendance has remained the same over the last 12 years, our Spanish service has more than tripled and is nearly as large as our English service. My home church is in Silver Spring, MD outside of Washington, DC

  2. I certainly have no problem with pouring resources into church planting etc, but I dont think that is the solution. There are plenty of Churches in many parts of the country, but few that are doing any sort of significant ministry. At least this is my observation after traveling in the states and abroad over the last several years.

    We need christians, both in and out of the coC, to really start living lives of sacrificial love and quit trying to champion Christian rights, and we certainly need to put as much effort into loving our neighbor as we have in to having “right” doctrine.

    Basically, if the congregations that we already have were more like the church we find in Acts 2:42 and following, then I believe we would see rapid growth of the church.

    1. I would like to know how common it is for the Church of Christ to disfellowship someone over divorce in this day and age. Does the Church disfellowship someone if the elders don’t think the divorce is biblical because the divorce was not filed due to infidelity or adultry. The reason for the divorce initially was on grounds of severe cruelty mentally and some physical
      cruelty. Her three children were also in the meanness this man could dish out . She then after the divorce was filed learned of adultry that took place early in the 20 year marriage. That sealed the deal she was never going back to him and she told the elders that she would never go back to him. This man was my son in law and I know personally how nasty this man was and how miserable he made her and her children. She also gave resignation to the elders stating that she knew that there were people that were uncomfortable with her presence and she
      would be going somewhere else ( This is the only church home she has ever had she had been there for
      30 years). The following Sunday elders read a letter of disfellowshipment to the congregation. I am sooo disappointed and stunned by this action from these elders. One of them is the ex husbands father and he of all people know of the difficulty this woman has been through. The husband did go forward to the congregation and confess and was baptised after he was served papers for the divorce. That was several months ago and she still would not take him back after she learned of the of the adultry. The congregation on the whole is stunned over the outcome of the situation here. The fact that she voluntarily left the congregation and withdrew her membership makes it appear to me that this act of the elders may have been done out of vindictiveness and not love and concern for her or her family. I see no lesson of growth here and there are several angry people over this.This is the 2nd time in 10 years that this congregation of around 100 people on a good day have disfellowshipped someone over a divorce. If a divorce occurs in the congregation between members does that mean that someone has to be disfellowshipped or both if there is no adultry and why did they not accept this divorce as the right thing to do after all of the bonds and covenants were broken. Please help me with this. I have not been so angry and hurt in many many years. Thank you , Theresa

    2. Theresa,

      I have never been a part of a congregation that has done that. I have heard of it happening it is extremely unfortunate. The problem is, some have a very skewed view of divorce and completely misunderstand what the scriptures teach in regard to marriage, divorce and re-marriage. I will say those scriptures are not easy to understand and I get why some people view things like they have. I don’t agree but these are difficult issues.

      This is such a complicated issue that it is hard to respond to it in any complete way here. I am sorry it happened and I wish I could say it would never happen again as I have known several people who have been torn to pieces over issues like these that could have been avoided if the eldership at a given church had just been better biblically informed on these issues.

      I can’t see myself being a part of a congregation with such a view on divorce. I think what you said makes total sense – these things should be done in such a way that is healthy and is beneficial to those who are going through already difficult issues. Instead people get alienated and end up further from God than they started. Isn’t it the job of elders to shepherd sheep like Jesus did? Jesus leads sheep (John 10). He doesn’t drive the sheep or push them ahead with a whip through fear. The follow him because they can see he cares so much for him.

      Sorry about all of this!

    3. The action of the elders was unsciptural. the congregations with this kind of outlook are dying off. Probably fortunately.

  3. RM,

    There are a couple of reasons I think church planting is healthy:

    1 – Paul seemed to think so as we see in Acts.

    2 – When churches get intentional about planting a church more members and ministers become mission minded.

    3 – It would mean we would have to train more people which is a good thing.

    4 – New sparks new growth. The problem is it can often be fleeting if not done with an eye for discipling people rather than baptizing and generating numbers.

    So I think it is one part of the puzzle of what you are saying – getting Christians to start acting like Christians.

