According to the PEW Research Group, there were approximately 300,000 total Protestant Christian congregations in the US in 2010. Also, according to FACT2008, another research group that focuses on church planting, stated that there are approximately 4000 new churches planted in the US every year. With that, there are about 3500 existing churches that closes their doors every year; which makes a Net 500 new churches added to the baseline of churches year-over-year.
Still with me? OK. According to the Pew Research Group, Christianity- even Protestant Christianity has suffered a decline in those who consider themselves by the term ‘Christian’ by around 5% from 2007-2012. This is a trend that hasn’t really stabilized, even though there is a portion of the Christian population that has seen stabilization in number.
So. Here’s my question: Since there has been a pretty substantial increase in churches being established in the United States over these years, but at the same time we are seeing a reduction in those considering themselves ‘Christian’, who in the world are these churches serving?! Seriously! And if Christianity identification is declining in the U.S., why are we planting all of these churches?
This is the basis of my discussion here. The math isn’t adding up! Lately, I have been more businessman than theologian, so I can tell you this: If you are expanding resources in a market but the market itself isn’t expanding, it’s a recipe of bankruptcy.
Now I’ve studied bankrupt companies- including companies that thought they were OK, only to learn rather abruptly that they are indeed about to shut their doors. What normally happens is that some chief officer somewhere ‘cooks the books’, showing inflated growth patterns that provides a surface image of viability. For instance, say if you are a service organization that provides their services to other companies. You look at your portfolio of companies and you see that you get 70% of your revenues from strong companies that have strong brands, great balance sheets and good leadership. You have long-term relationships with those companies with preferred vendor status. You think you are doing well.
However, (and I have seen this) imagine of those major companies are all owned by a single multi-national conglomerate. Imagine if the COO or CFO didn’t let anyone know that these organizations are all bound by a single Master Services Agreement. And imagine if the conglomerate moves in another direction. You know what’s next? Bankruptcy. Why? Because you really do not have diversity in your portfolio. You really didn’t go out and gain and nurture new clients. You were satisfied with the growing revenues of that conglomerate.
That’s where many of us are. Jesus said to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit… (Matthew 28-19 NKJV). Genuine growth comes from discipleship. For a person to come from the street to become a disciple required a lot of time, effort, prayer, honesty, and discipline. Some may say that it’s too hard. Some may question as to whether or not it’s possible to do so nowadays. So we ‘cook the books.’
How do we ‘cook the books?’ Easy! We retread disciples from other churches who may be disgruntled, hurt or disillusioned and add them to the new church’s attendance records. Then we call that ‘Church Growth.’ Yes, it may inflate our individual church’s attendance records, but this is an altogether losing strategy that will eventually end up solidifying Christianity’s extinction from modern Western culture. The reason why is because there are less and less disillusioned disciples out there to retread because we are losing them at an alarming rate. To put a number on it, we are losing them by around 5%, year-over-year.
So how can we indeed fix this? Should we stop planting churches? Of course not! But we must make it a practice to make disciples. If not, there really is no demand for a church at all- unless you plan on retreading disciples for diminishing returns. But if we are serious about planting churches, we must create a demand for that church.
Let me say this: God has never said in the Scriptures to start a church. But He did made it a requirement to make disciples. So we must be bold and blatant about this! We can trick folks into discipleship. It must be intentional. And how do you start? Do what Jesus did. Jesus picked His Disciples by saying two simple words: Follow me. So, pick a friend. Let them know that you are a follower of Christ. Invite them to follow you as you follow Christ. They may follow you. They may follow you around just to mock and ridicule you. They may follow you because they are curious to see if you are for real. Or they may reject you. But at least give the invitation. You never know. God may actually use you to reach the Lost and gives credence to the thought of a need for a new church.