Has the church in America finally reached a tipping point? It seems so, according to a national consultant.
For many years, the warning signs have mounted. The institutional church is in decline. But, up to now, few in the church have shown much desire to change, to seriously respond to the erosion around them.
I have noticed a slow shift in attitude over the past decade. When we first released our book Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore, many people seemed unaware the American church was bleeding. Then, gradually, people began to acknowledge something was happening. But they often dismissed it as a problem confined to old mainline liberal denominations, or to “bad research.” Eventually, most church leaders and members came around to accept reality–that the organized church, overall, is shrinking and losing its influence in society and in individuals’ lives. But, even with that acknowledgment, the people seem to be paralyzed, not ready to consider significant changes to become more effective.
But perhaps the pain in this paralysis is becoming too intense to tolerate much longer. Consider some of the data emerging this year:
- Gallup reports that the percentage of Americans who belong to a church, synagogue or mosque, has dropped to an all-time low. Even those who identify with a particular religion are less likely to belong to a church.
- The largest evangelical denomination, the Southern Baptists, recorded the 12th straight year of membership decline. Attendance also decreased again. And baptisms dipped to an all-time low (pardon the pun).
- Americans who claim no religion at all rose to an all-time high–now 23 percent of the population, according to a new study from Eastern Illinois University.
- The public’s confidence in organized religion sank to a new low–just 36 percent of the population, according to Gallup.
Change, for any organization, is difficult and uncomfortable. Experts in organizational culture often cite that change rarely comes until the pain to continue the status quo becomes more intense than the discomfort that change brings. That turning point has arrived, according to national church consultant Kent Hunter, founder of Church Doctor Ministries.
In this week’s Holy Soup podcast, Hunter reveals the biggest shift he’s seeing among his church clients nationwide. Church people–leaders and members–tell him that “we can’t go on this way any longer.” He said the threshold of church decline has finally commanded people’s attention. He hears an erupting “holy discontent” among the faithful.
While many pastors and other church leaders have taken a “hold on till I retire” intransigence, a growing wave of “early adopters” in congregations are now pushing for change. Will they be enough to turn things around? Hunter seems hopeful.
Listen to the conversation with Hunter on the Holy Soup podcast here:
Kent Hunter will also be among the thought-provoking guests at the upcoming Future of the Church summit. You’re invited to participate in this eye-opening event too. Find more information here.
I think what we are seeing is a great purging of the “ecclesia” of Christ (Dan 12:10). I think the vocational, professional clergy, and the subjective religious church systems that we have seen emerge over the centuries is not what Jesus had in mind when He spoke to His disciples on how He would build His church (Matt 16). That the structure of “His ecclesia”, His Church; would not look anything like the organizational systems of the “gentiles” (Mark 10:42-44 et al.). If one accepts the prophetic meaning of the “seven letters of The Revelation”: it is clear that Christ is none to happy with the church systems that man has built, even stating that He hates some of their “doctrine, deeds, and ways”. Yet, as to be expected the Holy Spirit calls out to the ones who “have ears to hear”; repent, and overcome, abide in, and keep “My word” (Rev 2&3). Christianity in all it’s subjective religous expressions, all of it’s denominational, and doctrinal options must be replaced with the objective non-optional truth that it is; the truth that Jesus came to bear witness to (John 18:37). Thom, I think the empty pews are speaking; and the pulpit and the “professionals” that fill them have some repenting to do.
I agree with you. Christianity in all it’s subjective religious expressions, all of it’s denominational, and doctrinal options must be replaced with the objective non-optional truth that it is; the truth that Jesus came to bear witness to (John 18:37). Truth had been badly twisted by philosophers namely, Saint Augustine of Hippo who influenced the development of Western Christianity and Western philosophy.
Well said Jim. Here is a thought. If you lost the building and the paid staff, what would your congregation look like? Serious consideration of that question could lead to discovery of your priorities and whether they are effective. Jesus’ instructions were very simple. We are the ones that complicated them. Does it look like our way is working?
The hateful, sexist, racist, whites, and rich only politics most churches are preaching from the pulpit do not match the Love of Christ. God is not a Trump supporter, or a Republican or a Democrat. God is better than any of these.
I’m sure that the visible church must be concerned about these things but I imagine Christ is none too concerned given that He will build His church and the gates of hell would not prevail.
Why the Lord gave his ecclesia into the hands of another kingdom for a time times and half a time, only He knows. Dan 7:25 But what we do know is that this time of ruling over the saints must come to an end! Blessed is His name!
With all do respect to the people above ,who was Jesus speaking to in the above comments at that time and this is what you get starting with the protestant reformaton in the 1500 ‘s , “by the bible alone ” everyone interprets the bible there own way and now has there own personal relationship with Jesus and does not feel the need a church !
I read the story of a member of the church who suggested to the pastor that they do something a different way. “The pastor went away to ruminate on it and he came back to the member and said he decided not to change anything because the congregation paid his wages and the denomination supplied his retirement income so he didn’t want o rock the boat. Nuf said.