On August 18, 2009, Phil Sanders published these statistics at his In “Search of the Lord’s Way” blog —
According to Flavil Yeakley, who presented this material at FHU a few years ago, one can say these things about churches of Christ:
* 12th largest religious group in America
* 6th fastest growing church in America
* 4th in the nation in the total number of congregations
* 5th in the nation in number of counties in which there is a congregation
* 1st in the nation in distribution of congregations
* 1st in the nation in weekly attendance
According to a survey by Barna about five years ago, churches of Christ were first in donations among religious groups (for our size).
Each year there are about 1250 new church plantings and about 3750 church closings in the United States. This is a loss of 2500 religious congregations per year.
When you consider that we lost only 69 churches of Christ (2000-2006) out of a total of 15,000 and yet have the fourth most congregations throughout the US, this is rather remarkable! Even the loss of 350 in the last three years (2006-2009) out of 7,500 is rather small.
Let’s not be discouraged. We are not pitiful and not dying. Many of our losses were actually mergers.
The call for changing doctrine or die is premature…
The statistic that Phil doesn’t mention, although it also comes from Flavil Yeakley, is that we’re in numerical decline. And if the decline continues long enough, we’ll die. It is a tad misleading to refer to us as “6th fastest growing” when our growth is negative.
From 1980 to 2007, Oklahoma (home of the Quail Springs Church of Christ and their critics, as well as the Edmond Church of Christ that sponsor’s Phil’s ministry) lost more members than any other state — 9,406 net and 11,011 adherents (“Adherents” includes members and their children). Tennessee lost 5,479 members and 10,187 adherents, meaning they lost LOTS of families with young children! Imagine losing over 10,000 adherents, half of whom are children. That’s just unimaginably bad news!
According to Yeakley, the states where we’re the strongest tend to be the states where we lose the most members. Our growth tends to be in areas where churches are being planted, whereas established areas are in decline, often in severe decline.
So what motivates this whistling-past-the-graveyard, deep-denial behavior among our conservative brothers? Why not honestly face up to the facts and deal with them? Why pretend that everything’s okay? What agenda is furthered?
Well, plainly, Phil’s “PS” at the end tells the tale. The conservatives would rather pretend that we are healthy and growing than take a serious look at their doctrine. And that’s so even though for decades we’ve been losing at least 1/3 of our own children, and it’s getting worse. And yet Phil assures us, “Let’s not be discouraged. We are not pitiful and not dying.” Yes, we are.
It’s a Mad world.