Assemblies of God 58.9%
Independent Christian Churches/churches of Christ 27.6%
Catholic Church 30.6%
Southern Baptists 22.1%
Churches of Christ 2.8%
All other major denominations lost adherents during that time.
Some of the large numbers are easily explained. The Mormons have very diligent mission efforts. Everyone is expected to spend a year or two in personal, door knocking evangelism. The Catholics grow rapidly through immigration. The Southern Baptists work hard on personal evangelism and congregational outreach.
Less well known is the fact that the independent Christian Churches (largely identical to Churches of Christ but for the instrument) have grown by intentionally planting new churches across the country. They’ve gotten very good at it and are sharing their learning with us. But we are just barely getting started.
Now, all these denominations are conservative, that is, they accept the Bible as inspired and authoritative. But, of course, there are plenty of conservative denominations that haven’t grown. It takes more than conservative theology to grow!
Therefore, it’s hardly sufficient to argue that we have sound doctrine and that’s enough. As noted in earlier posts, although we showed slight growth from 1980 to 2000, we actually were in decline from 2000 to 2006. We are losing adherents! And most of this loss is from the most conservative of our congregations.
Now, the solution is by no means obvious, but the way to find a solution is obvious enough. First, realize that any solution involves hard work by the local churches. If we aren’t willing to put much effort into it, we’ll fail.
Second, we’re going to have to experiment and see what works. Frontier camp meetings worked in the 1800s. In the 1950s, tent meetings with sawdust on the floor worked well, as did the Jule Miller filmstrips.
But today, where our nation’s culture has dramatically changed, new methods of getting the word out will be required. The proven method for us is planting new churches — but not just any plant. Plants have to be done the right way, with careful selection and training of leadership. This is not a task for novices. Churches that wish to participate in a plant need to work with organizations that have a track record and know what they’re doing.
But in any event, we’re going to have to experiment, see what works, and see what doesn’t. Hopefully, we’ll share our discoveries with each other and keep doing so until we’ve got this problem licked.