October 21, 2017

Another Look at Church Collapse Statistics

statsI would like to preface this post by saying that I do not have any joy in reporting these statistics. My hope and desire is for vibrant, growing churches, that are an increasingly effective witness in the communities in which they are found. That being said here is a snippet from a couple posts that I wrote five years ago in support of Michael Spencer’s contention that we were/are on the verge of a major evangelical collapse. It also began my ongoing collaboration as a writer for this site.

“We are on the verge within 10 years of a major collapse of evangelical Christianity.”
According to ARIS, currently 21% of adult Baptists are over the age of seventy. (I keep using Baptists in my examples as they are a good representation of evangelicals and it helps to keep things consistent for now.) In ten years, based on what we know of life expectancy, roughly this number of Baptists will have died. Yes, some of those who are currently older than 70 will still be with us, but at least a corresponding number who are currently under 70 will also have died. They will be replaced by the children of those Baptists who are now in the eighteen to twenty-nine year range, which as mentioned previously is 11% of adult Baptists. Assuming that those who are in the eighteen to twenty-nine year range roughly reproduce themselves over the next ten years, you will have a net decrease in Baptists over the next ten years of roughly 10%.
So as Michael has said, the next ten years should be the beginning of the collapse, and as was shown earlier in the article, this collapse should continue for several decades until half of the Baptists are gone.

Mainline Christian churches have been declining in Canada for 50 years. In 1965 the Membership in the United Church of Canada stood at 1,064,000. By the end of 2012 was down to 463,879. and average weekly attendance was 158,510.

Statistics in the Anglican church of Canada are even more startling. They hit a membership high of 1,365,313 in 1964. The Anglicans stopped producing statistics in 2007, but at that point membership was 545,957 and average weekly attendance just 141,827.

How do you lose over half your members in under 50 years. Quite simply you just have to lose about 1% per year.

I had predicted in 2009 that “you will have a net decrease in Baptists over the next ten years of roughly 10%.” Well, attendance at Southern Baptist churches peaked in 2009 at 6,207,488. By 2013 attendance had dropped to 5,834,707. That is a 6% drop in just four years. My prediction of a 10% drop in 10 years is looking fairly accurate.

You should also note that this is a yearly percentage decline that matches that of the Canadian Mainline churches. If the Southern Baptists continue to decline like they have done over the past four years then their fate will likely to be very similar to those churches in Canada where many congregations are struggling to keep their doors open.

Again, I take no joy in reporting this, but your thoughts and comments are welcome.

Comments

  1. Faulty O-Ring says:

    Which Baptists? Southern Baptists?

    • Christiane says:

      the Southern Baptist Convention was closer to mainline Christianity UNTIL this happened to them:
      http://www.mchorse.com/sbcchronology.htm

      now, the SBC is led mostly by fundamentalists, with some members who still support less extreme viewpoints and still speak out against fundamentalist abuses in the SBC

      there are other chronologies of the takeover event that are even more detailed, and it’s an ugly story

      • Richard Hershberger says:

        Something similar happened in the LCMS in 1973, when they purged the more liberal faction from Concordia Seminary. The whole denomination moved right after that: partly simply by virtue of having purged its left wing, but the mere fact of the purge tended to move everyone remaining rightward. Prior to that time there were various joint projects between the LCMS and the LCA and ALC (predecessors of the modern ELCA). They were working on a joint service book and hymnal. The LCSM pulled out of that, then a couple of years later came out with their own, remarkably similar version. There wasn’t any doctrinal dispute involved. It simply was no longer acceptable to be seen cooperating with the LCA and ALC.

        It is interesting to compare this with more recent events in the ELCA and ECUSA. The conservative factions of these had no hope of purging the vastly more numerous liberals, so the conservatives self-purged. There is something about modern conservatives that they really suck as playing with others.

        • Christiane says:

          I did not know about the Lutheran troubles.
          When the SBC ‘purged’ people, sadly it included 70 missionaries in the field who would not sign to the new Baptist Faith & Message 2000 which was formed by a committee hand-picked by one person: Paige Patterson. They could not sign it in conscience, so they lost their positions. I am a Catholic and I found this to be a sad way for a denomination to behave in this way. The stories about what happened to some of the women employees of the SBC ‘entities’ are even worse in my view, notably the dreadful treatment of Hebrew professor Dr. Sheri Klouda at SWBTS . . . I cannot fathom this treatment as ‘Christian’ . . . it doesn’t make any sense to me.

