October 17, 2017

Michael Bell on “How the Recession May Fuel Church Growth”

IM First Officer Michael Bell takes the helm for another look at the statistical data facing evangelicals. This time the news is hopeful, as he explores a connection between the recession and Protestant church growth. Welcome back Michael. (Visit Michael at The Eclectic Christian.)

Michael Spencer recently republished an article which looked at the problems that wealth creates for discipleship. He writes:

Have you ever thought about this? We are living in the most fabulously wealthy, excessively entertained and unimaginably prosperous nation in the history of the world. We have a standard of living, and a level of comfort, that much of the rest of the world cannot imagine…

The Jesus of the Gospel proclaims the promises of prosperity, real estate and parking places to be empty. If we will listen. Heís just as discomforting now as ever, unless we render him the harmless servant of our desires.

Rather than telling us about your best life now, Jesus talks over and over about persecution, sacrifice, voluntary poverty and laying down the images and symbols of success for the lasting worth and influence of the Kingdom of Jesus.

In the story of the rich young ruler, Matthew 19:21-24, Jesus makes it clear that it is very difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. It is so very true. When people are content in their present circumstances it is very difficult for them to hear the challenges of the gospel, and the demands of the Kingdom of God. This goes for both people with and without faith in God. For those with faith, it is a question of discipleship. For those without faith it is a question of evangelism.

Recession changes all that.

Recession turns peoples lives upside down. It helps them realize that they don’t have a sufficiency unto themselves. Not having a job, not being able to pay the monthly bills, wondering where the grocery money will come from, these are all things that cause even those that are furthest from God to question their own self-sufficiency. They come to a point where they realize that they can’t do it by themselves. And here-in lies the message of the gospel: We can’t do it by ourselves. Jesus had to die for our sins, because in and of ourselves we are unable to meet God’s holy standard. In times of prosperity it is a very hard message to communicate. In recession, your audience has a new appreciation of what that means.

Therefore, recession provides new opportunities for evangelism.

A number of years ago I watched a film about Jim Jones and his People’s Temple cult. One of the things that struck me when watching the film was how they presented themselves as a caring community. When someone came to the church without a job, at the end of the service they were introduced to their new employer. When someone came to church without a place to stay, they were assisted with that. Every week church members wrote hundreds of letters to visitors thanking them for being a part of their service, and what a wonderful church it was.

I can remember people around me shaking their heads and saying how terrible these techniques were. All the time I was thinking to myself, “Are you kidding me? If we did things like this our churches would be bursting at the seams!”

Recession and unemployment do impact our churches, and so one question to be considered is what sort of impact does unemployment have?

The leader in analyzing this has been David Beckworth, Assistant Professor of Economics at Texas State University. His study, published in late 2007, was entitled “Praying for a Recession: The Business Cycle and Protestant Church Growth.” Unfortunately the study is quite difficult to read for those who do not have a statistics or economics background. However, it was picked up by the New York Times in December of 2008, and subsequently by bloggers like Ed Stetzer. David updated his study in January of 2009, adding additional information and analysis. I wanted to take a further look at it, and pull apart the study a bit more than the Times and others did, hopefully, to explain in fairly simple terms what implications the study has for the church today.

David analyzed three sets of data. The first set was from a survey done by the Pew Charitable Trust in 2001 that looked at weekly attendance. According to the study, the probability of person attending church on any given Sunday was about 42%. It should be noted that surveys where people self report church attendance always trend higher than actual counts of people in church. That being said, it gave a baseline that David could use to look at four groups of people: Employed Evangelical Protestants, Unemployed Evangelical Protestants, Employed Non-Evangelical Protestants, and Unemployed Non-Evangelical Protestants.

According to the survey, an employed evangelical was roughly 20% more likely to attend church than the general population, a number that we should not find that surprising. The interesting number is that unemployed evangelicals were roughly 27 to 29% more likely to attend church than the general population. In other words, evangelicals that were unemployed were 7 to 9% more likely to attend church than their employed fellow church members.

For other Protestants we saw similar results. Those employed Protestants who were not Evangelical were less likely to attend church. Their attendance was roughly 12 to 13% lower than the national average. However, unemployed non-Evangelical Protestants were 12 to 13% more likely to attend church than their employed fellow church members.

