Sunday, January 12, 2014

What is the future of the church?

UBA recently hosted a conference in which we looked at the future of the church (you can view it YouTube if you'd like to see it).   Having spent weeks reading what various folks are saying about the future of the church, I found many reasons to be discouraged.  
  • Church attendance is declining. A regular church attender was once said to be a person who attended 3 out of 4 weeks; today the definition of regular attender is 2 out of 4 weeks.
  • Baptisms are not keeping pace with population growth.  Even though the US population has grown from 146.6 million to 213.7 million since 1948, Southern Baptists baptized the same number of people in 2012 as  in 1948 (and that's with 10 million more Southern Baptist churches than  in 1948) highlighting a two-decade downward trend in baptisms.
  • It is commonly reported that only 10-15% of the churches are healthy and growing, 70-75% are plateaued or declining, and 10-15% are just about to close their doors forever.
  • Though Southern Baptists started 929 churches in 2012, for the last ten years we have averaged closing 1,000 per year.
  • The number of "nones" -- those who choose not to affiliate with any religion -- grows every year. In 1980 it was 7%; in 1990, 10%; in 2000, 15% and in 2010, 20%.  Among those aged 18 to 29 the percentage is closer to 30%!
  • Among those ages 18 to 29 who have grown up in our churches, come through our youth ministries, 2 out of 3 will leave the church before they are 30 and many will never return.
  • Charitable giving is going down. The middle class is the primary source of income for our churches, and the median income of middle class families has steadily dropped for years.
  • In many urban areas it is getting harder and harder to secure property and permits to build new church buildings.
Discouraged yet? If not, you may not be paying attention!  But that's not what I want to say. This is ... the future of the church is not predetermined. We are not victims of a plot line that has already been written. God has called us to be co-creators with Him of the future. In many ways the future of the church will be what we make it.
Did you watch the last college football game in 2013? It was the Chick-fil-A Bowl pitting Texas A&M against Duke in what had to be one of the greatest come-from-behind victories in A&M history. At the half, the Aggies were down 38-17 and it looked like Duke was going to win decisively. But on the sidelines and in the locker room quarterback Johnny Manziel told his team mates "forget the score, forget the score, let's just do what we know to do, let's play football." That they did. They roared from behind in the second half to defeat the Duke Blue Devils 52 to 48. (Want to watch a recap? Click here.)
While things may look bleak for the church today and we may be discouraged, there's no reason to feel defeated, especially not as long as this phrase is still in the Bible:  "but God."   We may be discouraged ... "but God."   The challenge may be greater than it's ever been in our lifetime, "but God." 
So come on church. Forget the score. Let's do what we know to do.  Let's love God with all we've got and love our neighbor as ourselves. Let's share the good news whenever we get a chance in word and deed. As my grandmother often said, let's pray like it all depends upon God and work like it all depends upon us.  Halftime's over. Let's get back in the game!

Additional note:

If you'd like to know what we discussed in the conference, you can view it online at our YouTube.  Throughout the year we will provide a number of follow-up conferences that will help churches leaders dig deeper into many of the issues we discussed: reaching the next generation, evangelism and discipleship development in a social media world, stewardship development, and many others. As always, our desire is to identify and address the needs of our congregations in order to help them do the best job possible. If you have a topic in which you are particularly interested, let me know and we will see what we can do. Just email me at; if you use Twitter you can get me a @tomUBA.

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