          ‘heavy-handed’? I would call it something else, something much worse reeking of pride and arrogance.

          and in my view, the gradual decline of the SBC was born out of this ‘purging’, as the enmity was not diluted after the purge, but seems to have turned ‘inward’ as factions fight against factions for influence. Not a pretty scene, no. But still, there are good and brave people who are Southern Baptists and they work within a troubled denomination trying to do what is right and honorable. I have great admiration for these people, and great respect for their wanting to make things better. For them, I do pray that they are successful in their endeavors.

          As for the Lutherans, I do know that some are more ‘conservative’ than others, but I don’t know the details of the history . . . my husband was baptized in the Lutheran faith (he’s German descent) but he has become Catholic. He is not knowledgeable about the difficulties among the Lutherans. Thanks for letting me know some of the history.

        • As someone with LCMS roots, the “purge” wasn’t a good thing. They are now defined more by what they are against than what they are for. They seem bent on veering toward cultism with the greatest emphasis on doctrinal purity above all. Other denominations (especially the ELCA) are considered basically non-Christian as I’ve witnessed more than one LCMS clergy profess. One young LCMS pastor was called under the carpet because he dared to say a few words at a multi faith memorial gathering in Newtown after the shooting. Membership is falling rapidly.

    • Good question.

      The ARIS data refers to all Baptists. My further example was just Southern Baptists. A little bit of an apples to oranges comparision, but Southern Baptists are the predominate group when it comes to both Baptists and Evangelicals in the U.S.A.

  2. Faulty O-Ring says:

    Another thing: The Baptists may well be declining, but that doesn’t mean that “evangelicalism” is declining. After all, some of those Baptists have been joining non-denominational churches and mega-churches which didn’t exist half a century ago.

    • Faulty O-Ring says:

      (or did exist in 2009, but were smaller)

    • Pentecostal churches (most of whom are quite Evangelical) are still growing. Slowly, but surely.

      Of course, we credit it to the Holy Spirit, but I’m not gonna be so chauvinistic as to assume the Spirit’s not likewise in other churches.

      I attribute it to Latino population growth, and the fact that Latinos are either going Catholic or Pentecostal. For the most part, if you’re not charismatic in some form, the next generation interprets this as spiritually dead, and not worth their time. Argue with this thinking all you like (and I certainly do); it’s what they believe.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      You know what they call the Non-Denominational Denomination, don’t you>
      “Fundamental Baptist with the labels painted over.”

    • Point taken Faulty O-Ring. And to K.W. Leslie’s comment, Michael Spencer also predicted that the church would look in increasingly Pentecostal/Charismatic.

    • “…some of those Baptists are joining non-denominational churches…”

      So Baptists are becoming…Baptists. Most people in so-called “non-denominational” churches don’t realize it, but their theology is basically the same as Baptists. But, if you can remove the traditional name and worship style and make them more ‘comfortable’…then you can get them in the door for a while…where you can continue to hand themselves back to themselves. It’s starts with ‘you’. It continues with ‘you’. YOU will be the focus, right on down the line. With a tip of the hat, now and then, to Jesus…your cosmic helper.

      • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

        Actually, a lot of them do realize it. The largest church in NA is 10 minutes from my place, and they have pretty comfortable ties to the local SBC seminary, and are pretty open about being baptist in theology. I have many friends who attend there, and all of them except one was raised in a strict fundy/SBC church, and wanted a place with Baptist theology without all the cultural baggage like dress codes and appalachian music.

      • david brainerd says:

        Although non-denominational churches are Baptist without the name, I imagine they push Calvinism at least slightly less vigorously than those who explicitly call themselves Baptists.

