Dr. David Olson of the Evangelical Covenant Church informed Evangelical Friends in Mid-America a few years ago that the church in America is in crisis! He says that in America, according to the Archives of Religious Data, which records population by denominational preference, that 50% of our population fall into a category they call unclaimed. He goes on to say that 80 some percent of the churches in America are either plateaued in attendance or are in decline. Whether we want to believe this or not, is not an issue for us individually, but corporately, as the Friends movement, it is very relevant. George Barna estimates that with each generation, we have a sharp decline in church attendance. So, 60% of 60-year olds attend church, but only 20% of 20-year olds attend church. Should we assume that we must plant new churches to reach new generations?
The discussion today among 20-year olds often is ‘why can’t we do church more missional?’, or perhaps better said, as Jesus did or would do today! None of the churches of Revelation are in existence today. The Church at Ephesus was in a region that is 99.8% Muslim today. We must know that congregations of churches have a life cycle of existence. Many of us realize that our more recent history of Friends in Mid-America shows a regular necessity of closing churches. Since joining the staff here in Mid-America almost 10 years ago, my constant emphasis to your Home Missions leaders, your office staff, and anyone who cares to listen, has been that we must be about multiplying! We must be about multiplying leaders, ministries, groups and yes, about multiplying churches. Yet to the best of our ability we remain very much in the realm of adding new churches. Praise God for the faith and persistence of our new church planting leaders!
Charlene and I recently had the opportunity to join with some fifty leaders from all across America in a ‘Think Tank’ session at the Billy Graham Center on the campus of Wheaton College in the Chicago metro area. We were challenged there to consider the future of the Evangelical church in America looking forward to the year 2050. In considering the population of America from the census data of 2010, the population was 390 million people, and at that time, which might be considered as the apex of church growth in America, there were proportionately one church for every 1,000 people. By the year 2050, estimates are that the population will be in excess of 400 million, and if we can only maintain that one to one thousand proportion, we would need to plant 76,000 new churches by 2050. With the reality of also closing numerous churches each year, that number for 2010 indicated the trend as actually gaining a net of only 300 new churches per year. Across America that is six new churches per state a year. Therefore, if we continue at this rate that would mean we would be a part of planting 20,000 new churches by 2050, which amounts to a quarter of the number needed!
So why we strive to make new disciples, and ultimately to plant new churches in Mid-America, is because we believe it is Jesus’ command. This is why we will be training these leaders in the Journey Discipleship Session on Saturday November 16, 2019. We also challenge every leader in every church to join us. Someone has challenged every church to be about planting two churches; one to replace itself and one to advance the Kingdom. We have been blest to be a part of planting new churches and the reality is that the majority of them are ethnic churches. The 2010 census revealed that 124 million Americans are part of an ethnic group. Well-known author and a Christian Jew himself, Dr. Alan Hirsch says this; “We cannot solve the problems in the church by thinking as we have always thought. Our thinking currently is not evil, but it will not solve the problems in the church today.” Hirsch goes on to say that, in America today, the thinking of the worldview has moved from the center to the margins. So, our thinking as Christians must shift from centralists to sojourners. We must shift from privilege to plurality, because no longer is the church in a place of dominance, so we must shift to a place of witness. And we must move from a stance as an institution to a place of a movement.”
Why must we do these things? Because where we stand – – determines what we see. All of this will force the church in America to have a re-centering on Jesus Christ who is the head of His Church. Not just His Death & His resurrection, but also His teaching! This movement toward Christ our Lord and only Savior, is always what leads us to revitalization. Where else should we go – – except to the Fountain?