So unemployment definitely has a significant positive effect on church attendance, no matter what flavor of Protestant you might happen to be. We might want to ask ourselves, if the unemployed are coming to our churches in greater numbers, what are we doing to help the obvious needs of the unemployed in our midst.

Recession also brings opportunities and by examining historical data we can see what impact recession has had on church growth.

David Beckworth’s data for church membership comes from an annual publication, “The State of Church Giving”. He found that this publication had consistent data on 14 Evangelical denominations and 11 mainline Protestant denominations between the years 1968 and 2004. The graph of the membership in these 25 denominations is reproduced below.

membershiptrends

As can be seen from the graph, the trend in memberships in Evangelical denominations is up, and the trend in memberships in mainline Protestant denominations is down. This is true for the entire time span. Close observation will note that growth in the Evangelical denominations is much steeper/faster in the earlier years than it is in the later years. This is a concern for the Evangelical Church that both Michael Spencer and I have noted in previous essays as other data has shown that the Evangelical trend is likely to reverse itself and we will start to see declines. Over the entire time span however, the Evangelical denominations averaged a growth of 1.1% per year, while the mainline denominations averaged a decline of .94% per year. These are the base numbers that David Beckworth uses for his analysis.

When we divide the growth in Evangelical denomination between years in which there was no recession and years in which a recession occurred, we have another interesting observation. Growth for Evangelicals in non recession years was .98%, where as the growth rate for Evangelicals during years of recession was 1.52%. In other words Evangelicals grew 55% faster (1.52 / .98) during years of recession than in years of non-recession.

What is interesting is that mainline denominations did not see this same effect. There was statistically no real difference between recession and non-recession years. Why they did not see the same “bump” as the evangelicals is hard to ascertain. Perhaps it is easier to build on growth, as in the Evangelical case, than it is to reverse decline.

What about other economic shocks?

Beckworth found that for Evangelical Protestants, other economic factors like the unemployment rate, oil prices, real stock prices, and the difference between short and long term bond rates (an economic predictor) all impacted in a significant way on Church growth.

For mainline churches, most other economic factors did not have that much of an impact. The exception to this was stock prices. With stock prices, the effect was the opposite of what you might expect. As stock prices rose, membership rose (or actually declined less), with the converse also being true. This was the opposite effect that stock prices have on Evangelical congregations. Beckworth surmises that this is the case because mainline Christians on average are in a higher socio-economic class and as such are able to benefit more (in terms of available time) from the income and wealth effects that a rising stock market brings.

How long do these impacts last?

From the previous set of data along with 57 years of quarterly data that Beckworth had for the Seventh Day Adventists, he was able to show that the impact of the economic shocks were significant and generally lasted one and a half years beyond the date when the shock had ended. In the case of an increase in the unemployment rate for example, the greatest effect on membership/converts occurs one year after the initial shock and last another six months beyond that. So with the rise that we are now seeing in unemployment rates, our Evangelical churches may see a positive benefit from it until at least the end of 2010 or the beginning of 2011 (depending of course when we hit bottom.) From both the data from the Evangelical denominations along with the further data from the Seventh Day Adventists, it can be shown that one third of all church growth can be directly attributable to economic shocks.

So what does it matter?

As we are know in the midst of a full blown recession, there are great opportunities for both Evangelicals and mainline Christians to reach out to those who are hurting. As Michael Spencer said in his original post, “Jesus talks over and over about persecution, sacrifice, voluntary poverty and laying down the images and symbols of success for the lasting worth and influence of the Kingdom of Jesus.” I have heard the expression before that “people want a hand up, not a handout.” A recession is our opportunity to come alongside those in difficulty and show them that not only does Jesus care, but we care too. It is also our opportunity to tell them about about the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus was willing to make for a world that could not help itself.

Comments

  1. There are segments of the world population that have been desperately poor and underemployed far longer than those affected by the current recession. What opportunity exists now that hasn’t always existed? Or is it just that now that the suburban white middle class is losing jobs, and significant value in their 401k’s, that we’ve decided to get involved?

    Showing concern and caring for someone should not be based on our perception that the individual is currently in a downtrodden state.

    BTW: I am one of those white middle class suburbanites currently impacted, having not had work since mid-January. During this time I’ve observed this: Christians love to brag about how frugal they are (and every one of them has their own imaginary line of where frugality is defined). Bully for you. These are the ones (who still have their jobs) that love to tell you how doing “without” moves you closer to God as you realize your dependence on him to supply all your needs. Thank you, I was aware of that already.

