Several days ago, the National Council of Churches released a new report stating that while non-denominational churches are growing, mainline denominational churches (like the one I serve) are dying. Here is a brief summary of the article.
Of course, I don't find this news to be exactly reassuring. I think this is an issue that needs to be addressed for both non-denominational and mainline churches. Here are just a few of my reflections, I would love to hear what you think as well.
- Growth cannot be measured solely by numbers. Numbers are important. Numbers show trends. But, as we have discussed before, spiritual growth cannot be measured simply by numerical growth. Just because a church increases and decreases numerically, does not mean it is or is not living to its full potential.
- The institutional past, may not be the best indicator for what the church should be. This report seems to suggest that mainline churches need to look like they did fifty years ago. There is no doubt that half a century ago, many mainline churches were flourishing. Yet in recent years churches like my denomination, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), are in a major decline. For example, in the CC (DOC) 63% of its churches are in a decline and almost half (47%) report having fewer that sixty people in worship on Sunday morning. Even so, are the "glory days" of the past the best way to judge our future? We can't forget that for several centuries the concept of a church was best defined as a house church--small numbers of individuals gathering in each other's homes.
- There is a need to be more ecumenical. I am always amazed by how many churches there are in the yellow pages (yes, I do occasionally still look at a phone book). Yet, I am equally amazed at how little effort there is for the local churches to reach beyond their church walls. What would it look like if churches really did join together for mission and ministry? Can you imagine what it would be like in your city if everyone met just once a year at one location to celebrate that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ?
- We shouldn't label ourselves as Methodists, Disciples, Presbyterians, Non-Denominational, etc. We are first and foremost Christians. It's true, I am a member of a particular denomination. I have chosen a denomination where I feel welcomed, loved, and challenged. But we have to remember that our denomination does not identify us as a particular Christian. We are first Christian in the truest sense of the word.
- Youth Ministry can lead as an example for how today's church should look. For the most part I believe that youth are not at all concerned about what denomination they, or their friends, do or do not belong to. In mission trips, youth rallies, concerts, everyone joins together to celebrate the goodness of God. The challenge we face today is to help our youth realize now that to be a Christian is not to identify with a particular denomination.