Churches of Christ in Decline – Seven Things We Can Do To Transition to a Better Future

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I posted a YouTube video earlier in the week that reviewed an article by Stan Granberg from the Great Commission Research Journal from the Fall of 2018 on the decline of Churches of Christ as a case study.

Stan’s article outlines a number of crucial truths:

1 – Our attendance figures are in a steady decline (55% are now under 60 members)

2 – Our churches are getting significantly older (78% over 40)

3 – Church planting is also on a steady decline (only 106 planted so far this decades). We have posted a drop every decade since the 1960s in the number of churches planted

I outlined some of my own concerns

1 – Attendance drop equals budget drop which means less ability to hire a minister. As churches decline, amount given per member tends to go up as those who are left try to meet budget. As giving goes down there are many things that cannot typically be cut – light bill, salary, etc. That means there is a smaller pool of things that can be cut (discretionary spending) which are the actual ministries of the church. Churches don’t exist to pay ministers. Churches exist to minister, serve, love, worship, make disciples, etc. There isn’t anything a church is called to do that requires us to spend any money. It is our ministry paradigm that requires us to spend money.

2 – Less people going into traditional congregational ministry. Those who do often have loans and will need decent pay to make it. Pair that with the other factors above and things aren’t moving in the same direction between churches and ministers.

3 – I failed to mention this one but we are in decline while the population is increasing. Holding steady is like decline.

4 – Another thing I failed to mention in the video is that much of the growth we see in our churches is transfer growth not organic growth. We might convert our own kids. Many of them leave. We aren’t converting through evangelism and discipleship of non-believers. The “none’s” (non-religiously affiliated) are the largest growing group in the U.S. while Christianity declines. This means our mission field is growing while the laborers are dwindling. So even growth isn’t always actual kingdom growth. We are missing opportunities!

What can we do about this? Stan gives some answers in his article we can talk about another time. I want to share some of my thoughts.

First, we may be faced with actually giving up our old paradigm. We may be forced into this – the paradigm of hired ministry staff. This will be overall a good thing for churches. I will say, though, that we need to be intentional in making up the difference via the next one.

Second, we must equip “lay people” back into the paradigm of the priesthood of all believers from 2 Peter 2. I am going to be addressing this in the near future by providing and collaborating on resources to help churches equip their own people. We don’t want our theology to suffer because of this. We will need to raise expectations on the members to minister, study, and do many things they should have been doing all along.

Third, is to the ministers – the preachers. We have to get intentional about what we are teaching and preaching. I cannot tell you how many sermons I see online that are on wacky topics, strange things, humorous things, pet verses, soap box topics – while the church dwindles around us. Start equipping people. Start preaching on mission and discipleship. Go make some disciples yourself. Or if all your people time is visitation – get elders to do some of that and spend more of your people time discipling people.

Fourth, is to elders – change what you are asking ministers to do – less prep time, more people time. Get someone else to lead that group that meets at the building because they don’t want to be a small group and they want the minister to teach it or rebel! Release your minister to have time to make the adjustments that are crucial for the future rather than hang on to the past. We aren’t going back. Let that sink in!

Fifth is to elders and search committees – I cannot tell you how thrilled a minister would be looking a job description from a church that said they want a minister who will spend time discipling people. It isn’t the traditional way and we are stuck on cookie cutter job descriptions. Read minister job openings and the last I looked they were mostly boiler plate. You couldn’t differentiate many churches from each other because it was mostly copy and paste with some find/replace.

Sixth, is to elders – elders will need to start discipling people. It starts at the top. If they aren’t doing it, few will do it – there is no one to follow.

Seventh – we need to be assessing people’s gifts, valuing those gifts and encouraging them to use them. This won’t be easy with our current model where control is often held too tightly in the eldership. Controlling elders actually undermine their cause because people just stop going to them to get permission. This means we will have to be willing to let people try and fail – this is where our co-depency I have been writing about here recently kicks in and prevents us from trying new things.

There are many other things that could be listed and we will discuss those soon. But first let me hear from you on this! What adjustments do you think we need to make to have a vibrant future, even if the model changes (which would be good, imo)?

5 Responses

  1. agree with all of this article especially the part of not requiring members to request permission to do things.

  2. Use a lectionary. Cut out the 15 minutes of a song medley and instead read the Old Testament, Psalm, Epistle, and Gospel. The people will hear how they go together and what was being referred to. It will be much harder to preach a hard-line sermon when you have just read about Jesus forgiving someone. When I still went to the cofC, I was always envious of the Jews who got to hear the Torah portion every Saturday and other Christians who got to hear the gospel every Sunday.

  3. When the preacher/speaker calls for the invitation to be saved, could we remove the invitation song and wait so that those who heard and believed can have an opportunity to confess Christ and be baptized and not get distracted by the song and the closing of the service?

  4. It is not lost on me to see the CoC decline as a whole, particularly, since the 1940s when as a collective, they adopted amillennialism. As one writer from Leaven put it,

    All we have left is ah-millennialism.
    We are neither passionately radical nor invigoratingly hopeful.

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