    Here’s an example:
    I recently had to cancel my $1,300/month health insurance (I’m self employed) as part of the belt tightening we are undertaking while I look for work. I got into a discussion with a fellow Christian about health insurance, and he was
    arrogantly adamant that the last thing we need is a universal health care system. Easy to say when you get fully paid health care insurance as a part of your wife’s job.

    I am confident that God will provide for me, I really am, he always has. What I don’t need is “concern” from my fellow Christians. You want to help your friends that are out of work? Good:
    – Pass their resume around where you work,
    – Invite them over to your home for dinner,
    – Practice some of that “voluntary poverty” and
    forgo something you were going to buy for
    yourself and anonymously send them the money,
    – Help them write or rewrite their resume,
    – Give them a meaningful task to do at the
    church (I can’t tell you how much it helps
    to stay busy),
    – Treat them like you always have,
    – Pray for them (but don’t tell them).

    A note on the statistics: I have not read Beckworth’s study, but wonder if it takes into account the fact that some percentage of the workforce do not attend church services because they are working and therefore unemployment simply makes the time available to someone that would otherwise attend were it not for job requirements. Not everyone has a clean Mon-Fri 9 to 5.

  2. Nice analysis Mr. Bell. Enjoyed it.

    Brad

  3. A few thoughts:

    1. Seventh Day Adventists are not a good control group because they tend to have a more strongly knit community than do other Christian sects/denominations. I suspect their responses, then, would be more positive than some other groups.

    2. As I have talked about this issue of Christians, work, and recession/unemployment on my own blog extenseively, what I read more than anything from folks writing me privately is that they tend to be ignored (or even shunned) by others in their church when they lose their jobs. The consensus view is that churches too often see unemployment as a sign of God’s judgment against the unemployed or a means of God to test the unemployed’s faith, instead of as a test against the church itself to see how it will care for one of its own who is lacking an essential need. “The pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” mentality tends to rule here, as if helping the unemployed person may actually jeopardize that person’s “growth” or ability to cope. As Ed notes above, the whole thing descends into flagrant pride and lack of compassion on the parts of those who have jobs, yet will do nothing for the unemployed.

    3. Frankly, I view every unemployed person in a church as a sign of indictment against the church, not the individual. If a church can’t have compassion for its own, it can’t have compassion for anyone, no matter what the rhetoric might be. I firmly believe that no one in a church should go without work for more than three months, no matter how esoteric the person’s skillset might be. Networking is networking, and there should be no stronger, active network than one’s brothers and sisters in Christ. The fact is, though, that in too many cases, people in a church are too busy with their own little kingdoms than to give one hoot about the unemployed. If an unemployed person can’t stand up in a church service on Sunday and tell others what he does for a living and ask for help from people in the church, then that church is not a church. If leaders would view such a request as disruptive or not in keeping with the one hour allocated to doing church on a Sunday, then again, that’s not a church. We’ve got to stop kidding ourselves about this.

    4. There are no bigger hypocrites than those who castigate an unemployed man for taking a job that ends up paying less than his wife’s income. Especially when they did nothing to help that man find gainful employment that paid well. I’ve personally been on the receiving end of that ire and judgment, so I know what it feels like to be pummeled for something you have little control over. Tons of time spent telling you what you are doing wrong, but not one second from the judges devoted to helping make it right.

    5. I hear the health insurance problem, too. Evangelicals seem to be adamantly against universal, government healthcare (as am I–many other options exist), but no one is speaking to this issue. In fact, Evangalicals are deathly quiet (or simply reiterate Republican Party lines) when it comes to addressing work and healthcare-related issues. I am self-employed and my private healthcare insurance premiums have nearly doubled in just 18 months. And thank God we had it as my wife got sick and needed hospitalization. Even with the insurance, we had to hit what little savings we had to pay the 20% the insurance did not cover plus our deductible. Yet where are the Evangelical leaders who are speaking to this issue? Worse, why is it that the Church thinks that none of this is a concern? When I can no longer pay my healthcare premiums, will the Church come to my financial aid should I get into a car accident and spend a month in the hospital? Does anyone think it will?

  4. ” Every week church members wrote hundreds of letters to visitors thanking them for being a part of their service, and what a wonderful church it was.”

