Are the Churches of Christ Declining? More Good News and Bad News, Part 2

From 1980 to 2000, the fastest growing denominations, as a percentage of adherents (members plus children), are as follows:

Assemblies of God 58.9%

Mormons 57.3%

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.

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 Are the Churches of Christ Declining? More Good News and Bad News, Part 2

  1. Minister Bob Russell wrote a couple of articles last fall that help explain the growth of the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ. They may be found at and

  2. Alan says:

    It seems that one obvious step would be to approach the independent Christian churches to see what we can learn from them.

  3. Joe Baggett says:

    Here is one answer. They have only a fraction of the Legalism that is rampant within the churches of Christ. For several reasons I have had significant involvement with the independent Christian churches. The first lady I proposed to while at ACU was the daughter of a minister in the independent Christian church. My wife’s college room mate at LCU was a member of the ICC. I have been to their churches in several in TX, KT, AR, and IL. They have no special secrets in church planting other than they actually plant churches to reach the lost and un-churched not just to “attract people. There is actually a church plant either in Lexington or Ashland Kentucky that is a joint effort from the ICC and cofC. They don’t worry about things like praise teams, or whether women make ask a question in a mixed adult Bible study forms are based on mission and becoming all things to all people in order the win then to Christ. They do not have the controlling “expose and oppose the error” publications that the churches of Christ do. I could go on but I won’t. This should be encouraging to show that a group very similar to the churches of Christ has had this kind of impact. One other thing they tend to be more integrated on all levels than the churches of Christ simply because of socio-geographical factors.

  4. Brian says:

    I disagree that the Mormon Church considers the Bible authoritative since thier 8th article of faith puts the Book of Mormon above the Bible.

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