    • Two things: First, I believe it was Terry Mattingly who said that in religious journalism they have a saying: “As goes the SBC, so goes Evangelicalism.” They are the biggest ship in that sea, and as such, tend to be a significant trend setter or trend revealer. The other thing is that a disproportionate percentage of mega-churches are (quietly, of course) actually affiliated with the Southern Baptists. This includes Joel Osteen, Rick Warren, both of the Stanleys (at least at one point), David Platt, David Jeremiah, and a host of others. …among the megachurches that are not, a few are actually Pentecostal, but the overwhelming majority are Baptist in theology and charismatic in their worship. This is the template of American Evangelicalism that has emerged as a “least common denominator” Protestantism. The SBC is the poster-child for this development. While it is possible for the SBC to decline while the rest of Evangelicalism grows, it just isn’t very likely, because they’re too similar.

  3. Mike, the Roman Catholic Church in the US has been holding steady in its numbers due to the influx of immigrants from traditionally Roman Catholic countries; otherwise it would have been in decline since the 70’s. What is the situation in Canada? Is RCC membership holding steady? If so, is that also due to immigration (I suspect it would not be, since I think the US has far more immigration, though I may be wrong)? What are the numbers?

    I do understand that Canada is in places far more culturally RC than the US, due to its history; still, I think that the social/cultural parallels and time-lines of the US and Canada are far more similar than between the US and Europe, and I think a comparison in this area would be highly illuminating regarding trends in the both US and Canada.

    • cermak_rd says:

      Going from what I’ve seen in Toronto, Canada has a lot of immigration, too. But they’r immigration doesn’t come as much from southern North America and South America, but from India, Pakistan, other parts of Asia, and parts of Europe.

      The Catholic church pretty much cratered in Quebec, where it was once culturally strong. I think the situation there is more akin to what happened in Ireland (where you had an unhealthy government & church combo and when the politics changed the church was blamed.)

    • When you say that the RCC has been holding steady, in fact it has been decreasing rapidly in the North East, and increasing rapidly (through immigration) in the South. As cermk_rd pointed out, it has had tremedous decline in its strong hold of Quebec in Canada, and has not had the immigrant boost that the U.S. has seen.

      • Mike, where are the ones who are leaving, or have left, in the North East going? Other churches? Away from institutional Christianity?

        What you are saying tends to confirm what I’ve been thinking: the predicted Evangelical collapse is part of the ongoing general demise of Christian institutions in the US. It wouldn’t surprise me if Evangelical churches that grew up overnight also perished more quickly, while their older cousins continue in a comparatively longer and slower decline.

  4. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    First, I believe in this decline. That religious affiliation is on a downward trend.

    However, some caveats are worth noting:

    1.) With the “Baby Boomers” the New World West has a pig-in-the-python problem; an unusually large count of people at a particular stage of their life-cycle. Due to the aging boomers almost anything can me made to look like it has peeked. 10,000 boomers turn 65 every day, and 10,000 will turn 65 every day for the next ~15-20 years.
    2.) The current reproductive rate of females in the United States is 1.87, which is below the replacement rate of 2.1. So the United States is below the line for ZPG [zero population growth]. This plus point #1 means that organizations cannot depend upon generational refresh.
    3.) Despite #1 & #2 the United States has a population growth rate just barely over 1% per month. This is due to a high rate of immigration. But immigrants are not automatically affiliated to existing institutions – except possibly to ethnic or historic churches.
    4.) The United States is a very mobile place; ~15% of citizens move in a given year, roughly a third of those who move move ‘non-locally’. It is difficult to believe this level of mobility does not have a deleterious effect on institutional affiliation of all kinds.
    5.) Only 8% of current marriages in the United States are interracial or interethnic. But slightly more than 15% of all marriage licenses granted in the United States in 2013 where for interracial or interethnic marriages. It is hard to say what this means without much more data; but it is another variable that seems to bias against maintenance of inherited institutional affiliation. For reference in 1980 the rate of interracial or interethnic marriage was below 7%.
    6.) Related to #4 and probably to #5 is the urbanization of America which is over time changing how the population is laid across the landscape, this draws more and more people in concentrated points leaving many institutions with fewer and fewer people within their radius although the overall population is growing. Urbanization has come very slowly to the United States, much more slowly than to most other nations, but it has been a persistent trend all the way back to 1790. This trend continues and may be currently higher than historically normal rates if the big-in-a-python [see point #1] is removed.