    Gee, the letter writing, the graphs… this all sounds like a business plan. Of course we can do all sorts of things to pack ’em in, but I just can’t see Jesus giving this particular Power Point presentation in the front of the board room.

  5. pennyyak says:

    I recall driving a fellow employee home one day, and we began talking about Christianity. While an intelligent young man, he was involved in an (not a church – maybe a person who had some ministry) “organization” that held the belief that Christians were meant to be rich. That Jesus promised worldly riches. He “thought” that perhaps the woman leader involved did charitable things with her money. He certainly thought that he, too, could be wealthy following (whatever) plan. This was not some multi-level marketing business. This was a way of serving and worshiping God rightly. I made some mention of the final disposition of the Apostles (some of their ends apocryphal no doubt), but like Stephen, not pretty deaths. None of them seemed to have set up corporations. Indeed, in some part some of them appear to have been selling everything that had to support everyone else. These particular Pauline passages I think have been a great stumbling block for preachers of all stripes everywhere in our upward-striving nation. Esp. when it smacks of communism or socialism – and especially during the Cold War. No, I am not a fan of either form of government.

    But there is a visible section of Christianity that is concerned greatly with what they can accumulate on this earth, as part of their journey in Christ. I rather hate to say it that way (their journey in Christ).

    Poverty and self-denial have a long (and early) history in Christianity. What does this mean to us today? I have a nine year history of being unable to obtain affordable health insurance. I receive emergency care at a charity hospital. There also, I receive, free of charge (although I do pay both federal and state taxes), an occasional cholesterol test and a yearly woman’s health exam. I am grateful for these. Many receive less, or nothing. As to other physical problems – well, they are somewhat(!) reluctant to address these. I have no medicare or medicaid either. So, I take a lot of Advil. A great deal of Advil (of the generic sort).

    However, the truth that I am incredibly more privileged than most people in the world doesn’t do a lot for my pain, as I pass so many towering edifices built for the purpose of relieving pain and disease – for those who can afford it. And my church is involved and helping the unemployed, uninsured, and the poor generally. But health care, such as that I received almost all of my life, is incredibly expensive. Far beyond the capability of most (should I say any?) one church. What to do about this mess is quite beyond me.

    Well, I suppose it might be nice if I believed that my Lord intended me to have great wealth, to be free of any affliction whatsoever (we’ll have to exclude Paul the Apostle from this discussion, of course), but I just don’t think that’s the message He came to give (although I could argue that He was the message). Anyway, thanks for listening.

  6. Although I greatly appreciate the way you dissected this study for math/statistically challenged readers like myself, the line that haunts me is this:
    “He (Jesus) ís just as discomforting now as ever, unless we render him the harmless servant of our desires”. And so I see this from the varied responses and comments thus far to your post! Although church growth may be a positive outcome of this current recession, wouldn’t it be wonderful if the majority of our growth came always from churches living out a Christ like commision?

  7. Amen to the health insurance issue.

    It is ironic that secular countries do a far better job with helping the least of these, while we in the US tie the basic human need for health care to the size of someone’s income.

    We’ll give every child a free education, but if Mom and Dad can’t afford to have that child’s ear infection treated, too bad.

    Anyway, I get what the survey is saying logically, but I can’t help but feel there are other variables at play. I remember my stockbroker showing me charts with all sorts of logic behind them!

  8. Ed,

    I agree with your suggestions about things that the people of the church can and should do. It’s quite sad that they don’t.

    DLE- preach on, preach on

  9. Michael(s): great topic for discussion!
    Ed: I really like your list of ways to help; your suggestion to do some of the things anonymously is important.
    Though I’m by far no expert on the topic, I’ve always wondered why there seemed to be a lack of emphasis of helping those in poverty in many Protestant churches. I’m guessing it’s because:

    1. we don’t want to be accused of not being in the ‘sola fide’ camp
    2. we know that even if one is rescued from physical poverty, they still need to be rescued from the larger, deeper, poverty of the soul
    3. we’re just plain old apathetic

    It’s too bad, though. Obviously, most people don’t care about atonement for their sins when they are hungry, ducking-for-cover from a drive-by, or have no hope of finding a job. Whoever said “hungry mouths have no ears” was right.

