The Future of the Churches of Christ: The Latest (Sad) Numbers

The Christian Chronicle has recently reported that the number of Church of Christ adherents (members and their unbaptized children) continues to decline.

Since 2003, the number is down 102,000 or 6.2%.

During the same time, the number of congregations fell by 708, or 5.4%.

That’s not a “decline.” It’s a free fall.

The number of members hasn’t fallen as fast, meaning that we’re declining more rapidly among children and young couples — we are keeping a larger percentage of members rather than non-member children. That’s a really bad sign, indicating that the rate of decline is likely to accelerate.

Think about. We’re having congregations close their doors at a rate of about 1 every 4 days — over 7 per month. We’re losing about 35 adherents per day.

Well, at least I’m no longer reading articles denying the reality of the decline. Finally, from what I can find on the Internet, we are no longer in denial and instead willing to hear the very bad news for what it says.

Where are the lost adherents going? According the Flavil Yeakley’s “Good News and Bad News: A Realistic Assessment of the Churches of Christ in the United States 2008,” the highest drop out rates are from churches on the progressive and conservative ends. The progressive drop outs tend to transfer to a church outside the Churches of Christ, while the drop outs from the most conservative churches tend to leave Christianity altogether. Now, that’s a tragic statistic if ever there was one!

What do we do?

Reading the comments at the Chronicle and a few blog comments on the article, some suggest —

* Nothing. Let people to transfer to more Christ-centered, more effective churches. The Church of Christ is not the church of Christ. It’s a meaningless number.

* Pray.

* Return to what worked in the 1950s.

* Blame evolution, Postmodernism, an entertainment culture, removal of prayer from the schools …

* Blame youth ministers.

* Get serious about Jesus.

* Add instruments.

Readers, what do you think?

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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73 Responses to The Future of the Churches of Christ: The Latest (Sad) Numbers

  1. Robert Baty says:

    Maybe some of the Catholics who abandon Rome over the healthcare matter will come to “us” instead of the FFRF!

    They should start coming around any time now since Annie Gaylor put that full page ad in the New York Times.

  2. John says:

    Get serious about Jesus.

  3. Doug says:

    It appears to me that after many years of splintering splits over any number of issues, the CofC is in need of a new identity. They had an identity years ago, they were the only people going to heaven… but now? I see more years of wandering until a new identity (or identities?) emerges. The CofC was always on shaky ground of their own making, now they need to find solid ground. I have no idea what that solid ground looks like but until it is found the CofC numbers will probably continue to diminish. Meanwhile, I’m going to try to be the best member of my CofC church that I can be.

  4. Adam Legler says:

    This is a hard question. It seems so easy to have our spiritual needs met in other ways. When church was what everyone did, then we didn’t have a choice and it was easier to get to know people. Our needs most of the time were met there. But when there’s not much of a difference between staying home and listening to a podcast compared to going to church, sitting in a pew, and not hardly talking to anyone, then it’s easier to stay home.

    The book You Lost Me by David Kinnaman talks about the need for there to be mentoring relationships. Yet, at their best, churches will read this information, nod their heads in agreement, then go on about business as usual. It seems that the teens and older generation get the most out of church because they have the time (and money) to do things outside of the assembly and develop deep relationships.

    I think a solution would be for there to be more intentional discipleship from the older generation to the younger generations outside just sitting in a Wed. night bible class together. Especially the young families. I appreciate the comments I get about how cute my boys are. I agree! But invite us to your house to get to know them. They need that as much as you!

    I would put this burden on anyone who has a new family placing membership or just visiting at the church. But since the age that is dropping out is the young families and any church they go to will have more older members who have been around for a while, then it falls on those who have been around for a while to reach out to get to know this generation that is leaving. As a younger person, the best relationships I have had in a church context have been older member who did this. Especially when I was in a college setting. It can work.

    Since it’s not just the C of C facing this free fall, I think this could be applied towards any church or denomiation that wants to grow. Discipleship, is the key.

  5. Price says:

    I’m sure the numbers are disheartening to those within the CoC faith heritage. Not sure it matters to Jesus….except those that have abandoned the faith. That’s sad indeed. My guess is that the Lamb’s Book of Life doesn’t have different tabs for different door signs…

    The number that shocked me was that the “progressives” leave to go to another church and that the “conservatives” leave Christianity altogether. That seems odd. How does one go from believing that their personal convictions are the only way to heaven to abandoning their own faith and membership in any church? It’s like avoiding a slippery slope to instead go jump off the bridge. That’s hard to believe.

  6. Rose Marie says:

    For the past decade I thought the problem was in rural areas. Young people move to large urban areas to get work and don’t find a church around the corner as they did in their small hometowns. Why do they have a hard time transferring to a large church? Now I am not so sure that the problem is just in rural areas. And our doctrines and splintering over minor issues cannot be the whole answer if other denominations are having the same problem.

    I think it is somewhat a phenomenon of the culture of today. All young adults seem to want to go where everyone else goes. The same restaurants…….no matter how long the waiting line. The latest movie now that it premiers in every town in the nation on the same weekend. The large and popular sports events like NASCAR and football. I read recently that basketball is failing to thrive in today’s world. Is that because it isn’t telecast as often as the more popular sports? I really think this is something about being popular and with it. People get more discipling and fellowship in other things……..and much of it is not distinctly sinful, so they don’t see a problem. Jesus as presented in our churches today won’t win against this is my guess.

  7. JS says:

    Get rid of buildings and professional christians. Exterminate the systems perpetuated by money Develop relationships that promote genuine trust of Jesus and other followers of Jesus.

  8. Jerry says:

    My mind keeps returning to The Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytry: “We will, that this body die, be dissolved, and sink into union with the Body of Christ at large….”

    We, over the past century and more, have made so much over “Our” being right and all others being “wrong” and lost that we have almost lost touch with our historic roots: and intense desire for unity of all believers with one another under the leadership of King Jesus. Jesus once told some of the Jews that the kingdom of God would be taken from them and given to those who would produce its fruits. While there are many who are bearing kingdom fruit of the Spirit among us, sometimes the loudest and most dominant of us show little of the Spirit of Christ.

