Church planting is becoming crucial to the survival of Christianity in America.
Let’s stop gazing at the crop in the barns. We need to look at the fields yet unharvested. To pastor the biggest church possible is noble, but still doesn’t answer to the greatest impact. No one benefitted by having the biggest office in the Twin Towers. But, preventing the tragedy would have been heroic.
We Stand To Lose–Just About Everything
How do you sound an alarm without looking like some crazy alarmist? By looking at numbers and ratios. In terms of numbers the evangelical church is growing. But when you look at the ratios, our slice of the population pie is slowly shrinking.
If we lose the influence of the gospel during our watch we will lose much more. We lose our ability to influence the surrounding culture. We might even lose the church as we know it.
Only Measurable Impact is Worth Consideration
As a scorecard, measurable impact on the surrounding culture is the only thing worth gauging.
Church attendance is declining in most industrial nations. It is somewhat more stable in the United States. But that doesn’t let us off the hook. Stability won’t satisfy the Great Commission. We need to quadruple the number of churches just to keep up with population growth. That last sentence is no exaggeration, read on.
The percentage of Americans attending church fluctuates. Gallup polls record this going back to 1939 when 39 percent of the population said they attended church, or synagogue in the past seven days. The numbers reached 42 percent a couple of times during the 1950s. It peaked at 49 percent in 1991.[i] 2014 revealed just 36 percent attending church or synagogue, at all. We’ve lost much ground.[ii]
Meanwhile the share of adults who profess belief in God is relatively strong, having sagged from 92 to 89 percent since 2007. But those who “absolutely believe” crashed from 71 percent in 2007 to 63 percent in 2014.[iii]
If this keeps up, we will have no say in the values that drive our culture. In fact, we will be on our way out of existence. Surveys show that Baby Boomers supply more than 70 percent of church finances. What happens to our churches (mega and micro) when these people go to heaven?
Evangelicals Fare Better (A Little Bit)
Between 1990 and 2006, the United States grew by approximately 52 million people. That roughly equaled the number of people attending church on any given Sunday in 2006. The news gets worse. In 1990, 52 million people attended church. Sixteen years later, 2006 found the same number attending church. The population grew by the total number of people attending church. Meanwhile church attendance was mired in stasis. We are not keeping up with population growth.[iv]
Evangelicals fare better than mainline Protestant groups. Evangelical numbers have grown from 59.2 million in 2007 to 62.2 million in 2014. Evangelical Christians represent 55 percent of all believers in the US. Evangelicalism is the only group showing growth. But our share of the pie is now smaller. The evangelical segment of the US population fell by just 0.9 percent during the same period.[v] Stability appears good until you notice that it is actually gradual erosion.
Consider this Phrase
The present danger demands a new approach to evangelism and church growth. The impact of inaction will be ecclesiological and cultural disaster. I submit that a cadre of “single-salary, bivocational microchurch planters” could change the flow of history. The phrase, “single-salary, bivocational microchurch planter” is pregnant with possibility as a church planting tool for even the smallest of churches. More about that in coming weeks…
[i] David T. Olson & Craig Groeschel, The American Church In Crisis: Groundbreaking Research Based on a National Database of over 200,000 Churches (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), p. 26.
[ii] Frank Newport, Five Key Findings on Religion in the US (Gallup Poll; December 23, 2016).
[iv] Olson & Groeschel, p. 35.
[v] Ed Stetzer, Nominals to Nones: 3 Key Takeaways from Pew’s Religious Landscape Survey (Christianity Today; May 2015).
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
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