    The great thing I’ve observed is that striving to live all parts of the Gospel (feeding the hungry, making disciples, sacrificing for friends and enemies) all at the same time seems to be very…winsome. I like to be around people like this, and wish I could be more like them! Very few of the unbelievers I know are turned off when they see us Christians (happily) helping the needy; I know tons of unbelievers who are turned off when tracts are tossed at them. Could this be a reason why Jesus says “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven”?

  10. @ Ed: Amen!

    I’m sorry, but I just don’t get the reasoning behind the intense focus on church growth/church “planting”/etc.

    To quote Cynthia:

    …wouldn’t it be wonderful if the majority of our growth came always from churches living out a Christ like commision?

  11. I’ll just add this: I can see this data and analysis as interesting from a sociological standkpoint, but as having anything at all to do with following Christ – no. (With all due respect to both Michael Bell and iMonk.)

    If we live and act like Christ, I believe (foolishly or not) that people will be drawn to the Gospel. And if we don’t live and act like him… I guess that one’s obvious, no?

    iMonk, I sometimes feel like you – and maybe some others who post here – are looking for formulas or the right combination of whatever in order to attract people. But Jesus didn’t work like that (still doesn’t), and the Gospel’s most emphatically not about that – how many of the people who followed Jesus around ended up staying with him, especially in his last hours?

    although I can appreciate the desire to want to communicate the love of God and the Gospel to others, I don’t see any strategies or business models or shortcuts to doing that. The WSJ article on The Falls Church actually referred to their “church planting” as “entrepenurial, [sp?]” which – for me, at least – is a major red flag. I think many, many have tried various plans, but there’s only one that works, and it has nothing to do with recruiting or stats or how many people choose to come to a given service on a given Sunday.

    Just my .02-worth….

  12. Some quick thoughts responses.

    1. I am a Canadian. I can’t imagine life without universal healthcare. Having said that, I don’t want this to turn into a healthcare debate.

    2. What I would take most from the study is that hurting people are going to be gracing our church doors in greater numbers over the next while. Are we going to be prepared to respond to them. Are we going to respond to them as Jesus would?

    3. I can remember running out of money as a young married student. The thing I remember from that period of time is a generous family offering to buy us groceries.

    4. It is obvious from the comments that the church is not treating those in need among them the way they should. This is exactly why this issue needs to have attention.

  13. @DLE

    The Seventh Day Adventist were not a control group, but a group for which quarterly data was available. Their responses looked very similar to evangelicals as a whole. I agree though, that they are a different type of evangelical, and as such may have different results than other evangelicals.

  14. e2c:

    >iMonk, I sometimes feel like you are looking for formulas or the right combination of whatever in order to attract people.

    I am looking to attract people to the church? Me?

    I think you’ve got the wrong iMonk. Exactly what have I written on here that ever put me in that camp.

    Wow. Didn’t see that coming.

    I may be looking for the way to not run people off with evangelical non-Jesus nonsense. But a “formula” to “attract?” Me? The guy who is all over Osteen and is usually critical of anything seeker sensitive?

    What are you talking about?

    ms

  15. Honestly, yeah – that’s how I see the vast majority of the posts on “church planting” and so on. But that’s just me. Clearly we’re working on different wavelengths, as I *do* see the value (as Michael Bell says immediately above) in being prepared to reach out to hurting people.

    I’m certainly not meaning to compare you with people like Joel Osteen, but you know… I’m not so sure that posts like the recent one about a certain ex-Episcopal clergywoman are … how can I say this? Attractive to non-Christians who might be reading this blog, maybe?

    Pax,
    e.

  16. e2c:

    We are REALLY not communicating.

    New churches do attract people. But you are reading into that a bunch of stuff I don’t believe.

    Churches that refuse to be healthy leave people out and behind. Two sides of the coin.

    I want churches to do what they do right. My lifetime spent on church staffs tells me that new churches will take to that task missionally. Most traditional churches will protect themselves.

    I’ve never been labeled as “attractional” before. New churches are missions. Who doesn’t believe in that?

    ms

  17. I think we’re talking past each other at this point, so I think I’d better leave the thread.

  18. our church is 18 years old, has flatlined in growth for about 5 years until the last 6 months and boom it is growing again.

    dm

  19. After thinking a little more about some of the comments that have been made here, I thought it would be helpful to make a couple things a little clearer.

