Tuesday, February 20, 2007

U.S. Churches of Christ at a Standstill

The latest issue of The Christian Chronicle includes a story about the marginal numeric growth of the Churches of Christ in the United States.

From 1980 to 2006, the U.S. population rose by more than 32%. In the same period of time, Churches of Christ grew in number; but only by 1.6%. You can read the article here.

Naturally, a lot of insiders are talking about the causes of the stagnation. Some of that analysis is found at the end of that first article. You can read additional responses and comments here.

A teacher-n-preacher type within this group, I've had two main thoughts about all this:

1. It's obvious that the strong and sweeping doctrinal consensus that once characterized the Churches of Christ and that, more importantly, is/was constitutive of its identity, has disintegrated. It certainly feels like that trend will continue. And it doesn't seem like Humpty Dumpty will ever be put back together again.

That's the dire side of it. In spite of that observation, though, what continues to amaze me is the stubbornness of tradition (ours and everyone's). I'm not saying it's a good or a bad thing. I'm just saying that it is. I mean, for all of the positive differences that "progressive" Churches of Christ see in themselves, are they really that different? I don't think so.

2. Increasingly, I have little patience for the idea that I've heard so many times now: "We've got to start evangelizing so that we (our congregation, our world-wide group) can survive." Is that ever a motivation for Christian mission in, say, the Book of Acts? When does that sentiment cross the line between "wrong-headed" and "idolatrous"? Why don't more of our church leaders recognize how unChristian it is to try to attract and convert people to Christ so that we can have more people in the pews and, above all, more givers? How would you like to be the target of such "evangelism"? Lord, deliver us from self-centeredness.


Stoned-Campbell Disciple said...

May be that is why we are not growing. We want US to survive. Perhaps when our motive is to DIE for Christ "we" will thrive.

Sobering analysis by you today.

Bobby Valentine

kendanley said...

The last temptation is the greatest treason: to do the right deed for the wrong reason.
T. S. Eliot in Murder in the Cathedral (1935)

Matt said...

It is hard to evangelize when you don't know who you are...but even more important, it is hard to evangelize when you don't know who Jesus is. When we get that straight and really listen to everything he had to say and really do our best to follow suit, I think growth wouldn't be an issue. It is hard for the body to grow with a head. It is hard for a church disconnected from Christ to grow. When we become an entity to ourselves, we die. Good thoughts to you, bobby, and ken. But if it stays just thoughts we have a problem.

Darin said...

Nice blog. Enjoyed reading. Good comments too.

I think a group should fight for what looks most like Christ. How can you not have problems when that is not the key issue?