The Incredible Shrinking Church

Will the U.S. Church Survive? If So, In What Shape?

Someone responded to a recent blog with two painful questions:

  1. At the present rate of “growth,” how long will Christianity survive in the U.S.?
  2. At the current rate of “growth,” what kind of churches will be left in 10-15 years?

Our Growth is Negative

For starters, the growth we see is negative. In 1950, 94 percent of Americans self-identified as Christians. Today that has shrunken to 68 percent (if you believe the more positive polls). You say, “But many of those were cultural Christians.” But what do you think of today’s numbers? Don’t they include cultural Christians?

We’ve most likely produced cultural Christians at a higher rate than we did a few decades ago.

We’ve taught our members to be spectators, not disciples. To ask, “What’s in it for me?” rather than make disciples. We’re just now beginning to understand the need to make disciples capable of producing more disciples. And, thanks to Exponential, Stadia and others, we’re catching on to the power of church multiplication.

We Goofed Up Form and Function

In short, we allowed form to precede function.

Any architect or engineer will tell you that form follows function. We forgot the function while we busily copied other people’s forms. Sure they were successful, but that’s because they got the function/form thing right in their context (it might also be due to many becoming early adopters of the spectator model—it works until it doesn’t).

The early church survived, even thrived, because its members existed for outsiders instead of themselves. These people knew the lost art of laying down their lives for others. This showed up centuries later during the Black Death in Europe when the Christ-followers often died caring for their plague-ridden neighbors.

The earliest Christians were highly relational—re-read the end of Acts 2 and compare it to your church program to gather a strong hint.

The Future

The good news is that Jesus is still in charge, and his church won’t fail.

The church that prevails in the future will be more relational, less of a spectacle, focused on equipping members for ministry. It will meet in micro as well as macro forms. A return to the neighborhood will diminish the freeway church as a model. Coffee shops and the workplace will find their way into our planning sessions.

Agree, disagree? Is something working very well? I’d like to hear your thoughts. Also, always looking for ordinary people doing extraordinary things as they make great podcast guests. Please sound off in the comments box.

Catch this on YouTube at https://youtu.be/VBkXWU5U70I