    I am a numbers guy. Unashamedly so. And if my analysis of numbers can help us understand ourselves a little better an be prepared for changes, both positive and negative, then I am happy to do so.

    Having said that, Michael Spencer mentioned recently that he is working on a book, but doesn’t want that book to be about the “Coming Evangelical Collapse.” While I wrote a couple of posts in support of his statements, I strongly feel the same way.

    Here is another statistical fact. Churches that are caring communities tend to grow, churches that are not caring communities tend to decline. Here is what I want to emphasize: We are to be caring communities because Christ commands us to be so. “Love one another as I have loved you.” We don’t do it because it will make our churches bigger.

    Cynthia, made a great point above: “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the majority of our growth came always from churches living out a Christ like commision?”

    That is what is at the heart of my blogging. That healthy churches will focus on making healthy disciples, through an emphasis on the good news of Jesus Christ.

    David Beckworth made the rather callous comment in his paper that churches should pray for recession, for recession brings church growth. When I read that I thought, I could never do that. I could never pray that neighbors would lose jobs, or health insurance. I could never pray that people would struggle to put food on the table. That is in no way Christ like.

    What I will pray is that when recession inevitably comes, as it is here right now, that churches will become truly aware of the needs around them. (The primary reason for this post.) I will pray that churches respond in Christ like ways, seeking to minister to people and meet their needs.

    And I will rejoice with the angels when as a result of churches ministering to their communities, souls are added to the Kingdom of God.

    Mike Bell

    p.s. Check out Cynthia’s blog. You can link to it from her name above. She writes wonderfully about her relationship with God.

  20. What I will pray is that when recession inevitably comes, as it is here right now, that churches will become truly aware of the needs around them. (The primary reason for this post.) I will pray that churches respond in Christ like ways, seeking to minister to people and meet their needs.

    Amen to this, and to the rest of your comment, Michael.

  21. No word on whether this stats mean churches are re-attracting their own lost sheep and therefore attendance is not necessarily increasing via converts or scared pantless people, but the folks who were bored with church but are scared pantless from the 50% loss of equity.

    Barna would suggest that there is no correlation between recession and church attendance, i know many middle to upper class suburban church leaders who beg to differ citing their 7% increase in attendee.

    Again, still no word on who this attendee is, a returnee or a newbie.

  22. “Barna would suggest that there is no correlation between recession and church attendance”

    Hi Ro, can you provide a link to this?

  23. Hi again Ro,

    I take it the data to which you might be referring is the recent Gallup poll that I found from the link on your site. You have a nice looking site by the way.

    I don’t see the Gallup data as being inconsistent with Beckworth’s data as one of the things that Beckworth points out is that the maximum effect happens about a year after the shock. I would be interested in seeing past Gallup numbers, or Gallup numbers a year from now.

    I am not overly concerned as to whether the person is a returnee or a newbie. Most people I have talked with have had some sort of historical connection to a church. Whether they are newbie or returnee, they have made the change from deciding that church is irrelevant, to church being relevant again.

  24. I wouldn’t disagree with the results. As an economist by designation I know you can take any data set and make it mean whatever you want! Your results are necessarily wrong since there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that church growth has increased…..

    The Gallup poll d oes extend over a year, and one can argue that the ‘recessionary’ effects were felt beginning of 2008 (at least in some States).

    Re: your other comment, I for one wouldn’t necessary claim a victory for ‘returnees’. I am interested as to why they left and why they are back. I surmise it has to do with church’s irrelevance for the leaving, and the sudden wealth loss as the reason to return (looking for answers).

    I highly doubt it’s because ‘church’ has changed inside making it more ‘appealing’ or ‘relevant’ or ‘spiritual’ etc…… (considering for the most part the only thing that’s changed over the past decade is the emergence of the electric guitar and powerpoint machine for most congregations.)

  25. Ro,

    “Your results are necessarily wrong since there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that church growth has increased…”

    I am not sure what you are saying here. Did you mean “not necessarily wrong”.

    From the data I would expect an increase in church growth. But notice that the church growth expected in just in the order of .5 of one percent for evangelicals, along with some offsetting amount for the mainline churches because of the stock market drop. So on further thought, these numbers are really only visible when looking at evangelical and mainline Christians separately, something the Gallup poll fails to do.

  26. Michael Bell, do these stats indicate the church-attending habits or values of that percentage of believers among whom church attendance increases?

