The U.S. Church is Dying and Declining

The U.S. Church is Dying and Declining | missionalchallenge.com

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.

Author

Dave DeVries

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Dr. Dave DeVries is a coach, trainer and strategist – and founder of Missional Challenge. He is passionate about coaching and training church planters and missional leaders. His training skills have been used to mobilize church planters, pastors and ministry leaders across the country and around the world. Missional Challenge partners together with churches, networks and denominations to advance disciplemaking movements globally.With 25+ years of church planting and leadership development experience, Dave brings his passion and encouragement to those he trains and coaches. He created The Multiplication Cycle™ to assist church planters to start churches by making disciples. He has trained and coached hundreds of coaches and church planters across the United States and internationally.Dave has been coaching pastors and church planters for more than ten years. His experience in church multiplication led to his doctorate in transformational leadership at Bakke Graduate University. He also received a Master of Divinity from The Master’s Seminary and graduated from Biola University with a B.S. in Business Administration.
1 reply
  1. Jim
    Jim says:

    Good reminders. However, I have begun to think there is something askew in them. That something in betrayed in the quotes you used and metaphors employed. The “church doors are closing…” suggests that what we are really seeing is a decline in church membership in terms of people attending and occupying church buildings.

    As Barna recently pointed out (not that I’m a fan) and as experience is showing us…more and more people are choosing not to darken the doors of churches but may be meeting in alternative locations whether homes, Starbucks, even online. (not that that doesn’t do harm to our understanding of church)

    Last year I taught a seminary class and asked the students, “What minimally has to be in place for a body of people to call themselves a church?” Whatever else the discussion included, it did not include buildings, doors, staffs, etc. etc.

    Maybe what we are seeing is a decline in the use of particular kinds of approaches, technologies, etc. that we have hyper-identified with “church.”

    Another way to look at it might be to think in terms of the “long tail”. There are some huge mega-churches but most churches are small by a long (tail) shot. Of those non-mega churches some are in buildings, some aren’t.

    Maybe what is emerging is not a decline in church attendance but a fragmenting of what we understand church to be into a million little niches.

    Thanks.

    Reply

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