by Rev. Jean de Dieu Nzeyimana | ECWA USA DCC Assistant Secretary, Pastor of ECWA II Louisville, Kentucky | Planting a church requires fight, endurance, commitment and courage to dodge Satan’s arrows that come from both within and outside the church! Planting a healthy church requires self-sacrifice.
I am writing in earnest and crying out for the igniting of an awakening to prayer
America is suffering from an extended spiritual drought. While the social and moral decay of this hour may grieve us, discernment of the larger reason for this blight lies at the door of an all-but-prayerless church.
We share a part of that responsibility because—had we been more conscientious earlier—we would not have allowed the progressive dismantling of weekly, united, extended corporate prayer gatherings.
I am not writing to assign guilt, for I have been too slow a learner myself. But I am writing with an invitation, one spoken from heaven and beginning to resonate in many hearts.
Although the enemy of humankind is rising viciously, knowing he has only a short time, the Holy Spirit of God is present. He is not here to condemn, but to convene the hearts of believers with His promise, wisdom and expectancy.
Above all, I feel a hope, born of prayer rising from my heart and one of love and brotherly commitment to Foursquare pastors, leaders and members. With that hope, I am writing in earnest and crying out for the igniting of an awakening to prayer.
Pray with me that we would unite to lead our congregations from our knees. Let us lead people into a lifestyle of intercession as God's Word directs (1 Tim. 2:1-2).
Unless we are biblically renewed to this first of all calling of the body of Christ, our first calling as believers will be sacrificed on the altar of sloth, and the spirit of the age will run even more rampant.
Let us affirm that there is nothing old school about the New Testament's order of the church's prayer-life. It is an ever-contemporary pattern of biblical spirituality, and nothing—not even the finest programming, productions or tactical strategies—can substitute for it.
Our Spiritual Foundation
Prayer is the foundation and fountainhead of spiritual power, breakthrough and revival; prevailing prayer, both at the local and national level, is what we and America need.
Given this situation, my hope is that The Foursquare Church may "rise to this hour" and make it a "restoring the ancient landmarks" of former victories. That, as a united-and-agreed fellowship, a vast majority of pastors and congregations would unapologetically welcome the Holy Spirit into their midst.
Pray with me that we would unite to lead our congregations from our knees. Let us lead people into a lifestyle of intercession as God's Word directs (1 Tim. 2:1-2).
Such well-ordered prayer gatherings will overthrow strongholds of darkness and release rivers of "living water" and revival blessings. Sound-minded, bold and believing prayer is prayer with a "cutting edge," namely, a lifestyle that penetrates the darkness of spiritual blindness and brings God's mercy and deliverance.
It is this kind of prayer that shatters the darkness and drives back the kind of spiritual challenge we face with the plague of evil and rebellion in our nation.
Jesus' Concern for the Last-Days Church
Someone recently asked me: "Some people think of the 1950s and 1960s as a golden age for the church in America, but were there drawbacks to the church being socially respectable?"
I answered: "I don't think of the church being 'respected' as a drawback. However, a socially comfortable church has not historically produced a spiritually passionate church."
Jesus' letters to the church in Revelation contain a similar opening, where Christ spells out His awareness and notice to each congregation and its leaders. His love for them all is never in question, but His concerns wave red-flag warnings to all of us who lead today:
You who have ears to hear, listen to what the Holy Spirit is saying!
Jesus points out that many of these churches are distracted or have neglected their central call, values and mission. The distractions are the same today; congregations are either:
- resting on their laurels
- impressed with their own perceived status
- blinded to their loss of focus on the Word and the Spirit, or
- by indulging their own carnality, losing clarity and integrity of heart.
The issue is clear: The Holy Spirit is seeking to find—and speak to—those with ears to hear!