    If that continues, perhaps it is time “…that this body die, be dissolved, and sink into union with the Body of Christ at large….”

    Apparently, many of our members are voting for this with their feet.

  9. Tom Cadmus says:

    Don’t think this sad news has anything to do w/insruments, having or not, or
    buildings, or programs. I believe we’ve forgotten how to really get to know others
    in order to understand pov. We’ve forgotten that except for someone who really
    wanted to know us (collectively) and help us (me) , we wouldn’t have this gift that
    none of us are worthy of. It is with the young adults and youth that we will thrive
    and grow in Jesus’ truth that his church will never die; in that I’m optimistic 🙂

  10. Get serious about Jesus.

    I don’t care how simplistic it sounds.

    It is the simple truth.

  11. Alan says:

    Start making disciples of Jesus. Starting from one person, if each person makes one disciple a year, the entire world will be Christian in a matter of 30 or so years.

    Oh, and make sure the first disciple you make is yourself.

    That’s a snarky answer, I know. But I don’t know of a better one. The real point is, this has NOTHING to do with what your worship service looks like.

  12. Gregory Alan Tidwell says:

    The Gospel Advocate Company has published _Why They Left: Listening to Those Who Have Left Churches of Christ_ by Flavil Yeakley. His take on these numbers is illuminating

  13. Tom Forrester says:

    If the COC is to survive, it’s leadership will need to start preaching Jesus rather than the church. Progressives leave the COC because they can go somewhere else and have freedom to actually follow Jesus Christ. Conservatives can’t leave the COC believing they will lose their salvation. All that is left after the debate and strife is a loss of faith, hope and joy.

  14. Royce Ogle says:

    Our church is growing. We were recently challenged to park far away to make parking easier and more accessible for visitors and the elderly.

    In a town of perhaps a bit over 14,000 we have close to 1,000 most Sundays. On Friday night our Celebrate Recovery group will be about 350. On Sunday morning if you go down the center isle and look to your left you will see that beginning with the 2nd row from the front there are 4 very long rows of pews filled with teens and college aged kids. And, this is only a guess, I think perhaps at least 1/5 to 1/4 of our congregation is young couples with small children to high school kids.

    Why? Well, many years ago our leaders stopped preaching the church of Christ and started preaching the Christ of the church. Yes, we still sing a cappella on Sunday morning and on Wednesdays 400 to 500 people in a packed room is awesome singing in harmony. Why? Because we like it! We stopped telling people God says we must (he doesn’t) and we also stopped telling people they are wrong if they don’t. Bigger fish to fry!

    I think one reason our congregation and others are still growing is that we keep the main thing the main thing, Jesus and his love for sinners. Last Sunday when there were about 6 responses including one young woman to be baptized, there were about 100 or more people down front with them, praying, hugging those who responded, showing love in tangible ways. The tract rack is gone, we started putting the gospel in shoe leather. Outreach to the poorest, highest crime area in our parish, a food pantry serving the needy of the community on Fridays, transition homes for men and women getting out of prison who are being discipled and encouraged, two global ministries, one national evangelism ministry, Divorce recovery, Divorce recovery for kids, etc., etc, etc.

    What is most important to you? Is it your church traditions or seeing God transform lives? Ours is perhaps the most diverse group you can find anywhere. Millionaires, Phd’s, tons of former junkies and drunks, dozens of ex-cons, more tattoo’s than at an average biker rally, black, white, redneck, sophisticated, all loving each other and treating each other like family, and ask anyone why? Its Jesus! He transforms lives!

    I suggest that you trade religion for relationships, rites and rituals for outreach, love unlovable people, be quick to forgive….over and over in many cases, and keep talking about Jesus and his amazing work to fix sinners. Our people talk often about the resurrection. “We expect to get out of here alive!” as one of our elders says it. So, the good news is indeed very good news!

  15. Howard McCraney says:

    Mr. Ogle:
    I love your comments. When I see folks suggest that instrumental music will save the Churches of Christ, I cry, then laugh, then cry. What a joke. You are dead center on your comments. Focus on Jesus, quit worrying about adding instrumental music, its not wrong, but its not the problem either. Folks are looking for a unified, motivated, strong group of Jesus followers. If we can accomplish this, we will grow. How to we get there, prayer and very strong leadership. Easier said than done.

  16. Royce’s comment is super encouraging. Growth is a sign of life. Thanks for posting it brother!

  17. I note with interest the subject of this post: The Future of the Churches of Christ. The subject expresses concern and the numbers justify the concern.

    Jesus said –

    The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing their way into it. (Luke 16:16)

    In reading that text I get a picture of a kingdom that manifests characteristics which are so extraordinarily attractive; it compels great numbers of those who find it to make great sacrifices for it.

    Jesus said –

    The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field (Matthew 13:44).

    Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it (Matthew 13:45, 46).

    Today, however – borrowing Jesus’ hyperbole – everyone is not forcing his way into the church. In fact, according to the numbers, the church is scaring a lot away.

    Why was “everyone” forcing their way into the kingdom in those days and virtually no one (another hyperbole) is doing so now?

    I contend that the CofC lacks the drawing power of the kingdom of God because it does not manifest the genuine qualities of the king or his kingdom. The church has an image problem. We may suppose that people who are leaving reject “the truth;” and in some cases, that may be true. But, as I see it, in the words of David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, from the book unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity … And Why It Matters, people perceive that the church is “unChristian.” That label points to a problem of shallow discipleship of Jesus. The world and even members of the church see, all too well, what is being manifested by shallow discipleship.

    I may be wrong, although I doubt it, but the church is largely rejected since it has fails to reflect the light of Christ in the dark world. If the church reflects the kingdom; if its message is preached; everyone (hyperbole again) will force their way into it.

