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Statistics and Reasons for Church Decline
Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds. Proverbs 27:23
For the last 15 plus years, we, at the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development (FASICLD) in partnership with Into Thy Word Ministries (another Francis Schaeffer vision), have been in careful, steadfast research in quest of “why so many churches are failing.”
What the Statistics Tell Us
This quest started in 1992 as a Fuller Institute project that was picked up by FASICLD in 1998, seeking what had happened and why the bride of Christ was in decline. God’s marvelous Church has become culturally irrelevant and even distant from is prime purpose of knowing Him, growing in Him, and worshipping Him by making disciples! This is evidenced by what is going on in our culture and in our church. Most of the statistics tell us that nearly 50% of Americans have no church home. In the 1980s, membership in the church had dropped almost 10%; then, in the 1990s, it worsened by another 12% drop-some denominations reporting a 40% drop in their membership. And now, over half way through the first decade of the 21st century, we are seeing the figures drop even more!
What is Going on with the Church in America?
The United States Census Bureau Records give some startling statistics, backed up by denominational reports and the Assemblies of God U.S. Missions:
· Every year more than 4000 churches close their doors compared to just over 1000 new church starts!
· There were about 4,500 new churches started between 1990 and 2000, with a twenty year average of nearly 1000 a year.
· Every year, 2.7 million church members fall into inactivity. This translates into the realization that people are leaving the church. From our research, we have found that they are leaving as hurting and wounded victims-of some kind of abuse, disillusionment, or just plain neglect!
· From 1990 to 2000, the combined membership of all Protestant denominations in the USA declined by almost 5 million members (9.5 percent), while the US population increased by 24 million (11 percent).
· At the turn of the last century (1900), there was a ratio of 27 churches per 10,000 people, as compared to the close of this century (2000) where we have 11 churches per 10,000 people in America! What has happened?
· Given the declining numbers and closures of Churches as compared to new church starts, there should have been over 38,000 new churches commissioned to keep up with the population growth.
· The United States now ranks third (3rd) following China and India in the number of people who are not professing Christians; in other words, the U.S. is becoming an ever increasing “un-reached people group.”
· Half of all churches in the US did not add any new members to their ranks in the last two years.
· So, why do they leave-besides because of death? Why are they not coming?
More Startling Data
Between 1992 and 2002, 77% to 87% (160 million in 1992) of Americans identified themselves as Christians in most studies. However, what constitutes a Christian or a churchgoer is the question. One study that I did between 1992 and 2002 had surprising results. I found that church attendance may be half what those survey results stated. Many polls have indicated that the percentage of people who regularly attend a church service in the United States is around 40% to 50%, 20% in Canada, and 8% or less in Europe. But, when we started to count people from denominational reports and compare to census data and University research data, the numbers that were originally declared dropped by half!
· 22% of Americans “frequently” attended church in 1992, including Orthodox, Evangelical, or Protestant. (The reason why the other research is variant is due to how they ask the questions. I sought frequency over just attending. I deem frequency as at least 2 times a month as opposed to two to three times a year indicated by other statistical research.)
· 20.5% of Americans “frequently” attended church in 1995
· 19% of Americans “frequently” attended church in 1999
· 18.0% of Americans “frequently” attended in church in 2002
Now, by extrapolating the data and doing some statistical evaluation and adding some hope for revival, we can see the figures drop to 15% of Americans in attendance at a church by 2025, and a further drop to 11% or 12 % in 2050. Soon, we can catch up with Europe, which is currently “enjoying” two to four percent of its population in regular Church attendance. By the time these predictions come to pass, Europe may have no significant Church presence at all.
…Yes, I believe we do need to do a better job at reaching people. Changing some methodologies, and being creative is a good approach with which to start, but it does not solve the main problem! These are not the core issues on why people are finding other various activities to fill the Sunday time slot! Yes, we do need to re-think our methods without compromising the message. The church regards the guitar and keyboard as of the Devil while at the same time producing boring lectures and monotone messages in the King James language. Then we wonder where all the people are. Something needs to change. But, again, this is not the main problem! The problem is not that theater style is more conducive to people than the historical architecture of gothic design or thinking, or that chairs are better than pews, or storefronts better than the A-frames and cathedrals. It is not about a lack of parking, of drama, or of power point presentations. The problem is that the church has lost its way; we have fallen off the path that Christ has for us. Either we reform, and let the Lord use us to usher in revival (theologically speaking, He does not need us, but God, through history, has usually used people in His plan), or we will be like a bad science fiction movie where religion is a relic of the past!
Gary: I disagree.
What has changed in the preaching of the “Gospel”? I don’t see a change. Just because a church is using a praise band and an overhead projector doesn’t change the 2,000 year old Christian core message that one must believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior to be saved from eternal damnation in Hell.
I believe that what has changed is that the man in the pew now has more than one source of information for evaluating the truth claims of Christianity. In the past, the lay person’s source of information for the truth claims of Christianity was one-sided: his pastor and Christian literature. How many of us had access to skeptics’ literature just 20 years ago? Yet today, a lay Christian can sit at his kitchen table, sip a cup of coffee, while doing a quick google search on any biblical truth claim, finding both Christian and skeptic articles on the claim in question.
The internet is killing Christianity, not some problem with the Church “losing its way”.
Update: Christianity is growing in Asia, particularly China, and in Africa. Why is this happening in these areas of the world when it is dying in North America, Europe, Australia, and, has never made any headway in Japan? I contend it is due to several reasons: poverty, political repression, lower education levels, higher levels of superstition, and possibly most importantly, lack of access to the internet. See the recent data in the table at the very bottom of the page regarding internet usage and access in the world by continent:
(continue scrolling down)
It is a large graph, so to fit it into this post, I had to post it at the very bottom of the page:
|INTERNET USAGE STATISTICS
The Internet Big Picture
World Internet Users and 2015 Population Stats
Notice that in North America, internet “penetration” (access) is 87% of the population, in Europe it is 70%. I would bet, however, that if you only calculated this figure for western Europe alone, the figure would be as high if not higher than the percentage for North America. Notice how high the percentage is for Australia also.
In Asia, the internet access is only 35% and in Africa, it is only 28%!
I predict that as Asia and Africa catch up to North America, Europe, Australia, and Japan in education, prosperity, political freedom, and internet access, the decline of Christianity will begin in those regions of the world also.