The dire headlines in the recent market research report caught my eye.
“The industry exhibits stagnant participation.”
“Industry value added is projected to decline.”
What is this troubled industry? It’s the nation’s religious organizations. The business world’s chronicler of major industry trends, IBISWorld, decided to study and document the state of the religion “industry.” This extensive report offers an intriguing view of the American church, as a segment of the economy and society.
The writers are accustomed to preparing reports for manufacturing, transportation, retail and financial institutions. So their analyses and descriptions are distinctly unchurchy–and sometimes rather amusing. The church, obviously, is not a commercial industry. But it does represent a sizable chunk of the population and economy.
So, what did IBISWorld discover about the health of our “industry”? America’s houses of worship will collect about $108 billion this year. Though the recession reduced giving in recent years, the analysts predict the next five years will bring small revenue increases for the church.
The researchers noted that, historically, recessions bring a “silver lining” of higher church attendance. But not this time. This most recent recession saw not only dips in the offering plate, but continuing drops in attendance as well. The report notes some interesting facets in the decline:
- While the number of those who call themselves Christian is falling slightly, church attendance is falling at a greater rate.
- The younger generation is losing interest in organized religion, which will hasten attendance decline in coming years.
- Catholic, mainline and evangelical churches all face significant challenges of decline.
- The level of technology change in this “industry” is low.
- Total wages for church professionals have declined. But ministers are receiving more compensation from “alternative revenue sources”–funeral services and hospital visits.
The study concludes that, compared to other industries, the “Religious Organizations industry is in the declining stage of its industry life cycle.” But the researchers offered glimpses of hope. They wrote, “There is still a high degree of adherence to religious beliefs.” That’s encouraging!
So what does this “industry” need to consider to build a brighter future? I noted a couple of practical things in the report that are worthy of consideration:
1. Embrace healthy change–not in the message, but in the methodology. The researchers wrote, “Religious services are still provided in mostly the same way they were provided hundreds of years ago.” It may be time for a Jesus-style shake-up of delivery methods.
2. Encourage relational ministry. “Promoting regular activities that facilitate . . . discussions on shared interests will help win new members and retain existing ones.” People like to gather with other people with common interests. Churches could seize this opportunity by finding ways to turn Sunday morning from a time of “stagnant participation” to a time of interaction, true togetherness, and swapping of personal faith stories and God sightings.
I would add a third point to ponder. Maybe this “industry” has been fashioning itself as an industry rather than a movement.
The one aspect this report did not include is, of course, the biggest. It’s the one who is ultimately in charge of this endeavor. I’m confident the Founder of this movement sees a wealth of new life in the days to come. It’s up to his people to catch the vision, shake loose of old habits, and build this promising new future together.
‘Insiders’ don’t see/believe/understand this. “Outsiders” do, hence attendance declines, $$$decline while the faithful keep the show going bemoaning that the young adults and young people don’t come to church anymore.
Some experts just recently at a conference said that “the American church is not in decline,” and that some publishers are using that argument to sell more books and resources to churches. I wonder how they can look at hard secular data like this and draw those conclusions?
Becky, I don’t know. It’s baffling. Here’s more coverage today on the decline: http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2014/10/the-shriking-evangelical-voter-pool/381560/
I would sum up the reason for the decline as “God has left the house.” This has produced the results it has and created the mentality that “the show must go on. “
My concers are more about the believers spiritual decline than about church or religious industry’s shortfall or church giving. I do agree with the comments about the church using an old model when assembling the faithfull together to worship. It needs to be more engaging, inclusive, and life giving-without sacrificing Truth’s non- negotiables. It seems we get busy building structure and in some cases spending heavily without recognizing that it is life, before structures. Also, we have taken the centrality of Jesus out of sermons and focused on find tune messages devoid of the Spirit. As for details about church decline I am always inspired by Isaiah’s word ” of the increase of HIS Kingdom and peace there shall be no end.” This helps me get past Ebola, ISIS or the speed at which all global systems are moving to out of control. Come Lord.
As someone who had quit going to church, I wish I could give some kind of recommendation to a church as to what they could do to get someone like me to go back. In my hashing over about trying a church, I did start going to a bible study to kind of test the waters with myself. I’m trying to make it a value-added experience both ways but not sure how long I will stick this out. As an introvert, connecting with anyone new is far and few between and is getting farther and fewer as I get older. My relationship with God is enough. There is really nothing a church can offer to add to that. When I look at things now compared to when I was going to church to what I could end up going back to, I don’t think I am willing to give up the freedom. Freedom has been bliss. Work has been stressful enough by itself. I really don’t need any more busyness, responsibilities and the added financial obligation. This is one reason I could never invite people to church is because of this. If I knew of a house church around here, I would at least give that a try.
Amen brother. When I went through a spiritual experience where I came to know God, not about him, I became interested only in that which helps me to know God, not that which focuses on knowing about God. Round here that means giving churches a triple bypass as they seem to be committed to knowing about God. How do I know? They are all doing the same thing that they were doing 10 years ago which is ridiculous as we are being changed from glory to glory but that won’t happen whilst we are stuck in the mud. After about a month I am totally bored because knowing about God is boring but knowing God is exciting. I say that because I probably know more about God than those who are paid to know about God.
When you say anything that suggests there is more to life than knowing about God, the shutters come down and you are given the cold shoulder.
My wife and I attend Sunday School (renamed Life Group) every week but the worship service only once a month for reasons you share:
1. The service lasts on average 75-85 minutes because there are so many songs. I feel sorry for the people in the nursery and children’s church continually answering the kid’s question “When is Mommy & Daddy going to come get me?”
2. The songs are more of a praise team performance than church member participation.
3. The sermon notes are still in a 1980’s style fill-in-the-blank format.