Dear Bible Giver,
Last month we discussed the enormous change going on within the American church. While there is much negative reporting, and large increase in the number of people with no religious affiliation, there is also great strength in the Bible-believing church which is growing despite cultural headwinds.
On November 26, 2000 the New York Times ran an article titled “If You’re Devout, Get Out!" The opening sentence is interesting: “Visit a church at random next Sunday and you will probably encounter a few dozen people sprinkled thinly over a sanctuary that was built to accommodate hundreds or even thousands. The empty pews and white-haired congregants lend credence to those who argue that traditional religious worship is dying out.”
This is the continuing narrative out there. This article, however, was written 20 years ago and has little basis in reality. Churches do sometimes close - at a rate of about 1% per year. But more churches open than close each year. The rate of business closure every year greatly exceeds that of churches. Pandemic aside, many Bible-preaching churches are struggling to manage growth. The narrative ignores the huge growth of Megachurches. It ignores the growth in Evangelical Christianity. It ignores the explosive growth of the non-denominational church in America, and it ignores the fact that American Evangelicalism is spreading globally at a rapid pace.
The pandemic has an impact. Only 2% of churches have reported increased attendance over the last year. Given the government mandate to not gather, and people with health conditions having to isolate, this is not surprising. My church has seen a big drop in physical attendance. But we have a large presence of people attending on line, and, as the pandemic wears on, both physical attendance and on-line attendance have grown! We measure each on-line connection as 1.5 attenders. Based on that rate, our attendance is down. But if we use 2 per connection, attendance is up. If we use 2.5 people on average, and everyone comes on campus post-pandemic… we don’t have enough parking and seats for everybody!
The post-pandemic American church will be different. Researchers warn that on-line church is here to stay and churches need to figure out how to invest in their on-line congregations. Not everyone will come back “on Campus” after the pandemic. Churches will be less defined by their 4 walls on a street corner and be more organically present in the community they serve. This is uncomfortable change, but churches will figure this out. Your church will no longer be limited by bricks and mortar budget limitations like parking or chairs. Your church building will still be attended by some, but it will also be projecting into homes, and neighborhoods, and across entire communities. Our future growth will be ore constrained by our ability to effectively reach outside of our 4 walls.
Finally, American Church, you are not alone. American evangelicalism is spreading rapidly across the world. The global church is no longer predominantly “western” and “northern”. The new face of Christianity is in the “Global South” of Africa and South America, and it is Bible-preaching, God honoring Christianity. Brazil sends more missionaries out into the world than the United States. So does South Korea, because Christianity is also exploding across Asia. Western Christianity is becoming a MINORITY not because the church is shrinking here but because Christianity is growing rapidly across the globe.
Bible Givers, we hope to start meeting again in just a few months and we have much to catch up on!
Give Hope. Give Life. Give Bibles!