    Overall, again, I believe in the trend towards disaffiliation. But I do not believe it is entirely driven by dissatisfaction or deliberate disassociation. There are many forces at work – many of which work to deteriorate all kinds of institutions where membership is at-will. To grow or even maintain in this demographic environment would be almost miraculous.

    • cermak_rd says:

      Birthrate actually does play into this a lot. The lowering of the birthrate was expressed first among the mainline. This is why it started to decline first.

      Another point about your “pig in a python” is that it was not just a large generation but it arose at a time (50s) when the nation was driven by external factors (cold war) to over-consume religious institutions. So many of these folks are church going folks because their family has always been church going folks (except they haven’t, Grams just started going during WWII to pray for her fiance and after he returned they went to church because they weren’t Communists).

      You would think, though, that urbanization would increase church going. After all, there’s a lot more diversity in church experience in the cities.

      • On the birth rate: There was an interesting paper a few years ago, that argued that most of the decline of the mainlines and gains by evangelical groups can be attributed simply to birthrates. The mainliners began having smaller families sooner.

        I’m not equipped to evaluate the strength of the statistical argument the authors made, but it’s an interesting one.

        If that argument has merit, then what we should see on the horizon is a similar demographic collapse among the evangelicals, mirroring what we saw first in the mainline.

        Here is a summary of the argument:
        https://sociology.sas.upenn.edu/sites/sociology.sas.upenn.edu/files/Birth_Dearth_Christian_Century.pdf

        • An interesting implication of this argument would be this:

          The mainline decline has largely peaked. The mainline collapse has happened already, and the membership numbers may begin to plateau, provided mainline family size has already curbed off as far as it is going to go.

          By contrast, the evangelical decline has not peaked. There is a lot more coming.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            And I don’t think the “Quiverfull/Outbreed the Heathen!” movement is going to help. That mostly applies to one-family homeschool cults and One True Church splinter quasi-cults, and there’s not that many of those. These days, such Bedroom Evangelism also usually comes wrapped in a Male Supremacy/Paterfamilias Homeschool Survivalist Refuge package, and again that wouldn’t have widespread appeal.

      • So much for the population excuse as can be seen in the Episcopal Church numbers. When you lose that many people it is far more than population.
        First, the US population grew from just under 180 million people in 1960 to 308 million in 2010. That significant growth suggests that a flourishing church would also have been a growing church during those five decades. Yet the increase in US population sharply contrasts with TEC’s decline from 3.4 million members in 1960 to fewer than 2 million today. In other words, during the last five decades, the US population increased about 70% and TEC’s membership declined by roughly 42%,” wrote Clifford.

        • cermak_rd says:

          The US population grew but not among main line families. Our immigrants do not come from lands where the Anglican community is strong.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Sssssh! You’ll torpedo the Apostate Episcopalian theory.

          • The country did not grow 128 million by just immigrants of non mainline church’s. Where do you get the statistics to show what you claim ?

          • Faulty O-Ring says:

            Apostasy I can’t judge, but no one would call the Anglicans / Episcopalians gung-ho. That said, they have attracted a lot more immigrants than their hoity-toity reputation might suggest.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > You would think, though, that urbanization would increase church going.

        Who knows? Maybe it will at some point, it does not seem to currently.

        In an urban space with greater available resources at a lower cost as well as the diversity you mention – there are simply more options. I believe rural America offered a shorter menu of choices along with a more generally shared routine of life in contrast to the 24/7 life-cycle of urban space and all manner of industrial, service, and technological shift work [modern hospitals, financial institutions, etc… are almost never “closed”, and they care much less about day-of-the-week]. So rural America may have naturally created a concentration of behaviors that may not occur in a different kind of place.

        Also the diversity works against many kinds of institutions – a successful church in an urban space is going to have to be a different kind of institution. And it seems to me we have either created suburban non-neighorhood type churches or we have tried to import the country-side church into urban space; and both models have failed. An urban church must deal day-to-day with diversity and a congregation of people who interact within diversity every day [certainly professionally]. And America has, to put it kindly, historically struggled to create institutions that deal well with diversity. Meanwhile maintaining a ghetto is becoming harder and harder to do – just look at the almost sole source of population growth. And if you track immigrant settling patterns it is almost entirely urban as that is increasingly where economic development is.

