Why Do Churches Stagnate or Die?

Matthew 11:15 “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (NKJV)

This study has taken me more than four years to compile. The catalyses for this study was the continual and ever demonstrated reality of the decline in Christianity within the United States and North America that I have witnessed over the past five years, locally and nationally.

It is my only hope that the statistical data I have collected might in some way be utilized to rebound from this persistent trend of decline in Christianity primarily locally but also within the United States.

Part 1

American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) 2008

The United States government does not collect religious data in its census. The survey below, the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) 2008, was a random digit-dialed telephone survey of 54,461 American residential households in the continental United States. The 2001 sample size was 50,281.

Only adult respondents were asked, “What is your religion, if any?”. Interviewers did not prompt or offer a suggested list of potential answers. The religion of the spouse or partner was also asked. If the initial answer was “Protestant” or “Christian,” further questions were asked to probe which particular denomination.

American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) 2008 Survey

Religious Self-Identification of the U.S. Adult Population:

Group 2001 x 1,000 2008 x 1,000 Change % Change
Adult population, total 207,983 228,182 20,199 8.85%
Adult population, Responded 196,683 216,367 19,684 9.10%
Total Christian 159,514 173,402 13,888 8.01%
Catholic 50,873 57,199 6,326 11.06%
Non-Catholic Christian 108,641 116,203 7,562 6.51%
Baptist 33,820 36,148 2,328 6.44%
Mainline Christian 35,788 29,375 -6,413 -17.92%
Methodist 14,039 11,366 -2,673 -19.04%
Lutheran 9,580 8,674 -906 -9.46%
Presbyterian 5,596 4,723 -873 -15.60%
Episcopalian/Anglican 3,451 2,405 -1,046 -30.31%
United Church of Christ 1,378 736 -642 -46.59%
Christian Generic 22,546 32,441 9,895 30.50%
Christian Church 14,190 16,384 2,194 13.39%
Non-denominational 2,489 8,032 5,543 69.01%
Protestant – Unspecified 4,647 5,187 540 10.41%
Evangelical/Born Again 1,088 2,154 1,066 49.49%
Pentecostal/Charismatic 7,831 7,948 117 1.47%
Pentecostal – Unspecified 4,407 5,416 1,009 18.63%
Assemblies of God 1,105 810 -295 -26.70%
Church of God 943 663 -280 -29.69%
Other Denominations 5,949 7,131 1,182 16.58%
Churches of Christ 2,593 1,921 -672 -25.92%
Jehovah’s Witness 1,331 1,914 583 30.46%
Seventh-Day Adventist 724 938 214 22.82%
Latter-Day Saints 2,697 3,158 461 14.60%
Total non-Christian religions 7,740 8,796 1,056 12.01%
Jewish 2,837 2,680 -157 -5.53%
Eastern Religions 2,020 1,961 -59 -2.92%
Buddhist 1,082 1,189 107 9.00%
Muslim 1,104 1,349 245 18.16%
New Religious Movements 1,770 2,804 1,034 36.88%
Agnostic 29,481 34,169 4,688 13.72%
Atheist 1,893 3,606 1,713 47.50%
Did Not Know/Refused reply 11,300 11,815 515 4.56%

American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) 2008 Survey:

Indicates the following religions are in decline in the U.S.

1 United Church of Christ 1,378 736 -642 -46.59%
2 Episcopalian/Anglican 3,451 2,405 -1,046 -30.31%
3 Church of God 943 663 -280 -29.69%
4 Assemblies of God 1,105 810 -295 -26.70%
5 Churches of Christ 2,593 1,921 -672 -25.92%
6 Methodist 14,039 11,366 -2,673 -19.04%
7 Mainline Christian 35,788 29,375 -6,413 -17.92%
8 Presbyterian 5,596 4,723 -873 -15.60%
9 Lutheran 9,580 8,674 -906 -9.46%
10 Jewish 2,837 2,680 -157 -5.53%
11 Eastern Religions 2,020 1,961 -59 -2.92%

American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) 2008 Survey:

Indicates the following religions are growing rapidly in the U.S.