    Jesus said –

    “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.” (Mark 4:30-32)

    The birds attracted to the large branches of this huge tree that was once a tiny seed represent those who are attracted to the kingdom’s offerings.

    So, the FIRST (not the only) key to church growth requires a seismic shift. To fix the church, we must find, restore and reflect the kingdom of God through our local churches. We must present the genuine article. Having done that, people will tangibly witness God’s love and be drawn to it.

  18. Bob Brandon says:

    It would seem that the chickens have come home to roost, except that there are neither chickens nor roosting.

    One problem for American Christianity is it appears incapable of preaching the Cross. From the right, there’s an amalgam of moralistic conservatism with the heavy cream of militarism and the high fructose corn syrup of coercion. That’s a state religion in and of itself – one that our Savior did not go the Cross to establish – and it appears to have run its course. Nearly everyone else seems to mistake the state religion for the real thing and turn away from it. There is no “left-wing” Christianity of any prominence in this country now: there’s no real left-wing counterpart to the likes of Richard Land or Rick Santorum.

    When one uses one’s religion to justify one’s politics, the unconverted are rarely persuaded. Nonetheless, the Churches of Christ largely bought into this since World War II – and schools such as Harding would not be what they are today without the likes of Benson preaching the Red Peril in the fevered times after the war – and with nearly all of the youngest veterans (my dad, who served in the Army Air Force in the Philippines, was 19 when the war in Japan ended – here’s an interesting story about the youngest possible veterans of WW2: well into their 80s, that Church of Christ is inexorably fading away. Our fight is over what will replace it, and if we insist on keeping it, there won’t be anything left to replace.

    In other words, our brand of American Christianity may very well have run its course, and that our institutions are all somewhere on the same path as that of the soon-to-be closed Western Christian College. If we want to live as a fellowship, we will ultimately have to decide to die to ourselves. Or not. We cannot be more than the earthen vessels so intended. For its part, the Gospel will find its way to be proclaimed, and, in that, everyone of good faith and good will can rejoice.

  19. John says:

    The CoC, for the most part, never matured to the point of living its own convictions while letting God be God. Teachings such as baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, weekly communion, acappella music, etc, would have held great appeal to the others if we had used and proclaimed them as celebrations of Christ rather constucting them into a test of “religious perfection”.

    It could have been done. We just let ourselves stay in the easy mode of thinking of “we either do them and draw the line; or, we become so open that we lose them”. We could have been a body of people who lived in awe and rejoicing for what we saw in scripture while, at the same time, like Jesus, never afraid to speak of God to others as “Your Father”. The truth is we never tried because it was hard, difficult. Funny, how we accept the wisdom that good things do not come easy…accept in our religion.

  20. I believe that churches need to stop creating “systems of church” they cannot sustain.

    One example, Elders are the spiritual shepherds of congregations. Great, but if you don’t have qualified spiritual shepherds everything falls apart, slowly.

    One example, instrumental music damns you. Then your grandson plays a guitar while singing “Jesus Loves Me.” Is he going to hell? Maybe I was wrong, sort of something like maybe wrong. Now what do I do?

    There are many more examples.

  21. As others have said before me: The continuing existence of the “Church of Christ” as an institutional presence is irrelevant to God. What is relevant is a continuing focus on Jesus and how he loved us.

    That is the only thing that matters.

  22. Dwight Duckstein says:

    Mr. Ogle – thank you very much for your comments! Until the churches of Christ lose its divisive and arrogant attitudes and preaching, it’s going to keep declining. For too long they have drawn lines of division over issues that have little or no biblical background at all. No wonder people aren’t interested. Learn and seek the fruit of the Spirit. Jesus said “you will be known by your love one for another”. What about fighting over petty differences shows love to those around us? Some of the arguments used to defend the divisions are so flimsy it’s embarassing.

    I appreciate acapella music as well, but taking that division to the point of condemning people to hell over a piano is not just ridiculous – it’s wrong – it’s speaking for God in matters of salvation, which is the ultimate of arrogance.

    What two subjects can cause a CofC member to stutter and blush? Grace and the action of the Holy Spirit. Understand those two subjects and you’ve come a long ways toward real spiritual life.

    Your line “stopped preaching the church of Christ and started preaching the Christ of the church” is priceless, and it’s the secret of growth and health for any church, regardless the name above the door.

    My 2 cents…



  23. Doug says:

    Some insight can be gained by Googling “church of Christ cult”. This blog has many first hand accounts by people who have left the CofC.

  24. Charles McLean says:

    The CoC initially developed as a reactionary movement, a reaction to changes in the modern church to be answered by an insistence on abandoning such evolution and returning wholesale to the practices of the primitive church as it is described in Acts. The CoC of the 40’s and 50’s engaged the church at large by debating it and damning it, by attempting to convert existing believers by convincing them that they were not really believers at all. But slowly, American Christianity at large disengaged from this fight. They left the CoC alone and moved on without them. With no one left to fight, the CoC has struggled to form any sort of positive identity. I am reminded of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Once you have protested, you must find a positive agenda, or die.

    But the CoC truly has no positive agenda of its own. “Restoration” long ago morphed into this broad-spectrum attack on the majority of the church. Since most of those believers are damned by traditional CoCism, and few of them these days are willing to be converted by the CoC, that leaves two avenues. One is the path taken by the progressives– to focus on Jesus and on serving the community. To which the rest of the church says, “Welcome aboard! That makes you one of us!” The CoC takes its place among the other denominations, setting aside its historic distinction and accepting other believers as, well, believers. This explains why people who leave a progressive CoC find other fellowship. They are already connected in spirit, so there is no real “loss” to the body of Christ.

    The second path, being taken by the conservatives, is to sit inside the fortress and stew, their earlier vitriol reduced to a low grumble not heard beyond their own walls. They can fire the occasional salvo, protesting a Franklin Graham crusade or taking out newspaper ads against a congregation gone progressive, but nobody is listening anymore.

