Recipe for Church Growth

by VickyRN 1,979 Views | 11 Comments Senior Moderator

Church attendance has dropped over the past decade, while the population has increased. The church is losing its relevance in society. Millennials, especially, find little value in going to church. What can be done to reverse this trend?

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    Recipe for Church Growth

    The statistics are dismal and alarming. Even though the u.s. Population increased by 9.7 percent from 2000 to 2010, church membership decreased by 4.2 percent over the same decade. According to their latest figures, the national council of churches reported an overall church membership drop of 1.15 percent among their member churches in just one year - from 2009 to 2010. In 2010, the Roman Catholics, the nation's largest christian denomination, reported a membership decline of 0.44 percent from the previous year. Similarly, the membership of the nation's largest Protestant denomination, the southern baptists, was down by 0.15 percent from 2009. Other mainline Protestant denominations fared even worse: the Evangelical Lutheran church down 5.90 percent, the Presbyterians down 3.42 percent, the Episcopal church down 2.71 percent, the United Church of Christ down 2.02 percent, the united Methodist church down 1.22 percent, and the American Baptists down 0.19 percent. Along with overall declining memberships, annual contributions dropped $1.2 billion in 2010 among the 66 u.s. Denominations represented by the national council of churches.

    It seems that more and more churches are reporting declining or stagnant memberships. Some have closed their doors, and others are laying off staff. The church landscape is largely a graying crowd, with a dearth of young adults in worship, Sunday school, prayer meetings, and bible study. The millennials, in particular, are considerably less likely to maintain church affiliation than older americans.

    What, then, is the secret to a vibrant, growing church ministry with excited worshipers from all generations? How can we attract young people and families with children into the church's ranks?

    First and foremost, the primary goal in church growth should be the spiritual growth of the congregation. When people are following the lord, growing in Christ-likeness, and reaching out to others, the numbers will automatically follow.

    1.) There must be an enthusiastic, energetic, and capable pastoral leadership team in place. The old tired wineskin of the pastor on the stage ("the one-man show") entertaining a passive pew-warming congregation will not hold the new wine of the fresh move of god's spirit being poured out all over the world. In fact, these old dried moldy wineskins will burst under the pressure. The life of the congregation should not focus and revolve around one man. Instead, the senior pastor should be just one of multiple leaders and overseers in the church.

    2.) The old paradigm of strict separation of laity and clergy must be replaced with a vibrant engaged congregation where body ministry takes place. Body ministry is the biblical pattern of ministry in the church. It functions through the use of spiritual gifts operating through all members of the body of christ (romans 12; 1 corinthians 12).

    3.) The church needs to be a true community of believers exhibiting warmth and hospitality to visitors and fellow congregants alike. It should foster a welcoming atmosphere for new people. The greek word koinonia means "fellowship, sharing in common, life together." christian fellowship is a key aspect of the christian life. "and they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship (koinonia), in the breaking of bread, and in prayers" (acts 2:42). People in the congregation should avoid going their separate ways during the week, but truly interact and get to know one another. True fellowship requires more than just a handshake on a Sunday morning.

    4.) Outreach ministry into the surrounding community – and the world – is essential. Jesus fed the hungry, healed the sick, loved the unlovely, and ministered to the outcasts. He expects his followers to do the same, to be his hands and feet in this hurting world. Examples of ways to reach out to vulnerable people in the community are an emergency food pantry and clothing closet for the needy, a daycare center or nursery, an after school program such as a boys and girls club, a homeless shelter, a family violence center, a prison ministry, or a senior citizens outreach program. "'for i was hungry and you gave me food, i was thirsty and you gave me drink, i was a stranger and you welcomed me, i was naked and you clothed me, i was sick and you visited me, i was in prison and you came to me''' (matthew 25:35-36). "'but when you give a feast, invite the poor, the disabled, the lame, the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you...'" (luke 14:13-14).

    5.) Finally, and most importantly, pray for revival. Revival means to rekindle into full flame the love for god and for one's fellow man that has turned lukewarm or cold. And then be prepared to serve. The greatness of a christian is not in status but in servant hood. Those who desire to be great in God's kingdom must be the servant of all. "just as the son of man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life..." (matthew 20:28).

    By giving out, the church becomes a river of life in the community, rather than a stagnant dead sea. The pew-sitting church is transformed into the Christ powered church, infused with infectious energy and enthusiasm throughout. The focus must always be on jesus and the pattern he established for his church to follow. The church can achieve the extraordinary, reach their community, and experience phenomenal growth, when the people are empowered to serve in their area of giftedness.