Whether you are a Foursquare pastor, leader or church member, I am a bond servant with you. I invite you to join a multitude of those who are unabashedly attuned to hear, obey and respond as Holy Spirit-filled servants of Christ. This is vital for two crucial reasons:
- There is nothing more disabling than to become tone deaf to the voice of the Holy Spirit.
- There is nothing more numbing to the soul than to be unresponsive to His call.
In this critical hour, we dare not hedge on the implications of "hearing" the Holy Spirit. We dare not compromise His intentions for our fellowship as Spirit-filled and Spirit-led people.
The Key Question
The question of this hour in history resounds from the lips of the Lord: "When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8, NIV). Namely, the faith that answers the call to rise up in prayer!
As with any nation, the battle for America's soul will only be won with the weapons of spiritual warfare. These weapons—wielded by people systematically meeting in prayer gatherings to marshal sound-minded, biblically ordered intercession—have yet to be restored in The Foursquare Church in America.
Yet if God's people don't assemble in agreement, on their knees, who else will "destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ" (2 Cor. 10:5, ESV)?
The church is the one agency on Earth with access to this promise. Heaven is waiting. God has indicated His sovereign choice: He is ready to answer with His open hand of unlimited blessing if, under His authoritative directive, we will take our stand and advance in prayer.
Today, we must remember the promise God made to Solomon long ago: "If my people … humble themselves, and pray … then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land" (2 Chr. 7:14, ESV).
However, we must ask ourselves, "Where can God find a people who will align themselves with God's conditions?" This cannot be a halfway proposition. His Word of promise is only spoken into action where people welcome His Holy Spirit, and on His terms.
Aligning With the Spirit
I want to honor the wisdom, sought and applied, by which our leaders have brought administrative adjustments that we as a movement have pragmatically applied in recent years.
However, whatever else we have wisely and worthily realigned structurally, our definition of local intercessory alignment has yet to "hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches."
In this critical hour, we dare not hedge on the implications of "hearing" the Holy Spirit. We dare not compromise His intentions for our fellowship as Spirit-filled and Spirit-led people.
We are in need of reviewing Jesus' confrontation of leaders who busied themselves with religious duties but neglected God's command: "My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations" (Is. 56:7, NIV). Let us abandon all self-excusing passivity indulged when we negate our Lord's focus on the priority of prayer.
No society should ever be seen as beyond hope of revival, the recovery of sanity or the rebirth of multitudes—if it is laced with congregations everywhere where the Light of the world still shines.
The divine call of God addressing The Foursquare Church in America is no different than the one trumpeted to the larger believing body of Christ. Too many have traded the timeless for the transient, the costly for the clever, the eternal for the contemporary and the seeker-sensitivity for man-pleasing management.
Our beginning point of reference must be on our knees, in our closets and at altars of repentance. New furniture isn't required, but a ready and renewed passion is!
Jack Hayford is chancellor of The King's University and former president of The Foursquare Church.
Which side of Acts 1 are you living on when you wake up each morning? (Photo| ECWA Archieve)
Are you living on the right side of Acts 1? The answer will determine the course of your life.
Every morning when we awaken from a long night of sleep, we stretch, yawn and eventually step into a new day. In the natural we are functioning from a collection of experiences, training, opportunities, challenges and other influences that have helped determine our current experience. Some are waking up in the morning to get ready to operate on somebody’s heart because his natural training provided him that opportunity. Others are headed to classes in a university as a result of healthy planning. Still others are depressed, lonely, fearful, expectant, determined or are experiencing a myriad of other very real feelings due to their position in life. Their natural position.
Spiritually, where are you? Specifically, which side of Acts chapter one are you living on when you wake up each morning?
Acts Chapter 1
6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Acts 1:6-11 (ESV)
Of course, the first chapter of Act’s position on the historical timeline comes after the death and victorious resurrection of Jesus. The question I’m asking is directed toward those who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb—Christians—those who have responded to the greatest gift man has ever been offered. Christian friend, it’s possible to be functioning on the right side of the cross and on the wrong side of the rest of the story.
