Friday, September 14, 2007

The US Church is Dying and Declining

Although Jesus has sent every believer to fulfill the Great Commission, many Christians are failing to make disciples. “The church in North America is not in good shape. A study of various sources reveals that a large number of churches have leveled out or are declining and many are dying.”1 Years ago Win Arn noted, “Of the approximately 350,000 churches in America, four out of the five are either plateaued or declining.”2

Christians in America should be concerned. How can a church that has been sent by Jesus so neglect its mission that it is predicted that “in the next few years 100,000 of these [churches] will close their doors”?3

The number of churches in the United States is decreasing. Recently, the North American Mission Board recalculated the church-to-population ratio based on statistics from the U.S. Census:

In 1900, there were 28 churches for every 10,000 Americans.

In 1950, there were 17 churches for every 10,000 Americans.

In 2000, there were 12 churches for every 10,000 Americans.

In 2004, there were 11 churches for every 10,000 Americans.4

Too many churches are closing their doors.

The North American Church is in trouble. Eighty percent of Americans are unchurched. Of those who do attend a church, only fifty-two percent are committed believers. Eighty percent of churches have either plateaued or are in decline. Over four thousand American churches close their doors every year.5

Recently I returned home from being out of town for five days. As I walked toward the front door late that night, the grass in our front yard appeared to be dying. A few days later, I took a closer look and discovered it was dying and in some places it was already dead. I immediately checked the sprinkler system, replaced a few heads, and got out the hose to soak the worst areas. The Church in America needs immediate attention. The signs that it is dying have been evident for years. Certain systemic issues have been addressed by some, but much more attention is needed.

The problem is getting worse. “Church attendance has dropped from 49 percent in 1991 to 43 percent in 2002.”6 While many reports from around the world reflect the rise of global Christianity,7 “the Western world is the only major segment of the world’s population in which Christianity is not growing … The unchurched population of the United States is the largest mission field in the English-speaking world and the fifth largest globally.”8

Churches are going out of business. Why? Because they refuse to change. They do not want to change or see the need to change. Certainly churches are failing to align with Jesus’ mission:

Any church that doesn’t shift from “ministry as status quo” to “ministry as mission field” will die or it becomes hopelessly irrelevant to the people its charter document—the Bible—calls it to love, serve, reach, and even die for.9

Even among churches that appear to be growing, if they examine that growth, it is largely coming from transfer growth rather than conversion growth.

In the average church only 15 percent of those who are attending were not active constituents of another church before coming to their present church. While some of the transfer growth could still be called conversion growth (if the church they previously attended did not lead people to a personal commitment to Christ), the fact is that conversion growth is steadily declining.10

What can be done to revitalize the Church in America?

Certainly we must pray! Also, Christians need to align themselves with Jesus’ heart for the world. Every believer must incarnationally display the gospel to others where they work and where they live.

We must seize Jesus’ mission as our own!


1 Malfurs, Planting Growing Churches for the 21st Century, 32.

2 Arn, The Pastor’s Manual for Effective Ministry, 41.

3 Malfurs, Planting Growing Churches for the 21st Century, 35.

4 Stetzer, Planting Missional Churches, 9.

5 Ogne and Roehl, “Coaching: A New Paradigm” (doctoral diss., The NorthwestGraduate School, Seattle, WA, June 2005), 48.

6 Rusaw and Swanson, The Externally Focused Church, 27.

7 See Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

8 Clegg and Bird, Lost in America: How You and Your Church Can Impact the World Next Door, 25.

9 Ibid., 35.

10 Klopp, The Ministry Playbook, 58.

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