The faster pace of decline toward death for many churches
Thom Rainer

Thom Rainer

Based upon an aggregate of several research projects, I made some notes of growth and decline rates of churches and summarized my estimates into five categories by worship attendance changes over the previous five-year period. I compiled the following numbers ten years ago:

Growth and Decline Categories of North American Congregations 2009

  • Fast-growing (growing greater than 5% annually): 12%
  • Growing (growing nominally to 5% annually): 23%
  • Steadily declining (declining 0% to 3% annually): 34%
  • Rapidly declining (declining 2% to 5% annually): 21%
  • Declining toward death (over 5% decline annually): 10%

This past week I conducted the same exercise based on some of my updated research and the research of others and estimated the following:

Growth and Decline Categories of North American Congregations 2019

  • Fast-growing (growing greater than 5% annually): 3%
  • Growing (growing nominally to 5% annually): 24%
  • Steadily declining (declining 0% to 3% annually): 32%
  • Rapidly declining (declining 2% to 5% annually): 22%
  • Declining toward death (over 5% decline annually): 19%

My numbers admittedly are estimates, but they do have some quantitative basis, such as denominational statistics, research by LifeWay Research, and the data available in the increasing number of consultation and coaching requests we receive.

Obviously, the staggering reality of these numbers is the pronounced change in the two extreme categories. We are seeing a marked decline in fast-growing churches and a marked increase in churches declining toward death.

As I prayerfully consider these trends, I have a few immediate reactions and thoughts:

  • We need fervent prayer more than ever in our churches.
  • Our church leaders and members must let go of the idols of the past and traditions that hold us back.
  • If we are not focused and intentional on evangelism and sharing the gospel, we are little more than a religious social club.
  • We must stop fighting each other and understand who the real enemy is.
  • Church leaders should humbly seek interventions of coaching and consultation to see how God might lead us in fresh and exciting directions.
  • I have seen too many churches breakout in God’s power to maintain a defeatist attitude. The One who resurrects the dead can bring any church back to life again.

This information is sobering. But it is not hopeless. God is not done with us yet.

***

This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on June 3. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer


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