    The truly troubling fact presented in these statistics is that the conservative CoC is apparently actually driving people away from Christ. Either that, or as its adherents have never seen themselves as part of the body of Christ at large, when they can no longer tolerate the bitter tenor of their denomination, they have no place to go. They have long been told that there is no difference between a church member leaving the faith and that person leaving the CoC to join a Pentecostal or Baptist church. So they leave the faith.

    In my experience, this dynamic may take a younger generation to break. Ma and Pa might silently want to leave, but can’t. Junior and the grandkids, however, head down the block to the Bible Church there. After a while, Ma and Pa discover that their progeny have moved on and have healthy lives in Christ. This reality challenges everything they have been taught.

  25. Doug says:

    Sorry, this is the correct thing to Google.

    Some insight can be gained by Googling “church of Christ support group”. This blog has many first hand accounts by people who have left the CofC.

  26. Rich says:

    Let’s see. The stronger the progressive movement, the more the cofC declines in numbers. Hmm. Maybe that’s a clue concerning the cause.

    5-6 years ago my daughters come home from our Christian universities saying that just about the only subject in personal Bible studies was what was wrong with the Church of Christ. Last summer, while on a mission trip to Haiti, a member from the progressive church in town makes the statement, “There’s lots of things wrong with the Church of Christ.”

    We have lost the understanding of the power of positive thinking. The new love is “what’s wrong with…”. That’s not being Christ-like. It’s just the love of criticism repackaged into 21st century cultural thought processes.

  27. Jay Guin says:


    I ordered a copy last night. I always find Flavil’s reports insightful and valuable.

  28. Ed Olis says:

    Organized Christian religion is on the decline, but Christ tells us that the gates of hell shall not prevail against His assembly of folks being called by the gospel unto God or folks that have been called.

  29. Charles McLean says:

    Rich, the last refuge of those faced with unpleasant facts is simply to take umbrage with them.

    It is not somehow “un-Christlike” to eschew the power of positive thinking in preference to seeing things as they are. In fact, if we actually read Jesus talking about religion and religious leaders of his own day, we find very little “positive thinking” and a great deal of reasonable and often ascerbic criticism.

  30. Charles McLean says:

    I must comment on Yeakley that in trying to present what he considers an accurate picture, his methodology is all over the map, and winds up telling us that it doesn’t tell us much. He objects to the anecdotal experiences of believers coloring their perceptions but introduces anecdotal opinions when it suits him. The ultimate picture is of an insider trying to talk as though he is objective.

    My view on the CoC comes from myself, not from Yeakley’s writing. Lawyering back and forth on the percentages takes us away from the issues which are at hand.

  31. Howard McCraney says:

    Leadership, leadership, leadership; that is the answer. However, the definition of qualified leadership is complex and in my opinion, can vary based on the specific congregation of believers, what motivates and drives them to grow God’s kingdom on this earth. One of the problems I have seen, is the adaption of what I call “fads”. This is not leadership, its copying something that might have worked somewhere else.

  32. Bob Brandon says:

    Most of our talk is insider talk. When we wonder why those who are interested in non-denominational Christianity aren’t interested in the Churches of Christ, we’ve reached the state that we actually believe what we insist on saying to ourselves.

  33. Gregory Alan Tidwell says:

    When I was a teenager there was a great cry of alarm because the rate of growth among churches of Christ had slowed. If you took a few points of data and used linear regression there was a point in the early twenty-first century when churches of Christ would disappear. I remember the Herald of Truth using this fearful end as a fund-raising ploy.

    At the time it did not seem plausible to me, since the date of our supposed extinction was well within my projected lifetime and I didn’t plan to leave the Lord’s church.

    While there are areas of the country where Jay’s description of “free fall” are accurate (such as my adopted region of the Midwest ) there are other areas where the churches of Christ are doing just fine numerically.

    One of the great difficulties in our discussion is the four-way division of Progressive, moderately Progressive, moderately Conservative, and Conservative.

    The congregation where I preach, for example, would view itself as Conservative, but a nearby congregation (which is more restrictive in many respects) would view itself as moderately Conservative. As is often the case where mathematical tools appropriate for the hard sciences are extrapolated into the social sciences, a veneer of certitude is placed over a mass of ambiguity. How can we line congregations up on a continuum if we do not have agreed upon definitions of what the differing points on the continuum mean?

    THAT churches of Christ have declined numerically may be proven by the hard numbers. WHY they have declined is a matter of opinion. Of course, I have my opinion. And, of course, it is very true.


  34. Bob Brandon says:

    Data is extrapolated; tools are not. IOW, tools may be used to extrapolate but are not themselves subject to extrapolation.

  35. Gregory Alan Tidwell says:

    Bob Brandon, always pedantic and frequently wrong.

    According to the Oxford English Dictionary the first definition of extrapolation is:
    “extend the application of (a method or conclusion) to an unknown situation by assuming that existing trends will continue or similar methods will be applicable” see online

    The word, you see, is applicable to methods as well as to data.

  36. Jay Guin says:


    I have a long-standing policy against ad hominem statements, that is, personal attacks on other commenters. It adds nothing to the strength of your argument and runs contrary to the teachings of Scripture,

    (2Ti 2:24-25 ESV) 24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth …

    Please refrain from speaking ill of those who comment here. You are encouraged to disagree and to explain the basis for your disagreement. But don’t let it become personal.

    I have been lax on enforcing this rule in the past due to time constraints. I will be more vigilant going forward. Future violations may result in moderation of your comments — meaning they won’t appear until I have time to review them and edit out inappropriate language.

  37. odgie says:

    Interesting discussion. Royce’s comments cheered my heart. I’m inclined to agree with those who believe that the “attractional model” has run its course (not that it was a long course to begin with). Instrumental or a cappella, happy-clappy praise songs or traditional hymns, how the preacher dresses and other things that we place so much weight on are irrelevant. We are losing members because we are not challenging and equipping them to grow. And we are not drawing the unchurched because we keep looking for magic bullet solutions that are inadequate substitutes for the hard, time-consuming work of building relationships and sharing the gospel.

