Amazing Grace/Churches of Christ in Decline?: Rescuing the Churches of Christ, Part 1

[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.]

grace2.jpgI. Quail Springs Church of Christ

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.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink.
My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.

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0 Responses to Amazing Grace/Churches of Christ in Decline?: Rescuing the Churches of Christ, Part 1

  1. Joe Baggett says:

    I hate to use these terms but I will for this illustration. The so called liberal or progressive churches are only a phenomenon of the last 10-15 years or so max., so very few people have “grown up” in these churches. Contrary to popular belief they are not made up of only younger people they are predominantly proliferated by the Baby Boomers. They are made up almost exclusively of members who left mainstream legalistic traditional congregations. Their children generation X actually grew up in these congregations not the so called liberal progressive because they did not exist. Many of the baby boomers who now make up these liberal progressive congregations lost their children to the world or other denominations while raising them in the mainstream or traditional churches. It skews the data because a Baby Boomer who raised their children in a traditional legalistic church and moved to the progressive church after their child grew up or the last couple years report it on Flavil’s survey as a loss and the loss occurred while the most formidable years were spent in the' more traditional congregations but is counted against the progressive churches since that is where their parents are now. If you look at some of the generation Y those born after 1984 that have spent most of their formidable years in a progressive congregation but are just now reaching the age of high school graduation, Flavil Yeakley just admitted himself in an interview with the Christian Chronicle (specifically referring those who have left the churches of Christ for other churches) that they are some of the most spiritual, evangelistic and mission minded people that the churches of Christ has ever produced.

  2. Joe Baggett says:

    Also Jay before we make the determination that a person or group of people have rejected Jesus we need to ask ourselves with brutal honesty is it really Jesus and God they are rejecting or is it religious dogma, serectarianism, arrogance, and failed methods of formal organized religion?

    There are many reasons that honest people who are lost and unchurched and seeking spiritual truth can’t see very much of God in average local church.

    You wrote:

    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.”

    Another example

    The other day I was talking to an elder who came to our church because his had just closed down. He said yeah we would have been alright it hadn’t been for bad demographics. I asked him if he was prepared to give that account to God. He said what? I asked again are you ready to explain to God that you led a church to extinction because there were bad demographics, remember God died for those people too? He said you know what I mean all the members moved.

    I am sorry but these statements people make like these and the other one are not going to hold up on the Day of Judgment. An un-churched friend of mine I went to ACU with once asked if white middle class educated people understood the gospel better than everyone else in the USA and I said no. Then he asked why most of our congregations were predominantly white middle class educated and few others? Well that is a pretty good question.

  3. In reference to the elder mentioned above let me use an example of my experience with an elder years ago. He was an elder at congregation that was positioned on the border of the haves and haves not. No need to mention race here. As we had planned to execute a program to invite everyone by phone to our assemblies using a city directory, he sated that we might a well eliminate calling all those north of our physical location because, "If we converted them all, their contribution would not pay the light bill."
    That church has now closed their doors in spite of the fact that at one time it was the largest in the city (600) members. Draw your own conclusions

  4. Pingback: Stone-Campbell Web Updates–May 11, 2008 « John Mark Hicks Ministries

  5. Gary Absher says:

    As I have seen many Churches of Christ split and close doors in my 61 years, I come back to the same answer. Nothing divides the congregation but sin. This statement makes no sense: (Man normally resists change but changes continually). So, how do we deal with a changing world in the Church? Do we change or just dig it. Both of these are causing the Church to split.
    Gary Absher

  6. Messianic Rabbi Stev says:

    The Church of Christ is in decline due to the past 50 yrs of not teaching the Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith.
    Members have learned little of the Jewish Rabbi Yeshua from Israel (English translation- Jesus)
    The first Church of Messiah(Christ) was in Jerusalem and the Elders and members were ALL JEWISH it was Acts 10 when the first Goyim (Gentil) was saved The 3000 at Acts 2 were all Jews. You as Gentils are grafted into Israel Romans chapters 9,10,11,12 also read Eph 2
    Read John 1:49
    also the first C of C which was ALL JEWISH played musicial instruments and sang remember the Hebrew Scriptures were all that was written down for many years,Please return to the pure Gospel and NOT B.Stone and A.Campbell's teaching .Then and only then will the Spirit return and your services will be on fire and not dead as the services have been for years.NO WONDER the YOUNG PEOPLE ARE LEAVING.They are learing about the real Rabbi Yeshua the Messiah-John 1:49
    English was not invented for many hundreds of years they never knew the English name Jesus !He was Named by the Father from Heaven YESHUA the MESSIAH

    Baruch Haba B'Shem Adoni Baruch B,Shem Yeshua

  7. Dan Moran says:

    The churches, in my experience, are dying from self destruction. Most take the NT as a code of law. And with that comes someone who knows how to interpret the law. Then someone to obey it, or enforce it and any who wishes to accept it as simply the law of the freedom of life in christ are generally labeled ‘false teachers’ and crucified for it.

    Most members do not know the bible, only the old pat interpretations of passages pulled from context and given some minimal but clever advertisement. Those interpretations usually have to do with how others don’t measure up to our perfection. So we polish our pews, mow the lawn, pay our priests.. uh… preachers and wait for the next victim to denounce.

    How to love like Christ is not a subject among the churches. How to distinguish a false thought or incorrect doctrine or ‘liberal’ Christian is the main thrust of most teaching. And how to define what or who is the real church of Christ has become the mantra.

    How to cloak oneself with Christ is not a topic of discussion. This has created an unholy, unspiritual pathology in which sensible folks soon tire of and seek the true freedom which is to be found in Christ Jesus. Thankfully, the community churches are springing up and replacing the dogma of COC doctrine with true NT Christianity and in many cases successfully creating a community of believers ready to serve their neighbor.

  8. Chris says:

    How can any church body justify spending thousands of dollars just to condemn another congregation? Can we say “Pharisee.” Apparently, spending funds to throw stones at others is more important than reaching the lost or meeting the needs of widows and orphans. And they wonder why their churches or dying! I have news for them, they died a long time ago!

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