1 Non-denominational 2,489 8,032 5,543 69.01%
2 Evangelical/Born Again 1,088 2,154 1,066 49.49%
3 Atheist 1,893 3,606 1,713 47.50%
4 New Religious Movements 1,770 2,804 1,034 36.88%
5 Christian Generic 22,546 32,441 9,895 30.50%
6 Jehovah’s Witness 1,331 1,914 583 30.46%
7 Seventh-Day Adventist 724 938 214 22.82%
8 Pentecostal – Unspecified 4,407 5,416 1,009 18.63%
9 Muslim 1,104 1,349 245 18.16%
10 Other Denominations 5,949 7,131 1,182 16.58%
11 Latter-Day Saints 2,697 3,158 461 14.60%
12 Agnostic 29,481 34,169 4,688 13.72%
13 Christian Church 14,190 16,384 2,194 13.39%
14 Catholic 50,873 57,199 6,326 11.06%
15 Protestant – Unspecified 4,647 5,187 540 10.41%
16 Buddhist 1,082 1,189 107 9.00%
17 Baptist 33,820 36,148 2,328 6.44%
18 Pentecostal/Charismatic 7,831 7,948 117 1.47%

Part 2

Signs of a Stagnate or Dying Church:

By The Barna Group

  • Declining or stagnate membership
  • Fundamental attitude
  • Lack of spiritual commitment – inactive
  • Feeble leadership
  • Methodology
  • Divided goals
  • Ineffective outreach efforts
  • Disparities evident within membership
  • Perceived inequality within membership
  • Age group gap
  • Relevance

By Fresh Start Ministries

  • Inverted end means – form has become the function
  • Making absolutes of non-absolutes – following tradition not God
  • Inappropriate priorities – satisfying saints not seeking the lost
  • Practice come and hear not go and tell – inside out thinking
  • Incompetent leadership – unclear vision – weak people skills
  • Inadequate facilities – poor location, poor aesthetics, lack of space
  • Inadequate leadership – Acts 6 blindness, arrogance, and self-seeking
  • Neglecting new and fragile membership – generational issues
  • Irrelevant ministries – outdated and ineffective

By Bandy & Associates, Church Consultants

  • Have lost their sense of mission to those who have not heard about Jesus Christ and do not pant after the Great Commission
  • Exist primarily to provide fellowship for the “members of the club”
  • Little to no viable sustained new growth
  • Expect their pastors to focus primarily on ministering to the members’ personal spiritual needs
  • Neglect ministries to meet the needs of their members
  • Have no idea about the needs of the “stranger outside the door”
  • Are focused more on the past than the future
  • Often experience major forms of conflict
  • Watching the bottom line of the financial statement more than the number of conversions of faith

Part 3

Signs of a Living Active Church:

  • Living churches are constantly changing to meet the needs outside the wall – dead, stagnate, and dying churches do not
  • Living churches nurture and teach new members the attributes of Jesus – dead, stagnate, and dying churches teach opinion, tradition, restriction, fear, condemnation, rigidity, and church prepared doctrine of mankind
  • Living churches are alive with the sounds of children – dead, stagnate, and dying churches are not
  • Living churches take active care of the less disadvantaged – dead, stagnate, and dying churches limit aid to the deprived even within their congregation
  • Living churches are not controlled by a bank balance – dead, stagnate, and dying churches are
  • Living churches are actively living their faith outside the building – dead, stagnate, and dying churches are retired outside the building
  • Living churches don’t have “can’t” in their vocabulary – dead, stagnate, and dying churches find fault
  • Living churches express thankfulness to God – dead, stagnate, and dying churches express a depressed funeral
  • Living churches regularly explore new ways of reaching the lost (evangelize) outside the building – dead, stagnate, and dying churches relive tradition, frightening fear of making a mistake, and calcify

Part 4

Considerations for Resurrecting a Dying Church:

