Probing Questions for a Church in Decline

Reading through the recent State of the Church series by the Barna group which tracked 20 years of trends in faith and religion looking for national patterns. Everyone bemoans the church in decline in America and these #’s add weight to the evidence. Our local #’s did as well. Never know quite what to do with #’s like these, but as a strategist and a curious explorer type, I like to ask why and how. Barna explores that through published books, but just looking at the numbers we can make some observations and ask some probing questions. Here’s some trends:

  • Bible reading is down 5%. Is it because of new media and our society becoming less literate? Or has our emphasis on professional clergy and seminary education and the way those of us who have it talk about the Bible, taught people that they can’t understand the Bible apart from professionals? 
  • Volunteerism at church is down 8%. Is it because of more hired staff at churches and less opportunity for people to engage in religious service? Is there more emphasis on attending than participating today than before? Does the opportunities for involvement capture the hearts of post-modern people? Is there opportunities for every gifting, personality, skill set? 
  • Sunday School attendance is down 8%. Is it because less churches are using a Sunday School model? Has lecture format in Sunday school run its course? Is it because people are just too busy for a 2 hour commitment to Sunday School and church? 
  • Worship Attendance is down 9%. Are our worship services at optimal times for attendance? Has the emphasis on attendance as involvement (pay, pray, get out of the way) created a mindset in people that could not sustain them against other offerings in culture? Have we lost the battle to compete for market-share using consumer driven “come and see” approaches in the midst of worship wars? 
  • % of people who claim no affiliation went up 13% to now 37%. Is the church so irrelevant today that the halo effect doesn’t even drive people to at least verbally affiliate?  
  • People claiming to be born again is up 5%. Is this due to the rising popularity of political figures courting the evangelical movement? Is the word born-again becoming less of a problem for people? Or is our message really getting clearer to the masses and people are truly getting born-again? 
  • People believing that God is all-knowing, all-powerful and perfect Creator of the universe who still rules the world today is down 7% to 67% of the public. Are people seeing an all-powerful God at work through our churches?  
  • People believing that the Bible is totally accurate in all of the principles it teaches is down 8% to 38% of the public. Have people read the Bible and found it not accurate? or have they seen the lives of those of us claiming to live by its teachings and decided that it must be inaccurate at some points? 
  • Even among those claiming to be born-again Christians:
        • Sunday School attendance dropped 14%.
        • Volunteering at church dropped 12%.
        • Worship attendance dropped 7%.
        • Bible reading dropped 9%.
        • Claiming no affiliation increased 5% to 19%.

Barna points out that the “only behavior that did not experience any real change was the % of adults who attend a church of 600 or more people.” And for born again christians attending a large church increased by 8%. Is this simply because there are more big churches today than ever before? Are bigger churches effective at disciple making? Or are bigger churches more appealing to consumer mindset? Are there any co-relations to be made about declines in discipleship behavior and practice and bigger churches? 

AND, are we so absorbed with what’s going on “in here” (i.e. in MY church) that we don’t have time to think about those “out there” represented by these numbers? And these % represent people that need to know the God who is all-powerful who sent his Son that they may know eternal life as described in the book that they not sure is accurate.

What other questions should we be asking? Or do you have any answers to mine? Comment below or by email. :))>

Posted on September 15, 2011, in Culture, Reflecting. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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