Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Sobering Statistics. . .

I have no more reliable statistics to point out the decline in American Christianity than the numbers of Roman Catholic churches that have closed.  According to Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, the number of parishes in the United States fell sharply from 2000 to 2017, from 19,236 to 17,156, a drop of 2,080, compared to a decline of just eight parishes from 1985 to 2000.  This is such a big issue that a while back Rome actually had a conference on what to do with buildings once sacred but now unused or deconsecrated.  Beyond Rome the stats are sketchy. 

Some have claimed that between 6,000 and 10,000 churches in the U.S. are dying each year. That means around 100-200 churches will close this week (including all denominations and non-denominational as well).  n estimated 30,000 congregations shut their doors in the United States from 2006 to 2012. Yet a recent study finds good news for churches overall—including the lowest closure rate of any American institution.

According to a recent paper published by sociologist Simon Brauer in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, the number of religious congregations in the United States has increased by almost 50,000 since 1998. A key reason: growth in nondenominational churches.  Using the National Congregations Study (NCS) conducted in 2006 and 2012, he estimates the number of congregations in the US increased from 336,000 in 1998 to a peak of 414,000 in 2006, but then leveled off at 384,000 in 2012.  In other words, Protestant congregations appear to die at the same time new open -- a far different scenario than Rome.  However, it is worth noting that denominational churches are the ones closing at a faster rate than non-denominational churches and more of the new ones opening are non-denominational.

The point is this -- there is a lot of real estate out there that was once considered sacred but now sits largely unused, empty, or has been repurposed for another but secular use.  Now if that building is a warehouse style structure like many newer non-denominational buildings and even denominational ones, who cares?  But what do you do with sacred art that cannot be taken down or all that stained glass or chancel appointments not likely to be reused?  Look on eBay.  They are for sale there -- at least a few of them.  It creates a confusion and certainly a disappointment for the faithful when they see a church building decaying and empty or what was clearly a church used for secular, even profane, purpose.  My sense of things is that this is but the tip of the iceberg.  There is more to come.  

While many of the buildings are in urban settings, many are also in rural settings.  As a child my family and I drove past a sister church building, an old wooden structure with a steeple, that had been sold at auction and was used as a hog house on a farm.  The steeple had been cut off but the line of the windows and the structure under what had been the steeple made it clear what it was before it was used for such an ignoble purpose.

But it does not have to be.  While Rome has priestly scandals and a shortage of priests that drive some of their numbers, many of the other situations happen in neighborhoods and settings where the majority of the population does NOT affiliate with any church at all.  I believe Jesus said something about the harvest being ripe.  Think about it.


5 comments:

Carl Vehse said...

Since 1993, there have been a little over 6,000 Missouri Synod congregations. It's not known if this is due to new congregations replacing old congregations that have disappeared, or that essentially the same congregations remain, even though the total LCMS membership has declined 24% since then.

PTMcCain said...

The ELCA since its formation in 1987 has lost over 33% of its membership, as of the end of 2017.

If the decline continues at this rate it will have no members in 60 years.

I predict that we will see here in the USA a massive "United Christian Church" type body, like they have in Canada, in the next several decades.

It will be an actual church merger of the ELCA, the PCUSA, the UCC, perhaps the UMC, the USA branch, which will have broken away from the worldwide body, and several other smaller Reformed bodies.

The only thing stopping a true merger is a desire to safeguard church body administrative structures, but as members continue to leave and funds dry out, an actual structural merger becomes inevitable.

John Joseph Flanagan said...

You can see the future in some ways as you visit various churches in our Synod. In mine, for example, there are few youngsters and young families, and looking from the back of the church to the front, you can't help but notice mostly gray heads. The problem is deep. Many of our fellow countrymen and women are unchurched or simply do not have an interest in the things of God. Perhaps, it is a combination of too much prosperity, simple unbelief, or cultural antagonism. If the church is being purged and pruned like a fruit tree, God will remove the rotten fruit and cut off the useless branches in His sovereignty, and the tree will eventually be smaller but healthier. The mission field is often relegated to a distant land, but in reality the mission field starts on our own street.

Carl Vehse said...

From 1965 to 2012, the membership of the LCMS declined from a peak of 14 members per 1,000 U.S. population to 7 members per 1,000 U.S. population. Some explanations for this include:

• The baby boomer births ended;
• Increased use of birth control pills after they started to become available in 1960;
• The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 was passed opening the doors to immigrants from non-European (esp. non-Lutheran) countries;
• The interstate highway system, started in 1956, allowed easier population migration from rural midwestern areas with its Lutheran roots to large cities (with less Lutheran roots);
• More Lutheran young men began to go to college, thus postponing marriage;
• More Lutheran young women began to go to college, thus posponing childbearing years;
• More Lutheran young women began teaching or business careers, further limiting their childbearing years;
• The end of Walther League for young people in 1968;
• Liberalization of the Concordia Seminary-St. Louis during the 1960s and up until the 1974 walkout;
• The effect of liberal pastors who stayed in the Missouri Synod (some becoming District Presidents) for the following decades.

Anonymous said...

"However, it is worth noting that denominational churches are the ones closing at a faster rate than non-denominational churches and more of the new ones opening are non-denominational."

Many disaffected Christians tire of the encroaching unbiblical social justice agendas being forced upon them by their denomination headquarters, so they leave. Others are victims of "mobbing" - a tactic well known in Lutheran circles, and are forced out.

Both kinds of Christians abandon their denominations and seek refuge from church politics by joining a local all-inclusive, come as you are, non-judgemental, non-denominational congregation. It is no accident that most members of non-denominational congregations are former members of mainline denominations.

Those who come to realize the futility in belonging to a congregation that promotes shallow "how-to" life coaching sermons eventually drop out of church altogether. I am sensing that after the mainline denominations have drastically shrunk and have been sufficiently weakened, the non-denominational congregations will start to shrink and close en masse as well. In another 30 years, the non-denominational congregations may even close at a faster rate, as very little but the amazing fellowship had kept them anchored.

"While many of the buildings are in urban settings, many are also in rural settings."

Mainline church bodies are cursed with buildings that were constructed in once-thriving urban areas, but they are now gang-infested war zones. Many once self-sustaining rural areas have bled decent-paying jobs, so the young people flee for the big city 75+ miles away. Sad.

The church bodies with the most watered-down doctrine and/or are the most liberal will not survive in 40 years. I sense there is a great culling of the herd. Only the most traditional bodies that are most loyal to traditional Christian teaching will remain. I have faith that radically smaller church bodies such as the LCMS will continue to exist.

If you have ever harvested tomatoes in a large garden, most of the garden is overcome with weeds. There were lots of tomatoes hidden underneath the weeds and behind the giant banana spider webs. Fall is approaching....