Read the short passage in Acts 1:6-11 again. Let the power of that dramatic moment impact you. Put yourself in the position of the disciples of Jesus.
They had just experienced, to put it lightly, a dramatic season of life that culminated with their hero, their friend, God himself being brutally, savagely tortured and mutilated. They were suddenly alone, fearful and confused. Their holy hope was gone forever—so it seemed. Dead people don’t just wake up and walk out of their tombs after all, right?
Lazarus might disagree with that. So would Jesus. The disciple’s overwhelming hopelessness was miraculously displaced by the impossible. Jesus walked out his tomb.
They were fearful, alone and confused no more. Now the celebration begins! Now plans for the future can be discussed! This was the day the Lord Jesus himself created and it was time to rejoice and be glad!
The obvious next step was for Jesus to set up his Kingdom and to reign! The disciple’s question was an honest yet misguided one:
6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” Acts 1:6 (ESV)
They didn’t understand at all what the future held. The victory on the cross, in their minds, would result in Jesus doing much more of what they saw him do previously. Jesus was the man of the hour and they wanted to be in the front row for the show.
After all, Jesus had just spent 40 days talking to them about the Kingdom, right?
3 He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. Acts 1:3 (ESV)
Yes, the Kingdom was coming, but not at all the way everyone had presumed. Jesus was about to launch them out of Acts chapter one and into Acts chapter two.
If you’ll remember, Jesus had already given them a mandate that it seems they casually overlooked:
4 And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” Acts 1:4-5 (ESV)
The disciples had necessary teaching about the Kingdom and a mandate to wait for a promise that would enable them to initiate a world shaking mission.
However, in their minds they wondered why they would need a Promise if Jesus was there with them. Why would they need anything else? Jesus was going to work wonders and they would be there as his most fervent supporters!
9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. Acts 1:9 (ESV)
Again, put yourself in the shoes of the disciples. What type of emotional crisis were they going through? First Jesus died, then he defied all odds and returned in victory. Now their plans for Jesus to build his Kingdom were cut down as they received an inconvenient mandate to pray and wait for some nondescript Promise—as Jesus again left them.
Now, their close friend, their superhero who would protect them from the threats of the many enemies in the land, was gone from them a second time—this time for good (at least in their lifetimes).
The Bible says that they were just standing there gazing into heaven.
My question to you is this: Are you gazing into heaven waiting for Jesus to show up and do what you are yearning for him to do? Or, are you taking action in the power of the Holy Spirit to do it yourself?
On the cross Jesus famously said, “It is finished!” His part is done. We have been left with an extreme mandate and a costly mission that must be in front of us every morning when we awaken, stretch and yawn and move into our day.
So often we are crying out for Jesus to heal the sick when he commanded us to heal the sick. Those on the wrong side of Acts chapter one will gaze into heaven waiting for Jesus to do it. Those who have been baptized with power and who have embraced their spiritual mission will function in the power of the resurrection by looking at someone and commanding that they take up their mat and walk!
True baptism in power results in an inconvenient life.
I’m convinced that casual ‘gazing into heaven’ type prayer is often unanswered because Jesus is putting the pressure on us to get into the prayer rooms where supernatural baptism can be found.
The angelic question in Acts 2 remains for us today:
11 …“Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven?” Acts 1:11a (ESV)
Those who are living on the wrong side of Acts chapter one have bought into the resurrection power of the cross but have yet to step into their life mission that requires a devotion that will put every other life focus at risk. They want to continue in their day-to-day life hoping that Jesus will be the hero and rescuer they might need in times of trouble. The call to greater consecration is unnecessary since they are already saved and the victory of the cross was complete.
The truth is that the victory of the cross launches our mission. It doesn’t end it. When Jesus said “it is finished,” for us it meant, “it has begun.”
The enemy is moving across the earth stealing, killing and destroying. How could we even begin to think our work is done or unnecessary?