  38. Bob Brandon says:


    I’ll just stick with your proffered conclusion. You insist that the first definition of extrapolation is to “extend the application of (a method or conclusion) to an unknown situation by assuming that existing trends will continue or similar methods will be applicable…”

    Ergo, “[t]he word, you see, is applicable to methods as well as to data.”

    No, you see inaccurately; consider the example to the definition you rely upon:
    “the results cannot be extrapolated to other patient groups.” See

    Again, as I made clear, data – such as a result or results – is extrapolated, not tools.

    Warm regards.

  39. Rich says:


    Thanks for your feedback. It helps me understand how I my comments are interpreted. I would like to make a couple of points:

    Concerning cofC complaining. As a teen (early 70’s) several in our youth group had a discussion on the best parents at church. Consensus selected the parents of one I will call Tom. Tom was proud. He agreed he had a good set of parents. The discussion then moved to others complaining about their parents. One by one, they would state their parents’ faults. Tom would nod and say his parents do that, too. By the end of the discussion, Tom believed his parents were bad Christians and the others felt good because they had an avenue of venting. I told them all they had no idea how good they have it because at least their parents went to church.
    The conclusion? Sitting around and complaining, even if partially justified, causes more problems and spreads like yeast.
    If while in Haiti, my Christian brother had asked, how can we make the church of Christ better? I probably would have enjoyed the conversation. But starting off with how terrible the CofC is just reminded me of Tom.

    Concerning statistics: We need to use more statistics to help us truly problem solve our current situation. Otherwise, one negative perception leads to another and then another and all of a sudden, the multitude want to go back to Egypt.
    Another anedote: where I used to work we had a favorite saying, “In God we trust, all others bring data”

  40. JMF says:

    Rich said:

    Another anedote: where I used to work we had a favorite saying, “In God we trust, all others bring data”

    Ha! I like that!

  41. odgie says:

    One other thought: it might help our numbers if we ever got some sort of significant foothold/presence outside of Texas, Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, and parts of Mississippi.

  42. Price says:

    I find it odd that Christians would worry about which community with whom one would follow after Christ. Who cares? Just follow Jesus.. The worry that this study creates is a testimony to the lack of focus on what’s really important… Music doesn’t save. Signs on the door don’t save. Periodicals don’t save.. Communion cups and the gender of those who pass them out don’t save. Jesus saves..

    But, if you insist on worrying, worry about the conservatives first…They seem to be abandoning the faith entirely, and not just their faith heritage. But, certainly Greg is right…it could be moderate conservatives or radical conservatives or the periodical conservatives… but not to be confused with progressives who keep on looking for Jesus… that must be hard to swallow for some.

  43. hank says:

    Don’t forget that a lot of people who have stopped “going TO church” have not necessarily “abandoned the faith”, as you seem to assume. As one brother already commented above, a lot of Christians are having serious issues with the whole church as business thing. With fully paid staffs, fleets of vehiclles, l luxurious buildings and rediculous budgets.

    A lot of people believe that Christianity is/would be a lot more effective without it being something we do on Sundays. Put on our costumes, drive to “the church” and wait a couple of hours for “church to dismiss” and then leave church to go back home.

    You know, like what Barna and Viola have written books about.

    There are a lot of people who are convinced that “church” as we know it, has taken some very wrong turns and needs to be reevaluated.

    Not suggesting that all who “quit going to church” are in that boat, but many are. And there would be challenges it would seem, to track all of that.

    Plus, it would be easy to understand how churches would necessarily want to admit and publish how many people have left “the building (and budgets)” of churches in order to try and be what they believe the church actually is.

    We should not forget about that.

  44. Price says:

    Hank, without some verifiable facts to back up what you are suggesting, I guess we can all assume that it is just your opinion…which may be experientially accurate, but a few people here and there does not make it a reliable conclusion… but, it does seem strange that you would suggest that the “conservatives” have now decided that THEY don’t want to follow their Elder’s leading and have just taken their Bibles and have gone home…Seems like they are worshiping their own ideals if they are leaving in protest against the church leadership… But, don’t you find it odd that they can’t find another church that agrees with all that is necessary for them to attend? Sounds like they ran out of people to control…

  45. Royce Ogle I think you nailed it well.

    The called out is not an organization; It is a community. It is His Bride. She is a battered woman in need of gentle love to bring her to her proper condition of usefulness.

    I asked another group just yesterday.

    Do we realize that the bride is us? How do we want to be treated?

  46. Price:

    You said, “I find it odd that Christians would worry about which community with whom one would follow after Christ. Who cares? Just follow Jesus.”

    Is it really “odd” that Christians would worry about decline? In fact, it ought to concern us.

    If people are walking away because are “just following Jesus” then we should look to others and ask, “Do you want to leave too…” But the problem, I believe, is linked to our lack of discipleship of Jesus.

    Some believe that growth means nothing. I see it differently. I offer the following as support.

    Acts 6:7 So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.

    Acts 14:21 They preached the good news in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch,

    Acts 11:21 The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.

    Acts 11:24 He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.

    Acts 14:1 At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed.

    Acts 16:5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers.

    It is evident from the passages cited that the Holy Spirit, through the pen of Luke, used numbers to describe successes of the early church; even to the extent that he described their growth as being the result of the “Lord’s hand” being with them. In other words, the Lord was causing the growth.

    Colossians 2:19 is extracted from a context in which Paul is exalting Christ as the head and the substance of the church while warning the congregants of the Colossian church not to be taken captive by “hollow” philosophy, i.e., espoused values which have nothing to do with Jesus’ purpose for his people. In the midst of that context he refers to one who espouses the hollow philosophy as a member of the body (that is the church) who has “lost connection with the head.” He wrote:

    He has lost connection with the Head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow. Colossians 2:19

    Price, considering the above shouldn’t we be concerned brother?