        One reason I don’t completely harsh on “the church” for its struggles with membership is that – as far as I have seen – next to nobody has yet come to terms with what these shifts mean or how to ’embrace’ them. Institutional participation – from churches, to PTAs, to bowling leagues – is down *ACROSS THE BOARD*. This disturbs me most of all because it, I believe, frays the social fabric. As participation declines we become less a nation, or ability to have civil discourse declines, out ability to make difficult corporate choices is diminished. That hurts everybody, the church included, and that decline can feed on itself. Churches are not the only institutions mulling over how to crack this nut – and so far not coming up with much.

    • While birthrates has played a huge part, it does not answer for all the decline. For example in Quebec the decline has come from a walking away from the church.

      “You would think, though, that urbanization would increase church going. After all, there’s a lot more diversity in church experience in the cities.” – In actual fact it is the opposite that occurs.

      • cermak_rd says:

        And that’s why I wonder why? Is it that non-urban environments have more involvement in church due to just inertia of Mom and Dad go to church and expect me to be there so I’ll go there too? And, let’s face it, no one is watching you in urban environments. Your neighbor doesn’t know if you attend worship services and further, doesn’t care.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          >Is it that non-urban environments have more involvement in church due to just inertia

          Or there is less competition, or fewer other choices. Or rural churches – possibly, at least in some cases – have continued to be relevant to the day-to-day lives of their communities. I know of rural, or at least exurban [which is what most people mean by “rural” these days], churches which are active in their communities, host events, etc… It is harder to own that role, especially if you’ve already lost it, in an urban space.

          > let’s face it, no one is watching you in urban environments.

          I don’t know that this is necessarily true.

          > Your neighbor doesn’t know if you attend worship services

          I know which of my neighbors do.

          > and further, doesn’t care.

          Tell that to my couple of friends who have been scolded by neighbors for mowing their postage-stamp front lawns on a Sunday.

          But, true, generally there is a culture of space-giving in urban communities, that tradition is the lubrication that makes urban spaces work.

          However I know which of my married neighbors fight, who paces the halls at night, which one cries herself to sleep at night, who watches TV all night, which ones fear dogs, which ones love dogs, who walks to work, who rides a bicycle, who rides the bus – is it the #11 or the #15, which poor sod has to dig his car out every time the snow plow comes through, who leaves for work wearing medical blues, who gets oxygen tanks delivered to their house, who changes their own oil, etc.. Someone would have to make an effort *not* to know these things.

          I am certain the correlation of watching-and-caring is more related to if a population is settled or transient, regardless of the type of space. **Some** types urban spaces may tend to be more transient as a rule, but this is not true generally. Studies of gentrification and development induced displacement have demonstrated that – distinctly different patterns between transient and settled populations.

        • It’s the greater pluralistic landscape of the city that makes churchgoing, and religious affiliation, less likely than in the suburbs. The heterogeneity of a pluralistic city, where one’s choice of religious identity is so obviously just one choice among many, all of them living in close quarters, side-by-side, undermines one’s sense of the finality of any chosen religious identity, and therefore the seriousness or importance of one’s own religious choices, because it becomes obvious that one may easily choose otherwise.

      • People walk away from the church because they can walk away from it. No one is enforcing membership, as was done through much of church history, and there is an ever decreasing cultural benefit from church membership. Once you’ve moved from one church to another, or once you’ve become accustomed to seeing your neighbors do so, it becomes very clear to you that you may go or stay as you wish. More and more people choosing their religion, or their church, will have a logical rollover into more and more people losing their religion, or leaving their church. It’s the always growing temptation in a culture as intensely pluralist as ours, and once a few take a bite out of the apple, more and more follow their example.

