Cannibalizing the Church

I’m worried that we’re cannibalizing our churches.

A few days ago, Lifeway published data about more churches closing than opening during the pandemic. That week, McKinsey Co. stated that more businesses opened than closed during the same period. We’re losing ground.

But that’s not the worst of it. For decades big churches have swallowed smaller ones. Often through self-promotion and clever marketing. Other times it’s a matter of people looking for a home after a church closed. Either way, this presents a false picture of church growth. There’s a big difference in motives. However, none of this is good. We’re cannibalizing ourselves.

It feels reassuring to hear glowing numbers about individual congregations growing while we fail to notice that we continue to lose ground. We’ve been lulled to sleep while the house burns around us.

Pulling from other congregations affects how we approach church planting, as well.

A friend is up to his eyes in a church plant. He’s also in some hot water with his funding/coaching agents. They’re demanding a large opening day crowd, which openly assumes pulling people from other churches. Seen as necessary to build momentum and ensure funding for the new church, it looks like cannibalization to me.

The saddest part of this is that he’s gaining ground by making disciples in a single neighborhood—dozens of them. But that’s not enough to satisfy his critics. Planting via evangelism and disciplemaking may be slower but it is how movements build momentum.

It seems that evangelism has become a back-burner issue. I’ve noticed this as I’ve published a series of blogs and videos touching the subject. The number of people responding by opening articles or watching videos drops each time evangelism shows up in a headline for a posting.

U.S. population continues to proliferate while church attendance and the number of self-identifying Christ-followers shrinks. We need to stop kidding ourselves about transfer growth and teach our people to make disciples outside the church. Remember those folks in Jerusalem, “enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”