    1. A major tendecy is for congregations to interpret Jesus’s command to go to all the world to mean go to foreign countries to evangelize while ignoring the portion of the world surrounding them.They do this because it gives them feeling of doing the Lords work as their rationale.The real reason is it requires less personal effort to send money than the personal effort to work with the lost in their own geographical area.As long as this interpretation of “Go into All the World” prevails, the Church in the US will not grow

  4. Matt,
    Statistically speaking, the best way to reach unchurched people is through new church plants. On average, a church that is older than 10 years can expect one new convert per year for every 89 members. A church that is between 3 and 7 years old averages one new convert for every 7 members. A church that is under 3 years old averages one new convert for every 3 members.

    1. What that says is that as a conggregation grows they become satisfied with status quo and devote their time and attention to more internal things and less to external evangelism

  5. Granted, the survery data we get is all we have, but these numbers look like they are well within the margin of sampling error. I don’t think these numbers have moved nearly enough to indicate a trend one way or another.

    That said, there are some numbers that might be more telling:

    The average congregation size has gone up by almost 40% since 1990, from just over 80 to 112.

    While our membeship totals have been relatively stable, the percentage of our members who live within 200 miles of a Bible Belt Christian College has grown from just under 60% 20 years ago to almost 70% today.

    I agree that church planting might be helpful in reaching America with the gospel, especially those parts of the country where we are under-represented. But our folks seem inclined to consolidate in bigger congregations in our “home territory.”

    Sadly, those who would intentionally try to build a small church on a domestic mission field fly in the face of both of these trends.

    1. I question the figure of increase in average size from 1980 to now .Many many congregations have experieced significant reductions during that period and not a few haved ceased to exist and those that do have an older age category of members .We have lost a large percentage of our youth for a multitude of reasons ,

  6. Margin of error is when you have a sample of a total population. Here we have an attempt to count the actual population. Given that and that the sample size is over 1 million the margin of error would be very small. There is not a significant swing in growth or decline but there is a statistically significant difference between the population growth trends and the growth trends in the Church of Christ.

    That being said I also want to point out that these numbers are from 8 years ago and a lot can happen in 8 years. It will be interesting to see what comes out in 2010.


  8. Divorce is a big problem. I was a member of a congregation where the minister refused to baptize divorced and remarried persons.

  9. Another huge problem is our understanding of the Lord’s Supper. Traditionally ALL branches of the Restoration Movement have seen the supper ONLY as a memorial. I think the Gospels are pretty clear the supper is an actual (not physical, but spiritual) participation in the body and blood of Christ. This sounds pretty mystical and Catholic to us, but that seems to be what the Gospels intend. Maybe that’s why we are weak or asleep.

    1. Agree. Too much emphasis is placed on the what,when and how with too little on the why.

  10. Lets be scriptural. Mt.19,9 is clear. In a divorce for fornication the innocent party is free to remarry; the guilty party is not. A physically abused spouse is free to separate from,the abuser; but may not remarry, as fornication is the essential criterion for remarriage as per our Lord, Jesus Christ. The person remarrying must remarry “in the Lord”; ie, to a member of the Lord’s Church. If the facts are as you believe them to be, the remarried person should have been encouraged; not disfellowshipped.

  11. Mt. 19:3 The Pharisees, a sect of the Jews, asked Jesus this question, to test him. Jesus took
    His audience,all Jews and living under the Law of Moses, back to the Creation, where God gave
    them the Divine intention, desire for mankind, and example of one woman for man, and one man
    for woman. Any other married condition than this is a sin, unless a divorce happened because of
    adultery. Sin is the operative word and Jesus is trying to get these Jews to understand this.
    Unforgiven sin can condemn us to eternal condemnation. Divorce for any other reason than adultery would cause the divorced person and others to sin.

    Mark 3:28 “All” sins will be forgiven of mankind … except, vs29 “he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit”, ( Mark 3:29, Luke 12:10)
    According to Mark 3:30, Mark being guided by the Holy Spirit , tells us blaspheming the Holy Spirit is accusing the Holy Spirit of being an “unclean spirit”. That is the sin that will never be forgiven!

    Jesus shed His precious, innocent blood on the cross so we could be forgiven of our sins.
    Neither Divorce, nor divorce for adultery, nor remarriage, nor any sin is beyond the forgiving power of Jesus Christ’s shed blood, except “…he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit”

    Larry Howard

    1. Rubel Shelly recently wrote a book on this subject and while you may not afree with him it does bring up things to be considered

    2. Just FYI…this post is 4 years old so you may not get a ton of feedback from people. Thanks for sharing though. I have enjoyed reading it 🙂

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