    References:

    2010 census population counts
    Church giving drops $1.2 billion reports 2012 yearbook of churches
    Church growth research graphs and statistics
    Church outreach ideas
    Connected generation
    Just in: latest church growth statistics
    Last edit by Joe V on Sep 10, '12
    Joe V, herring_RN, aknottedyarn, and 3 others like this.
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  3. About VickyRN

    VickyRN is a certified nurse educator (NLN) and certified gerontology nurse (ANCC). Her research interests include: the special health and social needs of the vulnerable older adult population; registered nurse staffing and resident outcomes in intermediate care nursing facilities; and, innovations in avoiding institutionalization of frail elderly clients by providing long-term care services and supports in the community. She is faculty in a large baccalaureate nursing program in North Carolina.

    VickyRN joined Mar '01 - from 'Under the shadow of His wings...'. VickyRN has '16' year(s) of experience and specializes in 'Gerontological, cardiac, med-surg, peds'. Posts: 12,043 Likes: 6,424; Learn more about VickyRN by visiting their allnursesPage

    11 Comments so far...

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    Great job, Vicky- as usual.
    My DS has planted a church overseas and continues to work with these methods of increasing participation. I know our church has heavy congregational involvement. Over Lent we had a series of Wed. eve. services that were focused on individuals' spiritual journeys. It had the profound result of closeness and understanding within our congregation. I was asked to share and this had a deep impact on my spiritual growth and enhanced the relationships I have with others in the congregation.

    Repeated and ongoing connection are critical to church attendance and growth not only for keeping numbers high. It enhances the spiritual experience of those attending. To sit with friends, share the taking of the sacrament, and join together in sharing God's Peace only bring positives into a person's life. This is in contrast to those old sermons; lectures on the parishioners' wicked ways and the continued threat of damnation and telling of the perpetual life sent living in a world of sin. Perhaps these are appropriate ways sharing but they do not invite participation.

    I think this is one of the deeply dividing issues. How one views readings and teachings of Christianity. I have been criticized for my beliefs of a benevolent God who sent a message of love with Christ on earth. This is in sharp contrast to the teaching of a sin filled existence where there is a comparison with worms and views of an angry God. I am not sure of the correct view, if there is one correct view, but know it does cause breaks within Christian communities.

    Again, thanks for sharing something that is obviously a poignant subject for you.
    herring_RN, tewdles, and VickyRN like this.
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    Churches tend to be the most segregated of institutions, but if you go to one in an African American neighborhood, you may find what you're looking for.

    Religious belief has taken a nose dive among those of college age and younger. Churches that have gone liberal with their theology, though, are losing members. The most scritpurally conservative instutions (I use the word loosely) are gaining members, as they alienate many more people with their politically unacceptable (to young people) ideologies.

    Is becoming a social center the solution? If that can be done without the religious ritual, then what is the point?

    Maybe Christianity wasn't meant to exist in large institutions, like chain restaurants. Maybe it wasn't meant to be a spectacle, like a football game. It seemed that the religion went from the message of its founder to cathedrals and throned leaders in flamboyant hats.
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    Quote from Tragically Hip
    Churches tend to be the most segregated of institutions
    I can agree with this.
    "It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is 11 o'clock on Sunday morning…," King remarked in 1963. Sadly, almost 50 years later, the church remains overwhelmingly racially divided.
    Racial Segregation in Churches - Diverse Church
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    Quote from Tragically Hip
    Churches tend to be the most segregated of institutions, but if you go to one in an African American neighborhood, you may find what you're looking for.
    The African American church is commendable for the way they reach out into the surrounding communities to help hurting people. One very large AA church in a neighboring town maintains a homeless shelter and soup kitchen. Others in the area maintain after school programs, daycares, a family center complete with gymnasium where youth can congregate safely, and even a Christian school.

    Quote from Tragically Hip
    Is becoming a social center the solution? If that can be done without the religious ritual, then what is the point?
    The point is to spread the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ by reaching out to hurting people. The church is to be the City on the Hill, not a cloistered monastic society. Reaching out to hurting people in the community is a powerful way for the church to increase membership and attendance and to become much more relevant in society. Some contemporary church congregations in America, unfortunately, are unwilling to do so. The people are much too busy in their daily lives. They don't want to be inconvenienced or get their hands dirty. "Where no oxen are, the crib is clean: but much increase is by the strength of the ox" (Proverbs 14:4).
    Last edit by VickyRN on Jul 21, '12
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    Quote from TheCommuter
    I agree. The great racial divide on Sunday mornings would make a great topic for another article in my series on church matters. Thanks for the idea
    TheCommuter likes this.
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    Read an editorial in last Sunday's New York Times on this matter and while church attendance/support has declined in the USA, it is the more liberal religions that are suffering the most. Lutherans,Episcopalians, Methodists,Presbyterians, even the more liberal Jewish branches et all are seeing their numbers decline to the point of falling off a cliff. Unless a drastic reversal happens soon many of these religons will either drastically shrink if not vanish all together in several generations.