        • +1

          Until churches provide a real reason for people to attend, or demonstrate through the Holy Spirit that there is really something beyond-simply-human happening because of their being the Body of Christ – I.e., things that can’t be explained or achieved on sociological bases – churches will become increasingly irrelevant and less and less attended. They can only compete with and copy the culture for so long, because culture will always offer more. The church has to be d-i-f-f-e-r-e-n-t. It has to give or offer something(s) that can be obtained in no other way or by no other source.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          > ever decreasing cultural benefit from church membership

          I’m OK with “a decreased cultural benefit”, but an “ever decreasing cultural benefit” may be overstating it.

          I am pretty confident , at least in urban areas, that the cultural benefit has pretty much bottomed out. It will not matter when you try to find a place to live, are introduced to people, look for a job, etc… Those days are gone. It is rare for someone to *ask* about your religious affiliation; it is generally always up to you to bring it up – at least until some Evangelical with a sign about God hating sinners accosts your group while eating dinner, then it is just uncomfortable.

          A cultural benefit does still exist, if the church provides it. That is if the church is a community of people and If one is interested in availing oneself of that benefit. It is a different kind of benefit than before, or perhaps it is just the original benefit, minus the external benefit which the church just happened to have held for several hundred years. The church has previously survived without offering that external benefit.

          • “A cultural benefit does still exist, if the church provides it. That is if the church is a community of people and If one is interested in availing oneself of that benefit. It is a different kind of benefit than before, or perhaps it is just the original benefit, minus the external benefit which the church just happened to have held for several hundred years. The church has previously survived without offering that external benefit.”

            For a great part of its history, the cultural reality that was arguably most responsible for the church’s survival was coercion; since shortly after the Edict of Toleration, toleration in fact nearly disappeared. From that time through the Middle Ages and the Reformation and beyond, almost to the cusp of Modernity, the Church, and then the churches, relied on coercion to hold the Church (churches) together, and to keep the people in the pews.

            It has been a very, very long time since the Church (churches) has (have) not relied on either coercion, or cultural blandishments, or both, to keep people in the pews. We are seeing now just how well it (they) do without the carrot or the stick.

    • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

      And let’s not forget the number of immigrants who are looking for freedom from religion in the US. I know several muslim and mezo-american families who, while still maintaining their religion mostly as a cultural icon, came here specifically so they could practice laissez faire faith.

      • Yes, this is a very much under-appreciated aspect of (nominally) Muslim immigration to the US, Dr. F.

  5. I am highly skeptical of “statistics”, especially when it comes to faith related matters. For instance, the stats that supposedly show a drop amongst younger people in religious affiliation or belief. There may be a terminology problem here. When a young person says that they are not religious it could also mean that they do not subscribe to any DENOMINATIONAL credo, but rather have their OWN standards, faith wise.

    The same goes for those who say they have no religious affiliation. They may be church attenders, even sporadically, but yet say that they have no affiliation because they do not hold to any “brand” of “religion”. I use quotes because those words have come to mean something OTHER that what the traditional meaning has been.

    At the same time, numerous neighborhood churches have sprung up (at least in SoCal) that have names like “The Movement” or “Lifespring” that hold to reformed, or even Pentecostal, doctrines, but whose whole reason for being is to attract those who shun the standard churches.

    The upshot is that these smaller “boutique” gatherings are left out of the statistical model, thus driving down the attendance figures of the standard church as people die off. MY OPINION is that as these hipster or unaffiliated believers age they will migrate to the standard churches, thus stabilizing the current drop in membership when taking overall drop in population outside of immigration is taken into consideration.

    As a result I am now skeptical of the “Evangelical Collapse” theory and would rather rename it the “Evangelical Morphing”, because THAT is what is going on. They may change how they “do” church, and they may change their emphases, but they will still be there, just in another form.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      “Boutique churches…”

      Like when Anaheim First Baptist changed its name to “Portal” years ago, Everyone downtown got Portal literature shoved under their doors — all light grey and maroon, with “PORTAL” in some Hipster font. None of the flyers or literature ever mentioned it was a church.

      Around a month ago, all the “Portal” banners (not signs, banners) disappeared from their building. Last I looked, the banner frames are all empty, but you can see where the previous “Anaheim First Baptist” letters once were.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        If these kinds of thing can manage any staying power is an open question.