  47. John says:

    Every time I read Jeremiah’s cry, “…do not say ‘the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord'”, I hear the echo, “The Lord’s church, the Lord’s church, the Lord’s church”.

    When the moment by moment awareness of God has been lost, even scoffed at by many, and when the fear of even the slightest mention of God being the heavenly of Father of those “not within these walls” becomes paramount, then the words “the Lord’s church, the Lord’s church, the Lord’s church” are totally empty; they have no power.

  48. Clint says:

    I am in a very small congregation. We stick to the Bible. We don’t compromise that for numbers. We don’t shrug off things that we deem “not important enough”. If God said it, we expect it. It doesn’t always feel good, but then again, we don’t base our actions on whatever we “feel like”. We do what we are instructed to do. That doesn’t mean we are uncompromising on things that the Bible is silent in. That doesn’t mean we are somehow harsh. This congregation is the most giving, most loving, most open, most caring, and by far, the most genuine group of people I’ve ever met. It’s a joy to be with them. It’s also a relief to know that they expect me to follow the Bible. It isn’t something that is padded down for personal comfort of the congregants. It makes me sad to see this idea that the Church needs a new “identity”. That idea is false. The Church needs to maintain the identity it was given. The only being I know that can give the Church a new identity is God almighty, and I see no indication that He has any intention of doing that. As soon as He does, then I’ll be open to that discussion.

    I’d rather be in a congregation of 3 people who follow the Bible, than a congregation of 3K people who very nearly follow the Bible.

  49. Charles McLean says:

    Clint said: “I’d rather be in a congregation of 3 people who follow the Bible, than a congregation of 3K people who very nearly follow the Bible.”
    I predict that you’ll soon be part of a congregation of TWO who follow the Bible.

  50. Charles McLean says:

    Greg offered: “Of course, I have my opinion. And, of course, it is very true.”
    I’ll let that eloquent statement speak its own volumes.

  51. Clint … there is much you say, with which I can agree. Especially the spirit of your post. However, I am highly compelled to cite John 5:39, where Jesus points out that we “search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they hat bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.”

    The point I get from this is that we should be searching scriptures to find Jesus, not following the Bible, for the sake of following the Bible. The Text is relevant because it helps to bring us to Jesus.

  52. Dwight Duckstein says:

    Two more comments:

    Just do a speed read through all the comments posted here, and you’ll see the problem with the churches of Christ.

    And – I would rather be in a group of any number of people who love the Lord, are spiritually alive, love their neighbors, and study the Word to find the Lord than in a group of any number of legalists who condemn rather than love.

    I hope and pray the churches of Christ can open their eyes and search for a real relationship with the Master – then and only then will they be effective.


  53. Clint says:

    David: That scripture was directed at Jews seeking to kill Jesus. They were searching scripture to justify themselves. I agree that following of scripture can be hollow, if done out of selfishness, or without meaning. However, if done with meaning, and if done with application, I don’t understand how that could be incorrect.

    You say that “we should be searching scriptures to find Jesus, not following the Bible, for the sake of following the Bible”. I disagree with this statement, because the two are not different (Luke chapter 1). My questions to you: Can one find Jesus by searching the word of God, without following the word of God? Can the word of God be followed, truly followed, just for the sake of following, and without heart? If the answer to the first two questions is “no”, then what justification is there for not following the Bible, to any degree?

  54. Clint,
    You have highlighted the central issue regarding a believers view of the Text. Is the Text a set of commands and rules to be followed, or it is the story of salvation in Jesus. The Text itself says that Jesus came to do away with obedience to rules and replaced it with faith in Jesus and a life of emulating Jesus.

    I certainly don’t know where your congregation falls on that “continuum”, but that is one of the more obvious “differences of opinion” between those labeled as “conservatives” and those labeled as “progressives.”

  55. Clint says:

    I see. Well, I’m not really interested in debating the values and merits of each. I’ll give a few reasons, off the top of my head, why I follow the text, as well as the message. I believe they are both important, the story, and the commands.

    1) Jesus is the word. To disregard the importance of one is to disregard the other.
    2) Paul said not to be swayed by every “wind of doctrine”, which indicates that there is a correct doctrine.

    If the people on this message board (and it seems overwhelmingly so) wish to disregard the text, and attempt to follow what they believe is the spirit of the text, I believe that is there prerogative. I don’t wish to be pulled into a debate about it. It is certainly up to you as to what you believe. As for “numbers”, I’d rather be in a shrinking minority than in an incorrect majority. The thief on the cross had very few friends, but he had Jesus. Let the numbers shrink. People will choose what they will choose. I will follow the Bible. If that isn’t good enough for anyone else, then so be it. I will still follow the Bible.

  56. It may just be a matter of semantics, for each of us, Clint; but, I will still follow Jesus.

  57. Charles McLean says:

    I appreciate Hank’s point here. This is a strong reality which is entirely ignored by research of this type. We believers are not marbles to be traded by little religious boys and then to be taken home at the end of the day in different sacks. And some of us have taken that reality to heart. We have not left the body of Christ; we have merely declined to be members of a local religion club anymore.

    I would suggest that what is being described here is somewhat analogous to the flight of families from public schools to home schools, charter schools, and private schools. The general response of the educational establishment so far has been to blame those who are leaving for the sorry state of the schools and their declining educational results. People who seek to use their educational tax dollars at a more effective school are denounced as “destroying public education”. God forbid they take personal responsibility for what happened on their own watch and ask others for counsel as to how they might improve.

    The CoC variously blames its declining effectiveness on worldly church members who reject truth, local religious competitors who lure their parishioners into a black van with promises of worship candy, the devil, society at large, and on the sad, but entirely God-driven fact that only a few folks can be on the narrow way with us, while most will be consigned to the, er, alternate route.

    According to the census, the population of the United States has increased by 22% from 1990 to 2010. If we want to compare our denominational growth to anything, there’s a neutral benchmark.