    Ironically (according to the editorial/opinion piece) the more liberal these religions get the faster church attendance/populations decline. Ordaining women, accepting gays and or blessing/performing gay marriages and the rest has not lead to a resurgence in these religions/churches. On the contrary as noted above each move further to the left sends populations down further.
    Is liberal Christianity signing its own death warrant? - U.S. News


    While not perfect nor totally immune to such drops, churches or branches of religions that remain in the old ways have seen somewhat stable populations to increases. While it is true the Catholic church over all for instance is suffering declines, individual areas in more conservative places such as Latin American, Africa, China/Asia are seeing steady growth. Even in North America parishes with Latin mass and or large populations of immigrants are doing vastly better on average than the older established Irish, Italian, and others.

    For all the main Christian religions Episocopalian,Protestant, Roman Catholic the largest growth is coming from the current and formerly Third World nations. Indeed there is talk that the next Archbishop of Canterbury will be an African.

    The United States is slowly in parts becoming more like the UK and EU. In those countries who have had centuries of dealing with *religion* and monarchies established churches have had less and less influence since the end of WWII and that shows no signs of decreasing. Italy, Poland, and parts of Germany are places where the Church (RC) still can pull some strings, but again the list is growing shorter.

    You can see the effects of this in how the debate over same sex marriage is playing out all over Europe. The big churches say *no* and the politicans smile and say "yeh, whatever" and vote another way.
    VickyRN likes this.
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    I think it's important to keep a historical perspective about churches and church growth.

    I did some reading on the topic, and I found that most graphs showing the percentage of Americans attending church go only as far back as WWII. These graphs show an upward climb followed by a plateau until the mid-60's followed by a decline starting around the time of the Vietnam War.

    But I did some research and found a graph that started around the beginning of the 20th century. It showed church attendance before WWII was about where it was now. It was the period between WWII and the Vietnam War that was unusual; the rates of church attendance then were nearly double the rates before and after that period.

    So it could be argued that church attendance is merely returning to normal rates after an unusual inflation during the 40s/50s/60s. The declines we're seeing are declines in churches that could only survive during that fertile period in history.

    My family's church is probably a good example: Mainline Protestant, a small church of modernist design planted in the growing suburbs in the late 50's. The bishop didn't think it was a good idea, didn't think it had potential, but the early church members pushed for it and got it (they didn't want to drive to a similar denomination of church miles away). And it did well in the early years, even expanding the sanctuary as its membership grew in this fertile period. But it wasn't long before things slowed down. The suburbs stopped growing rapidly, church attendance came to be seen as less mandatory, and a huge Catholic church was built just down the road, in addition to the many Protestant churches that already existed in that same area. And over the last 30 years or so the church has declined, from 250 members to 50. It'll likely close in a few years.
    tewdles, VickyRN, and aknottedyarn like this.
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    Quote from VickyRN
    The African American church is commendable for the way they reach out into the surrounding communities to help hurting people. One very large AA church in a neighboring town maintains a homeless shelter and soup kitchen. Others in the area maintain after school programs, daycares, a family center complete with gymnasium where youth can congregate safely, and even a Christian school.
    That's great. It's too bad that so many well-off, mostly white Christians are not doing what Jesus commanded them to do in Matthew 25:31 - 46 and elsewhere, as many of them rail at the government for spending their precious tax dollars to aid "the least of them."

    Quote from VickyRN
    The point is to spread the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ by reaching out to hurting people.
    I'm not sure that you have any concept how that sounds to a non-Christian. It sounds a lot like Tom Cruise talking about Operating Thetans or Marshall Applewhite talking about Comet Hale-Bopp, but, given the history of the Christian churches, it's far more intimidating. As disagreeable as the Scientologists are, at least they don't have a history of torturing and killing me in order to save me, and they don't have a political majority in this country.

    Quote from VickyRN
    The church is to be the City on the Hill, not a cloistered monastic society. Reaching out to hurting people in the community is a powerful way for the church to increase membership and attendance and to become much more relevant in society. Some contemporary church congregations in America, unfortunately, are unwilling to do so. The people are much too busy in their daily lives. They don't want to be inconvenienced or get their hands dirty. "Where no oxen are, the crib is clean: but much increase is by the strength of the ox" (Proverbs 14:4).
    SOME are unwilling to do so? Few are willing to do so.

    Still, I'm much happier seeing Christians walk the walk rather than annoying people on street corners with loud tales of hellfire and damnation.
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    Joe NightingMale, you should see the generational breakdown of church attendance in the 20th and 21st centuries. The millenials are falling away very rapidly. A very large percentage are not traditional believers, but "spiritual." A very large percentage of those are agnostic and/or atheist.


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