Learning From the “Rough Decade” for American Churches

This week CNN posted a blog post about the demise of churches and synagogues over past ten years. They based their article on a study recently released by David Roozen of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research.  Three trends especially stood out.

  1. Church attendance in America is declining.  The median weekend worship attendance dropped from 130 to 108 in the past ten years.  Researchers found that 1 in 4 congregations has fewer than 50 in attendance on Sundays and just less than half have under 100.  Megachurches, congregations with 2000 or more members, make up less than half of one per cent of all churches today.  Roozen said, “no single category or kind of congregation was exempt from the decadal downsizing of worship attendance.”
  2. Jesus promised to build His church.  There is no reason that growing churches cannot be built when God’s people are passionate about the task God has given us to do.

    Church giving is declining as well. In 2000, 31% of survey participants reported excellent financial health.  In 2010 that number fell to 14%.  In discussing the recession, Roozen explained that it, “affected nearly every kind of congregation equally–large and small; north, south, east, and west; financially healthy or struggling before the recession.”
  3. Churches bucking current trends are innovative in worship and electronic communication.  People told surveyors that congregations that were characterized by “high spiritual vitality” were those that were innovative or contemporary.  On the other hand, only 17% of churches that were described as neither innovative or contemporary were rated as possessing high spiritual vitality.

Take-aways for church families

  1. Embrace changes in methodology while striving to preserve and promote sound doctrine.  Our culture is changing at a dramatic pace.  God’s people simply must be prepared to make whatever changes are necessary to minister Scripture effectively using methods that connect with those we are trying to reach.  “We’ve never done it that way before” is a recipe for decline and failure.
  2. Do not assume that a church will automatically grow.  Some men and women seem to believe that success in the past means guaranteed success in the future regardless of the choices they make today.  That is simply untrue.  The natural tendency of the church is decline and ineffectiveness.  God’s people must do everything we can to passionately pursue the mission the Lord has given us.
  3. Praise the Lord for men and women who are faithful with their finances.  We talk very little about finances at Faith, but by God’s grace, our giving has increased 5% this year in the midst of very challenging times economically in our country.  We should always thank the Lord for His blessing and provision of generous men and women.

The bottom line

Jesus promised to build His church.  There is no reason that growing churches cannot be built when God’s people are passionate about the task God has given us to do.  Let’s allow this recent survey to cause us to be thankful for what has happened at Faith in the last decade and to redouble our efforts to avoid the slide into apathy and decline.  The eternal destiny of those around us depends on it.

Steve Viars
Dr. Viars has served as a pastor and counselor at Faith since 1987. He is an author, national speaker, and Vice President of the Board of Directors for the Biblical Counseling Coalition.