  58. Standing on different corners and pointing to the same thing?

  59. Price says:

    Brother Clyde…. I believe I said that we shouldn’t worry about people leaving one church for another church… I can’t see Jesus being all that concerned about imperfect people trying to do their best to follow him from inside a brick building versus imperfect people trying to follow after him in one made from wood… I did say that if we are to worry, it should be for the ones that are leaving the church altogether.

  60. Jay Guin says:


    Yeakley writes,

    There was also a pattern in regard to what happened to church members who dropped out. In congregations where church leaders selected response “A,” “Much more liberal or progressive,” or response “B,” “a little more liberal or progressive,” members who dropped out tended to join other religious groups. In congregations where church leaders selected response “D,” “A little more conservative or traditional” or response “E.” “Much more conservative or traditional,” most members who dropped out have no current religious affiliation.

    I think you’re right that some who’ve left the institutional church are now part of informal house churches (or the small group ministries of institutional churches). But I suspect that a far greater percentage have no Christian community of any kind. They may still have a faith in Jesus but have completely soured on any commitment to the body of Christ or his mission. They are “de-churched” Christians.

    Either way, Christians who refuse to be part of the community of faith and who refuse to participate in God’s mission are spiritually ill and in need of repentance. It’s a sad and dangerous place to be.

  61. Tom Cadmus says:

    “What is going to save the Church of Chist” intrigued me when you wrote of
    this last year, Jay. Look at this response! Wish I was going to Tulsa!!

  62. Bob Brandon says:

    Vis-a-vis progressive and conservative, seems better for someone to have been in a progressive congregation than not. Their dropouts seek out other groups of believers while others find a place in what could be kindly described as the fellowship of despair.

  63. Price says:

    The CoC needs to preach more on Luke 9:49-50..John answered, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.”But Jesus said to him, “Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you.” There is Power in Jesus that doesn’t come from being in some “inner circle.” In fact, it may have been the birth of the Progressive Movement…:)

    Wouldn’t hurt to get one of those dog megaphone thingys that keeps the dog from chewing on itself (theologically speaking). After barking and chasing off all the evil denominations, the CoC turned on itself and began to divide over and over and over…I think that’s a general description of cancer.

    Harmony…might be something to look at.

  64. Charles McLean says:

    Jay, I think you have exposed an excluded middle in your description of people who don’t return to the institutional church. Some do get involved in regularly-scheduled small group meetings, but in point of fact, that’s not a requirement, either. There seems to be no room in your perspective for believers with informal connections with believing friends, for believers whose current portion of the mission of Christ is not tied to nor dependent upon a religion club of any size or model. Your assessment suggests a straight dichotomy that we are either (a) members of a religion club of some sort, OR (b) we are “soured on any commitment to the body of Christ or its mission” and refusing connection with other believers or with serving our Lord, spiritually ill, and in need of repentance. But there is a pretty big gap, my brother, between lacking a club membership and being spiritually ill and completely divorced from the body of Christ.

    Is it so impossible to imagine that there are believers who have dozens of personal spiritual connections, are led by the Spirit in terms of mission, love the body of Christ as a whole — and don’t spend every Sunday in a particular club’s meeting? Please don’t conflate institutional commitment with being a living, active part of the Body. There is a difference between correlation and causation. We have grown up with many external measures (meeting attendance, offerings, volunteer hours) which told us precious little about our spiritual reality, and were sadly satisfied with that. I think I will pass on coming under those physical yardsticks again.

    As to being in a “sad and dangerous place”, many of us grew up in one. Three services a week.

  65. Todd Collier says:

    Reviewing a few of the comments:
    1. It is no great surprise that we now debate so much “what is wrong with the CoC?” The first half of my life was filled with sermons and classes on what was wrong with Baptists, Methodists, Catholics, et al. It is only reasonable that the debate would turn on ourselves when the rest stopped listening to us and when some realized wewere just like the Pharisees of old in that we did ourselves the very things we condemned in others.
    2. When considering being a Bible follower or a Jesus follower it is absolutely not correct that they are one and same thing. The Pharisees were first rate Bible followers and lousyGod followers. Unless we are Jesus followers first being Bible followers will lead to failure and godlessness. To come to the word without knowing the Word is dangerous. Too many of our doctrinal positions were based on bringing our opinions to the word and finding support for them there instead of allowing the Spirit of Christ to guide us through the word to establish truth.
    3. In my personal experience and with those I have known who have rejected the conservative position they usually leave the Church alogether because one or another of the doctrines becomes a crushing burden to them. Remember that IM is just one of the doctrines about which conservatives fight and usually is the furthest removed from everyday life. Let a parent or child or even the believer himself or herself get a divorce and see how the Church responds. I have seen men and women whose spouses abandoned them for no fault of their own then be abandoned by the Church because this sin had entered their lives. This is not something you can simply walk away from. This is the unfortunate fruit of being people of the Bible rather than followers of Jesus.

  66. Doug says:

    After being a congregant of a CofC for a couple of years, I made a statement in a Life Group meeting (a susposedly “safe” place) that I sensed that there was an over abundance of pride in our congregation. I was promptly attacked. After an additional 5 or so years in my congregation, I would have to say that I sense the same thing. I think that has been the halmark of the Cofc, pride in the belief that they are doing religion the right way. I mentioned in a much earlier post that I felt the CofC was in need of a new identity. In that regard and after thinking about it more, I believe that the old identity was what I just identified i.e., pride in doing religion that right way. That old identity began unraveling when various factions of the CofC began to quarrel about who had the true right to the identity of doing religion in the right way and now things have gotten so bad that the identity has totally unraveled.

    Might I be so bold to suggest that the only new identity that might work now is to reduce the pride by allowing each faction to believe that they are doing religion the right way and to accept each other. That means no more full page attack adervisements, no more public debates, no more shunning of each other. It doesn’t meant that each congregation has to accept an overiding identity that becomes the new way of doing religion the right way. Now, I ask you, is this possible? I view it as highly improbable and would guess that it would only occur after a protracted period of decline in which many of the small congregations that are the most highly fractious go out of existance. Is it possible? I would suggest that the Independent Christian Church does this today. This group has a lot of varying ways of doing religion but they can still get together and enjoy fellowship and I can’t recall any full page attack ads in their history. But, for the immediate future, my guess is we just began to see the consequence of pride in the CofC.