        • For about a seven-year stint, I left institutional church and participated in a number of home/simple church gatherings. Most of those have folded or faded away. When it comes to resources and perks, home/simple churches just can’t compete with institutional or corporation-style churches — especially when it comes to youth and younger couples with children looking for any opportunity for free babysitting. Really, it’s not for anyone who doesn’t have a vision for it. And a living room full of visionaries can make for some very interesting conversation, but I’m not sure how well they could function together as a church body — particularly when everyone’s vision isn’t exactly the same.
          However, there are a couple of home gatherings in my area that have lasted over a decade now and are still going strong. I wouldn’t exactly say that they’re growing, but they haven’t died out. And when I visit them on occassion, I’m amazed at how well they have found solutions regarding their smallness and lack of institutional resources, support, and oversight. And I have not seen any signs of doctrinal wierdness or one-person domination. All in all, they seem to be healthy and happy mini-bodies of Christ. And as far as helping people in need, they do a lot more percentage-wise than their big institutional sisters.
          To get back to your question, Adam, I think that most noninstitutional and experimental forms and expressions of church will be relatively short-lived, and during their short lives, they will serve mostly as temporary shelters and refugee camps for wanderers in the post-whatever-wilderness. I suspect a few, however, will establish more permanent dwellings and maybe even learn to grow gardens in the desert.
          As for myself, I’m back attending an institutional church (for the most part). But every time I sit in that exact same chair, struggling to stay awake through a 45-minute sermon, I can’t help feeling like I have crawled, beaten and defeated, back into Egypt.

    • Oscar, in Canada, those who attend church at least weekly dropped from 30 percent of the population to 21% of the population in 20 years. In those same twenty years the rise of the “no religious affilation” added 12% of the population. There is a definite shift happening away from church attendance.

    • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

      When a young person says that they are not religious it could also mean that they do not subscribe to any DENOMINATIONAL credo, but rather have their OWN standards, faith wise.

      Yes. Although, it is almost impossible to separate this from “spiritual but not religious”. My personal experience is that faith of some kind is very much preferred in the public sphere, as long as it sufficiently ambiguous, non-proselytizing, and personal.

  6. Do you suppose the economy has anything to do this? perhaps people don’t want to give, feel they must give less. Our church giving is down. Guilt feelings, perhaps easier to stay home than feel guilty.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      Economic mode shift might.

      But church affiliation is down, attendance is down – meanwhile institutional participation of *all forms* is down; including PTAs, rotaries, clubs, sports leagues.

      Fewer people participate, period. Lots of people are pondering this.

      • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

        Yes, a fascinating topic. We studied this in b-school for its implications to revenue. But online affiliation, while curving back toward itself, is still rising. Not surprisingly, multi-media ministries are the fastest growing religious segment.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          > But online affiliation

          And it remains to be seen if “online affiliation” actually has any consequence. It is picked up, and shed, with terrible ease.

          It is also difficult to parse a lot of online affiliation related information; it is easy to extremely inflate such numbers. How many people sign up multiple times? How many derelict accounts/members are there? What does X “following” Y actually mean? And if X follows Y does X *actually* ever *read* what Y publishes or is it just ignored or even filtered out at another layer? How much ‘activity’ is deliberately manufactured. The online world is a whole other can of worms.

          > multi-media ministries are the fastest growing religious segment.

          Color me skeptical.

          I’ve dealt with SEO an SME people professionally; there is a whole lotta turd in that wagon. “OMG! You `promoted` that for us and our website got exactly 150 more hits to that `secret` link every day for exactly 90 days! WOW!” – yeah, it is called a shell script running curl 150 times as a daily cron job. But suits who are not technically literate are indeed very impressed by such results. And there is the issue that corporate online promotional firms can *JUST LIE*, they can make numbers up out of thin air; there are rarely auditors of the process.

          • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

            Absolutely. Retailers love online marketing because it empowers impulse buying, not because it creates any kind of real community. I mean, how many times do people “like” things online just so they can get free in-game currency for Farm Tycoon?

            Oh, the multi-media ministries thing was from an article in CT; I believe it was by Jonathan Merit. And the “growth” had to do with numbers, not anything meaningful like spiritual growth etc.