  • Jesus, not the local church, is the object of love and is expressed in love as love
  • Seeking the lost is mandated, primary focus is outside the building
  • Complete biblical concepts, from context, are taught not tradition, opinion, or biblically limited interpretation (out of context)
  • Membership focus is to the Spiritual Church not the local church
  • Are open and do not conduct business in secret (Secrecy breads fear, distrust, doubt, and rebellion)
  • Preachers are not chaplains but contemporary envoys of Jesus
  • Elders are the chaplains of the local church, this vocation is Priority One (Visit and be involved with the membership on a personal level)
  • Confront people who try to control (iron fist, manipulation, or intimidation) early, in love, regardless of their position (Member, Elder, Deacon, Preacher, etc…)
  • Take inventory of everything in stock and discover and assess individual members talents, encourage, and utilize these gifts (quarterly, semi-annual, and annually)

Part 5

Biblical Attributes of an Active and Alive Church:

  1. The active Church maintains and upholds the Gospel of Jesus unchanged by human standards, ideas, traditions, or opinions. This means actually teaching, learning, and living, each day, the characteristics of Jesus and the eternal hope found only in Jesus.

Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2:2, “For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” (NKJV)

Simply knowing, believing, and obeying in Jesus as described in the Bible is the timeless application of the Gospel of Good News.

  • Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament of the coming savior.
  • Jesus Christ is the Messiah and Son of God.
  • Jesus Christ, born of a virgin mother, lived a perfect sinless life.
  • Jesus Christ died for our sins on a cross: Once for all. He conquered sin for us.
  • Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the third day following burial. He conquered death so that all that obey God’s stipulations of adoption will have eternal life with God.
  • Jesus Christ ascended to heaven and sits at the right hand of God where He is act as mediator for all obeying believers. His interceding blood continually offers forgiveness provide the believer continually strives to live by God’s Will.
  • Jesus Christ is coming back to take His people to heaven.

2. The active Church is “Christ like” in character twenty-four hours daily and lives the Gospel of Jesus. This is what the word “Christian” means.

When considering how to live our lives, people once asked, “What would Jesus do” but the real question to ask is “What did Jesus do?” Luke tells in Acts 10:38 that Jesus went about doing benevolence and caring for all who were in need. This means that, by the will of God, Jesus’ characteristics sum up compassion for others.

The following are characteristics of Jesus Christ that the active church and its individual members can practice in daily life while striving to be more Christ like.

  • Humility – Philippians 2:5-8 “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross!” (NIV) Here Paul illustrates the scope of Jesus’ humbleness for the active church and its members to follow.
  • Service – Matthew 20:27-28 Jesus says, “And whoever desires to be chief among you, let him be your servant; even as the Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (MKJV) Jesus is the decisive model of a church or person who desired to provide to others. He did tasks generally left to the servants, like washing feet as seen in John 13:5. Jesus also said that when His followers help those in need they have in fact helped Him. Matthew 25:40 “And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” (NKJV) James continues the call for sacrifice when he said that pure religion was helping people that could not or did not have the means to repay in James 1:27. Therefore, the active church and its members are to help, without provision of repayment, those in need.
  • Glorify God – Jesus said he came to earth to honor, praise, glorify, and adore His Father. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:31 saying, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.” (RSV) Therefore, everything an active church does is to honor and praise God.
  • Prayer – Jesus demonstrated the need for continual prayer. He was in continuous relationship with His Father through prayer. One of the examples from Jesus’ life is the demonstration of morning pray to speak with God. Mark 1:35 says, “And in the morning, a long time before daylight, he got up and went out to a quiet place, and there he gave himself up to prayer.” (BBE) Jesus also prayed for other people, His followers, at meals, etc… Consequently, if Jesus saw the need to pray for needs of His own and others, so the active church and individual members ought to be continually in prayer for the same reasons.
  • Sacrifice – Jesus demonstrated the definitive surrender when He gave His life so that all sinful human beings can spend time without end in heaven provided they obey God’s criteria for eternal life. He presented His life as a gift to all who have obedient faith. John lets us know this is factual when he wrote 1 John 2:2 saying, “He is the offering for our sins; and not for ours only, but for all the world.” (BBE) Paul wrote that we are to live by sacrificing for the good of God. Romans 12:1-2 says, “For this reason I make request to you, brothers, by the mercies of God, that you will give your bodies as a living offering, holy, pleasing to God, which is the worship it is right for you to give him. And let not your behavior be like that of this world, but be changed and made new in mind, so that by experience you may have knowledge of the good and pleasing and complete purpose of God.” (BBE) the correlation here is that Jesus gave of Himself for others and Paul says the church needs to do likewise.
  • Active Faith – Jesus demonstrated His love for His Father by actively doing what God commanded. The love Jesus had for God is so great that he went to the cross and bore the sins of all people on his dying shoulders. Jesus also put a condition of salvation when He said in Matthew 7:21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” (NKJV) Jesus also said that actively obeying people are His siblings in Mark 3:35. Therefore, obedience, faith and belief are not ideal because Jesus’ life demonstrated and taught that true faith and belief were active necessities of His followers.
  • Great Love – John says that God and Jesus are love and give love to others. John writes in 1 John 3:16-19 “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him.” (NKJV) Paul said that because of our demonstrated active faith we have salvation from our sins. Paul and James are in complete agreement concerning the fact that a Christian’s faith must be active. Paul wrote that the active faith James taught in James 2:17-20 “Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe–and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?” (NKJV) is not working for salvation but a result of salvation extended by God. Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:4-10 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (NKJV) The active church gives active love to those in need.
  • Extended Grace and Mercy – The life and death of Jesus extended grace and mercy to everyone that would obey God. Paul wrote in Romans 3:21-26 “But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (NKJV) The word Paul used to show the depth of the grace and mercy extended is “propitiation” is a verb that means reconcile or resolve differences. Paul said that this issuance of grace is free, meaning there is absolutely nothing a person can do to earn it from God. Therefore, if the church and its members are to live as Jesus lived, than the active church extends grace to others without restrictions to earn the grace and mercy.

