Friday, December 28, 2018
Time for a Revival?
According to the annual Disciples of Christ yearbook, this church has experienced such a profound and rapid decline that it threatens the viability of the whole denomination. By their own numbers, church membership shrank to 411,140 in 2017 (down from 497,423, or 17 percent, from 2014) and, perhaps a more accurate barometer of health, the average worship attendance dropped to 139,936 (down from 177,141, or 21 percent, from 2014). Get behind those numbers and you find that additions by baptisms are at 4,344 (down from 5,808, or 25 percent, from 2014) and transfers of membership into the church are 7,441 (down from 15,111, or 51 percent in 2014). In other words, these increases cannot keep pace with the transfers out and the death of current members.
From the Restoration Movement begun in the early 19th century by Barton Stone and Thomas and Alexander Campbell, several churches were born. The Disciples are the smallest of seven historic oldline Protestant denominations. Once over 2 million in membership, the denomination has lost two-thirds of its memebers since the 1960s. Remember that at one time it boast a number of prominent members, including Presidents Ronald Reagan, Lyndon Johnson and James Garfield.
The Churches of Christ – also heirs of the Stone-Campbell movement -- also are in decline though not nearly so steep or so quick. The Disciples joined other oldline Protestant denominations to embrace sexual orientation and gender identity at their 2013 General Assembly. The Disciples have lost about 77 percent of their membership since their highest membership in 1964 and now fall into the category of small denominations, somewhat like the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) or the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). It is quite a slide from their heyday but judging by what is happening down the street from me, it appears to be a real problem for this denomination born out of a revival movement.