[This is an outline for class teachers at my church. Although some of the material is from other recent posts, most of it’s brand new, especially toward the end. It’s designed for teaching at all churches that have covered the background material on grace.
I’m convinced that the solution to the declining numbers in the Churches of Christ is (a) planting domestic churches and (b) turning our established churches into church plants. Here’s how I plan to teach it.]
A. Had 900 members a year ago.
B. It declined to 600 members after the elders announced the addition of a second service which would be instrumental.
C. After the local paper, the Daily Oklahoman (statewide circulation) ran a story, two small churches in Oklahoma and Texas ran a full page ad (cost of $12,000 or so) disfellowshipping their pulpit minister, Mark Henderson.
D. A second ad to similar effect was run by some other churches a few weeks later. (About $24,000 spent on embarrassing the church in the media, which will usually gladly do that for free!!)
E. Meanwhile, not a single Oklahoma congregation stood in solidarity with Quail Springs. Some announced that they’d not paid for the ads or even that it was wrong to run the ads, but none stated that they accept Quail Springs in full communion.
F. Accordingly to Flavil Yeakley’s recent publication, “Good News and Bad News for Churches of Christ,” Oklahoma Churches of Christ have lost more members than any other state — over 10,000 adherents (“adherent” includes unbaptized children)
G. Why are the Oklahoma churches losing so many?
II. On Easter this year, about 4 months after they’d declined to 600 members, Quail Springs had 1,350 in attendance. How did they attract more than double their original number after only 4 months? What’s the dynamic here? (By the way, they attracted large numbers to their a cappella service, too.)
III. Tennessee and California are the two states with the next largest number of losses.
IV. Nationwide, from 1980 to 2000, the Churches of Christ grew 2.3% (0.114% per year). This is 2/3rds of the biological rate of growth (births minus deaths). If we converted no one during this time, we lost 1/3 of our children. Of course, we converted many, meaning that we lost many more than 33% of our children. (45% leave. 12% come back in 10 years, so we lose 33% (100% – (55% + 12%)) even after adding back those who return after leaving. This is after 10 years. We lose even more later.)
V. According to Yeakley, the most progressive and most conservative churches have the highest rates of attrition of children. The progressive churches tend to “lose” children to community churches and churches of other denominations. The children of those in the most conservative churches tend to leave Christianity altogether.
VI. However, growth does happen.
A. The most progressive churches are growing, which nearly offsets the decline among the most conservative churches.
B. Church plants are growing. We are growing in “mission” states. But we are declining rapidly in states where we are well established. Why?
VII. Even the Southern Baptists have begun to decline. They were growing rapidly during the 20 years (1980 to 2000) when we were plateaued, but now even they are in decline.
A. Conservative churches grew for a while simply by virtue of being conservative, as liberal churches lost members by the millions, who went looking for churches that respected the scriptures.
B. Truly independent community churches are growing rapidly and are more likely to pick up transferring members than a Church of Christ.
C. Experts say very few are converted to Christianity. Most “growth” comes from re-energizing those who grew up in the church and who left or else by transfers of membership.
D. We can only maintain our members by picking up those leaving the liberal churches for so long.
E. That time is over. The low-hanging fruit has been picked.
VIII. Ironic, isn’t it, that when people are looking for nondenominational Christianity, they don’t see us that way. Why not? Why are community churches more attractive than we are?
VIII. Church members react to the news that we are in decline in different ways —
A. Denial is very common. “You can’t trust statistics.” “I’ve seen some growth.” “We just need to keep on what we’re doing.”
B. Some suggest a return to failed methods: “We need to have 8-day gospel meetings!” “We need to divide a church every time it reaches 150 members so there will be lots of churches.”
C. Some say growth is not important. “Only God gives the increase. If we aren’t growing, we can’t do anything about it.” “You can’t measure spiritual growth with mere numbers.” “Attendance is over-emphasized.”
D. If we plant and water, God will give the increase. Therefore, we are either not planting the right seed, not planting at all, or not watering the seed we plant.
(1 Cor 3:6-7) I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.
E. It is possible, as Jesus taught those sent out as missionaries, that a given community will reject Jesus. In such a case, we are to move on to the next village. In modern terms, that means that if we can’t get converts in Tuscaloosa, we should be seeking converts elsewhere, by church plants, sending missionaries, etc. But just doing what we’ve always done is not a serious effort and hardly justifies abandoning our home town!
The Parable of the Sower teaches than not all seed will germinate — but some will. The sower knew that if he cast enough seed, some would grow. Therefore, he spread seed generously, even profligately. He sowed seed everywhere in hopes that some would find good soil.
Here’s the thing: we just have to sow seed and do so with grace and love — and in large numbers.
F. Anyone who thinks that losing our children or failing to grow will be sufficient in God’s eyes is rationalizing.
(Luke 13:6-9) Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. 7 So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’
8 “‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.'”
G. Are we already being cut down? Or is God fertilizing us, hoping for repentance? I mean, we aren’t just failing in one city or state. We are failing nationwide.