Guy Lewis, Payson, Arizona

Started October 14, 2005 and Completed July 31, 2010

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Thoughts concerning the San Antonio 2010 International Convention

Simi-Official Local News Reports:

  • As reported by the Examiner & KSAT ABC 12, the San Antonio Riverwalk was sad to see the convention end.
  • The local news also reported that area restaurants and business’ benefited from weekend with projected direct revenue estimated at $60 million in addition to an estimated $16 million in revenue for the city.
  • One local Riverwalk bar reported to the San Antonio Examiner that their average daily income was only a mere $300.00 for the weekend.
  • It is being reported by San Antonio news that the International was the most successfully stage and the largest convention ever held in San Antonio history surpassing NFL games, NBA games and notable concerts held at the Alamodome.
  • Over 90 countries carried flags in the opening ceremonies.
  • Over 4000 volunteers from around the world took part in supporting this event.
  • Rumors of attendance have ranged from the conservative estimate from GSO weeks prior to the convention of 50,000 to a few of the bus drivers estimating 80,000 with at least 10,000 attendees from the sister fellowship.
  • The city government website lists the opening day attendance at 55,000 people for the Convention Center/Alamodome. GSO has not yet released their figures for attendance at this convention.

Personal Observations:

  • Being my very first International Convention, out of my 20+ years, I was very impressed that the people from around the world, almost unanimously, expressed such heartfelt appreciation to God for their salvation from a certain chemical death.
  • I felt such a high spiritual connection with everyone I met and a kinship totally unknown in all of my other human relationships.
  • Everywhere I went people looked each other in the eyes with bright shining smiles of gratitude and hope.
  • I met wonderfully grateful people from Moscow to Beijing, New Zealand to Ireland, and Brazil to Canada.
  • The amazing gentleman, I sat next to at the opening ceremony, from Japan had 34 years of continuous sobriety and had never missed an international since he found sobriety.
  • All the local businesses were friendly, welcoming, and helpful.
  • For the most part, the food was delicious, reasonably priced and the servings were very generous.
  • One of most fascinating gifts I personally received was finding other people from places I have traveled in times past that remembered me fondly and offered invitations to return for another visit.

Most precious to me is that my soul and faith in God has reached a higher plateau of trust and assurance that God will help those who genially seek Him in their lives.

Sober hugs, Guy, Payson, Arizona, July 6, 2010