Quantifying the Churches of Christ is Not an Easy Task

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I had a very beneficial and cordial conversation with Carl Royster this afternoon. He is the one who compiled the data for the new edition of Churches of Christ in the United States that is causing a ripple among CofC blogs. Being a data person myself I recognize what difficulty there is in trying to quantify something that does not necessarily have 100% clearly defined boundary markers. Since there is no governing body of the Churches of Christ to tell us what is going on we often rely on our publications to keep us up to speed. I have personallly raised a few questions about why this happened and while I am not totally satisfied with what is being published by 21st century Christian this time around there are a few things that I think someone needs to say.

1 – Data collection is no easy task. Brother Royster has done something that none of those complaining about what has happened have personally done. He has collected data through the web, email, and personal phone calls to try to discern how well churches of Christ are growing and to compile a list of up to date contact information from the churches in our fellowship. That is no easy task.

2 – Carl is trying to hit a moving bullseye. Things change so quickly these days we have to at least applaud the fact that someone stood up, took aim, and pulled the trigger. We may not all agree on the result but at least someone is trying.

3 – Carl has done what was asked of him. We can all say we would have done something different but the fact is, you cannot please everyone all the time. The other thing that has been missed in all of this is that I don’t believe this is the first time this has been an issue. This is the first time it has been brought to the attention of a broader audience as an issue.

4 – People are doing what is right by their own conscience. 21st Century Christian has a right to publish the list in whatever way they see as best. If I was an editor or a publisher I would certainly want freedom to do things that way I saw best and we need to give that liberty to 21st Century Christian whether we agree with it or not.

I am not saying that I agree wholeheartedly with what has happened because I don’t. I do ask that we treat people with love and respect as we discuss these things because these decisions are not made haphazardly and are typically done with great care and I would hope lots and lots of prayer. So just as Richland Hills spent several years in study, prayer and fasting in order to go instrumental, the men running 21st Century Christian’s decisions shouldn’t be any different. When they make a decision contrary to our opinion we need to understand that quantifying over 3 million individuals in several thousand congregations is no easy task.

So let’s just move on and make sure we continue to look at the larger issue – the decline in numbers in Churches of Christ in our country as a whole. That is obviously a much bigger issue than a publisher’s decision on one particular book.

0 Responses

  1. Thanks for your humility in contacting Brother Royster and personally speaking with him. Your example should lead the way for others to follow. Whether one agrees or disagrees with 21st Century we need to continue to walk in Christ love, which includes respect.

  2. thanks matt

    it’s not a suprise that we are spilling ink and getting upset over something we can’t control (either richland hills decision or 21st Cent Chrisian) when so much work for the Lord we have personal control over goes undone.

  3. As an ordained evangelist of the independent Christian Churches who has been sojourning among a cappella Churches of Christ for about a decade, I have to say I understand the logic behind excluding congregations that have chosen to include “instrumental” worship. When 21st Century started publishing its directory there were directories for Disciples churches and independent Christian Churches, but none for a cappella Churches of Christ nationwide. Although I would have liked to have seen longer deliberation, I can’t fault the folks at 21st Century for what they did.

    I just hope the excluded congregations realize that the independent (instrumental) churches have a couple of directories, and are welcome to be counted in this portion of the brotherhood.


  4. Matt, I just found your blog from that Facebook application. I’m really glad I did (beside working at the church that just got exiled). I love your site man, The preaching and Bible study links rock. Anyway, good work here.

  5. Matt, thanks for this sane, reasonable and objective take on this subject.

    All along I chose to focus on why our numbers are declining in terms of not retaining and/or attracting yournger people. The whole IM thing- in my opinion- has been blown way out of proportion and has diverted us from what we really need to be thinking about.

    I agree, the book folks have a right to do what they want to do- how they want to do it. So what.

    But as evidenced with the long on-going disussion on my blog this entire deal has struck a major nerve among us.

    I just pray that in all our posting and commenting- we will seek God’s complete guidance on how to stop our decline and get back to trying to “win as many as possible.”

  6. Danny,

    It seems to me that this has struck a nerve among those who thought we were finally moving beyond this. Right when it seemed some of the legalistic structures that have bound us in the past and may even be linked with parts of the decline itself (although progressive’s attitudes are just as much to blame at times) here comes this book and salt is poured right back on the wounds of those who are sensitive on this issue.

    Carl pointed out to me that several of those churches that were left out even asked not to be included. I know several (I believe Richland Hills is probably one) that would have liked to have been included. But Danny, you are right. We have to face the BIGGER issue and move on.

  7. I just thought about something… Not toignore the contribution that “Churches of Christ in the United States” is but how many of us use these books anymore. Now days, I use a search engine called “Google” (you may have heard of that somewhere:-}). I mean, if I am traveling to some place like Knoxville, TN, I am going to search the web because most likely, I can view a congregation’s website which will tell me far more about that congregation than this book most likely would.

    Just a thought.


  8. Rex,

    The biggest help this book has is the CD. From their CD you can print very helpful mailing lists to get information or letters of support out to lots and lots of congregations. By leaving these out it does have an impact. Google maps and mapquest have certainly helped though. You are right about that.

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