          • Speaking as an SEO minded web person, you dealt with a shady person. The principles of SEO are solid; whoever promised you that stuff gave you a load of garbage though.

      • Lack of participation in PTA’s, Rotary Clubs, etc. could be due also to economic situations. One of the biggest employers in the small town near me has very unstable work shifts. A worker might be scheduled from 7:30 to 4:00, but it isn’t unusual to find out that the schedule has been changed to 7:30 – 7:00 when the worker reports for his/her shift. The people that work there are not likely to join the church choir.

        I worked at a job recently that hired me to work 40 hours per week with occasional overtime, but I quickly realized their idea of occasional was 9 or 10 hour days every week and nearly every weekend. I don’t think this is unusual these days. People in these circumstances have no time for civic clubs or church involvement.

  7. I think some of this has to do with our society becoming more secularized and pluralistic.

    If you compare it to a food court in a typical mall we had only American food and now the Koreans, Chinese, Greeks and Italians also offer their meals.

    When I was growing up in Canada all we had was Christianity and even though people may not have been Christian they tended to think in Christian terms which had been passed down from grandparents. Then us boomers came along and a large number of us did not buy it any more.

    And our children and grand-children have simply continued the trend. They now have choices and are exposed to a lot of complexity

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      I wonder if they are – in part – suffering from paralysis by choices. Give someone three options and they can make a choice. Give someone three hundred options and they are paralyzed, they will often choose nothing. I’ve heard marketing people refer to this as the “too many mustards” problem – a huge display of a wide variety of mustards actually reduces mustard sales. Could our current declining institutional participation be too-many-mustards on a sociological scale?

  8. Ken said……”they have choices now and are exposed to a lot of complexity.

    There are differing opinions as to what it means to be secular. Secular1, a more classical definition: as distinguished from the sacred. An earthly plane of domestic life. Here priests tend to the sacred, butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers carry out “secular” work. Secular 2, a more modern definition of secular as areligious.-neutral, unbiased, objective. As in the public square is secular. Secular3, as proposed by Charles Taylor in A Secular Age. An age of contested belief. Many pulls and tugs with questions abounding. Where religious belief is no longer axiomatic, and religious believers are capable of holding doubts.

    I think Internet Monk is a forefront of perspectives into Secular3, which definition has not been widely disseminated or understood. But I believe it is the age in which we live, and has much to do with the way religion is going, and the dissatisfaction with churches today( that can hardly stand contested beliefs, questions, believers with doubts). And I think that these points are a very part of a maturing process. Jameson, in his book Chrysalis( which analogy wasn’t that well received, but had its good points) maintained that many evangelical churches kept its members from maturing- babies in the pews.

  9. And by the way, Secular3 definition explains a lot about urban losing church attendance,. These places are where contested beliefs occur the most, raising the most questions. Who can consistently attend a place that will not confront this. Also, it explains why reform theology is often attractive to young believers…. It purports to have all the answers systematized. It is very soothing in a secular3 age, but not a lasting affect to one who does mature. And, the first people who knew internally the definition of secular3 were missionaries in other cultures. They would often come “home” transformed, and in a wilderness state in respect to their old church. This is how a person like Newbiggin was so insightful as to the Gospel in a pluralist society.

  10. These discussions are really convincing me of the futility of ascertaining the success of Christ’s kingdom with our numbers or metrics. Sometimes faithfulness will not involve numerical success. To insist that decline in attendance/membership is a result of incompetence or unfaithfulness is a doctrine I don’t think I can embrace. Sometimes our methods or ideas aren’t what really makes the difference, and we live in a culture of such swirling demographics, there’s always unaccounted for factors in every analysis. Usually stats such as these (but not in this case) are used to justify some kind of change that would supposedly turn things around. No cure or silver bullet exists, I suggest we quit looking for it, and instead focus on faithfulness to the message and mission of Jesus. HE will build his church, not us, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. We don’t have much influence over the masses giving up on religion. We do have influence with the people in our congregations. I don’t need an expert to tell me why Jon Doe alumni from our youth group stopped coming to church when he finished confirmation. I can simply ask him myself. Perhaps we could stand to gain from treating people as individuals rather than demographics.