    We’d like to think of increased church attendance in times of economic stress as consisting of ‘new converts, people discovering Christ for the first time, but I’d guess a lot of those who return to the church during times of stress are people whose whole dealings with church is longstanding but fundamentally transient; is there data on the characteristics of joiners during recession times at all though?

  27. ‘Not’, yes.

  28. Patrick,

    “is there data on the characteristics of joiners during recession times at all though?”

    We do have data on how people have changed their religious belief which was asked during the 2001 ARIS survey. (Incidentally also taken during an economically depressed time.) You can see the data here. Pages 24 or 25 are the significant ones for this question. The question was asked if people used to have a different religious belief.

    Only 1.1 million (roughly .5 of one percent) said that they had ever switched from No-Religion to something else. So any other growth that denominations would have had would have been from other churches, or nominal Christians returning to their church roots. They study in the current post shows that their has been a huge shift from mainline churches to Evangelical churches. There has also been a huge shift to no-religion, probably at the expense of mainline and catholic churches. (People are leaving evangelical churches too, but the inflows have been greater than the outflows to this point in time.)

    By comparing data between the 1990 and 2001 ARIS and then look at the transfer numbers, we can see that all the Catholic growth can be attributed to immigration.

    So to answer your question, I think it does primarily involve people coming back to church, but not necessarily the church of their youth.

    I hope this helps, trying to grasp who is moving where can be really hard to peg down numerically without reanalyzing the raw data.

  29. Michael, thats really fascinating. Thanks!

  30. Brothers, I must again remind you of the sacred commandment given to Paul; that is of work being supremely important to the faith. I therefore command you in the name of Jesus, if any man that does not have a job attempts to enter your congregation, you must immediately remove him from your midst, make an example of him and bring shame on him and his family. Have no mercy on him, have nothing to do with him, and do not allow him or his family to eat, for he is worse than an unbeliever. If any man or angel tries to tell you otherwise, then you will know that they are of Satan, as what I have spoken is sound doctrine and scripture. All scripture is inspired of God, and all prophecy is inspired of God, and all that is spoken in church is inspired of God, and at no time does what is spoken in church come from the interpretation of men.

  31. JK,

    Huh???

    Serious?

    Sarcasm?

    Can’t really tell.

  32. Michael, this comment is not a part of the immediate ongoing conversation here but just an anecdote from Japan to support what you are saying. The church in Japan grew tremendously immediately after WWII when the country was in shambles, but as soon as Japan started becoming more prosperous the church growth began to wane. The majority of pastors in Japan are 60-75 years old as they were some of the many who became new believers when the war was over. There has been general apathy toward any kind of religion in Japan over the last few decades which coincides with the remarkable economic growth Japan experienced. Although there are many factors contributing to the spiritual condition in Japan, I hope the recession will cause many in Japan to toward Christ!

  33. Mostly sarcasm. I come from a place where the teachings of Paul are held in great esteem and the teachings of Jesus have little or no value. So naturally anyone spending more time serving God than making money is shamed and outcast as commanded by Paul himself.

  34. The funny thing is that I can’t find anywhere in the Bible where the Apostle Paul returns in the heavens with great glory and power to reward those that obeyed his commandments. There are going to be a lot of people who will be rejected by Jesus when he returns (Many are called, but few are chosen)

  35. roderick says:

    I think this article raises many questions about the reality of the christian experience. All facets can be explored. I have to admit that I am poor with a capital “P” but one thing is for sure, God takes care of all of my needs. That’s the bottom line. Do I want a more prosperous life? Yes ! but Prosperity with balance: Peace of mind, joy, love, wisdom, gentleness..the fruits of the spirit. But I also want a family, a career that’s fulfilling, ect. But if God calls me to live what we might consider an impoverished life, then I have to trust some good will come out of it. It’s not always easy to walk in faith in Christ’s guidance but that is what we signed up for. For God’s will to be done. But in all honesty, God is Wonderful. he provides so much, I can’t really complain. I fear God enough to know that I’ve led a life of sin and selfishness until I repented and began to put my trust in Him. God knows who I am. I just want to please him with my faith. I’m actually sick and tired of worrying about my life. God is so good. I’m just going to continue asking his guidance and provision. Whatever He wants to do just let him do. Don’t worry.