    I suspect that this might strike some of you in the wrong way so I apoligize in advance.

  67. shelly says:

    I am a former member of the Church of Christ. I did not leave because no one would talk to me. I left for other several reasons. First, when it was announced that the tax papers were on tables for members yearly contributions, the first thing I thought to myself was that was strange. We give in good faith and turn around and get our money back. Several years later, I learned that most churches including the Church of Christ are all 501C3 Corp. Cannot serve God and Mammon both. People are hungering for truth, especially in the age we live in and are not getting it. Ministers cannot stand at the pulpit and tell us what’s really going on without repercussions. In early America, the church ran the show, spiritually and politically. In today’s age a huge percentage want truth and another chunk want to feel good. Let’s face it, truth does not feel good.
    Secondly, I realized that Christmas and Easter were pagan holidays. Some of you may think I’m too legalistic, But when Moses was with God and receiving the 10 Commandments, the Israelites were growing impatient and built a Golden Calf to worship. God was furious with them and wanted to destroy them all. They had fallen back to their pagan ways. This is what we do when celebrating Easter and Christmas. Do your research and pray for discernment.

    I also have come to realize the Sabbath is on Saturday and not on Sunday. I know believers did meet on first day of the week in Bible, but Jesus did say, “If you love me, you will keep my Commandments” I have never once heard a minister say, I realize we meet on the first day of the week, but remember Saturday is Sabbath remember to keep it Holy.

    These are a few of the reasons that I left. It is important to me to live in truth for Christ, then to go with what everyone does because of tradition. I believe we are so far from the truth now and if truth is known at the pulpit, it is not talked about. It would make people either flee or the pews would be jam packed. If the real truth was preached, the church would be shut down immediately. Our family now home churches and get together several times of the year with other believers. I admittedly, miss being a part of a congregation, but knowing what I know, I feel God would be disappointed with me if I returned to the “state” church.

  68. Charles McLean says:

    “Let’s face it, truth does not feel good.”
    I think this common POV drives as many people away from the Gospel as any I know of. We set ourselves up as sinners deserving death and instead of letting ourselves be redeemed, we settle for a lifetime of being beaten up for our sinfulness. This is NOT “good news”.

  69. Todd Collier says:

    Amen Charles! Somehow that angle lacks the sense of victorious overcoming portrayed in Scripture. Sure things will be tough, but they’ll be tough because we serve a rejected and murdered and risen Lord who is going to give us the victory through those sufferings. Our sins are forgiven and taken away, our suffering comes because we are headed for something so much better which means we can make awesomely positive things out of our sufferings right now.

    All last Fall I was fighting cancer and through chemo and prayer am cancer free. I could have easily (or stupidly) settled for a “Why me?” attitude. Instead I accepted a “So what’s He gonna do now?” attitude. That suffering is already paying dividends in ministry as I can talk to anyone who is struggling with anything and if they know my story we immediately conect and I am allowed to pour God’s grace into them.

    Do I want to go there again? Heck no!

    Will I gladly go if He calls me? Without hesitation or complaint.

    All for Christ and His Kingdom!

  70. Bruce Morton says:

    I appreciate John’s comment:
    “Teachings such as baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, weekly communion, acappella music, etc, would have held great appeal to the others if we had used and proclaimed them as celebrations of Christ rather constructing them into a test of “religious perfection”. He has highlighted well how all teaching in Scripture can and should focus on Christ, and when it does pride falls away, mechanistic words fall away, and people hear the spiritual.

    In a religious melting pot such as America, I am sure many of you have seen the “departures” up close and personal; I have too. Churches of Christ are indeed seeing some, as are ALL religious groups. All in a time when young adults (especially on secular college campuses) are influenced some (or much) of the time by an other-than-Jesus mentally and by “partying” and cybersex. If any question about the latter, then I suggest you grab a copy of the article “A Billion Wicked Thoughts” in Discover magazine. The first thorough look at cybersex on the Internet. Astonishing. And our teems and young adults are getting caught by it — and often they are not telling anyone.

    We need to read the Word AT LENGTH more and more. I am doing so where I am and a class of teens are telling me they like it — just reading together for long periods. And reread. And reread. They sense the importance. They do not get bored.

    And is music really that important? Yes. Many have wrestled about music with emotion in this weblog because we sense music’s importance — just as it is in every religious group. I know many will not agree with me — in the quest for unity. However, I AM seeking the same unity. And adding a quote below from an Independent Christian church elder of many years. I hope people take time to read. Dick Moser is highly respected within Independent Christian churches. He gives some substance to why Paul focuses on the simplest of expressions in our assemblies: Voice and heart.


    I was attracted to your recent book by way of Dr Jack Cottrell’s comment on FaceBook. I purchased it and cannot put it down. I really appreciate your calm love teaching style. I have been an elder in the Christian Church (instrumental) for over 35 years. I have held the view that the instrument is not sinful in and of itself, but certainly can and has inhibited our assembly in worship more than it has helped. Frankly, I have grown weary of the so called, “worship wars” usually but not always focused upon age and preference. Your refreshing cooments regarding an assembly singing “good songs”, was quite revealing and moving. I am anxious to read the remaining chapters. May God bless! Dick Moser (Dick gave me permission to send)

    I have doubt that congregations WILL GROW when they preach the Word, read the Word, sing the Word as they keep their focus on the Lord. Okay, that’s my two cents.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton
    Katy, Texas

  71. Bruce Morton says:

    Addendum to correct an error in my editing (oops!).

    The next-to-last statement should be :-):
    I have NO doubt that congregations WILL GROW when they preach the Word, read the Word, sing the Word as they keep their focus on the Lord.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton
    Katy, Texas

  72. Todd Collier says:


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