The blood of Jesus doesn’t grant us immunity, it grants us authority—authority to tread on serpents, authority to heal the sick, authority to advance the Kingdom, authority to go and make disciples.
Those living on the right side of the chapter are burning with that mission every single day. They wake up on fire with an urgency to fulfill their extremely important commission.
The life of someone living in Acts chapter two and beyond looks radically different than the lives of other Christians.
The call to prayer was too inconvenient for most everybody who saw Jesus alive after the resurrection. Only 120 showed up in that room. Only 120 determined it was necessary to actually obey Jesus. To them Jesus was more Savior than Lord.
Living on the right side of Acts one requires obedience. It requires us to be people of extravagant, inconvenient prayer.
Acts two started with prayer in an Upper Room and it continued with prayer daily in the temple.
17 pray without ceasing, 1 Thessalonians 5:17 (ESV)
Today we have innumerable people who are naming the name of Christ who are living in constant disobedience by refusing to live a life of continual prayer.
Corporate prayer is such a clear and obvious mandate for Christians that it is beyond shocking and nonsensical that so many are not investing in it. They are living after the resurrection but before Acts, presuming that all is well and there is nothing left to be done. Both Resurrection power and Holy Spirit power are required before we can even begin to understand our life purpose—much less fulfill it.
The corporate prayer meetings are the most important meeting and every Christian must be in attendance. In fact, In Acts 2 corporate prayer was a daily occurrence. This is what must return to our churches today.
46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day… Acts 2:46 (NLT)
This means we can no longer continue without coming together for Holy Spirit infused prayer every day and presume it’s okay or normal. It’s not. Those living on the right side of Acts one can’t stand the thought of going a day without encountering God in prayer with other Believers.
Acts Christians were radically invested in both corporate church gatherings and planting of new churches.
I’m grieved at the number of Christian “church haters” (is that even possible?) that are on the rise. People are creating theologies that argue against the corporate church setting that are laughable.
Consider Chinese Christians who gather together every morning at 4:30am, seven days a week, to pray and worship together as the church before they begin their day. In America we think a couple hours a week is too inconvenient!
Can somebody explain to me how coming together with other Christians every day to pray on fire is a bad thing? How is that something that doctrines are being created to oppose? Truly those are doctrines of demons.
Some might say that they don’t need to attend church because “they are the church.” They would be incorrect.
From my article, You are not the church:
If we understand the meaning of the word ‘church’ we could never presume that we alone are the church. That idea is contrary to the origin of the word (ekklesia, meaning “assembly”). In fact, that word has secular origins. It literally means an assembly of people who have been called together by an authority in the city or region. Wow! That sheds a lot of light on what the church is.
The church is an assembly of people organized under defined governmental leadership. It’s a regular gathering of people who are deeply agreed and in pursuit of mission advance under God’s apostles, prophets and other governmental leaders.
Further, the pure definition of the word reveals that it isn’t used as easily in the context of the global company of believers as it is in the regional and local gathering of believers.
The definition reveals that it’s a well defined local group vs. a loosely defined larger group of people (who mostly don’t know each other at all). We can’t be a part of the church if we aren’t gathered together with other parts of the church. Church is corporate.
Additionally, the church is a group of people who assemble, fellowship, pray and respond together to apostolic teaching. That can’t happen in a more nebulous global context.
The church has inherent in it’s core call the expectation of assembly and a corporate response so as to ensure the local mission is fulfilled. Again, a fulfilled mission can’t be realized without this type of intentional and faithful participation at a local level where communication and commonality are clearly defined.
Those living in Acts Holy Spirit power understand the need to be rightly aligned with men and women of God. They understand the church gathering isn’t foundationally a social one. It’s a strategic one. Great numbers of people coming together to pray and to receive apostolic instruction is necessary on a daily basis if we are to advance the gospel in victorious fashion.
The church is a military. It has a mission.
Church haters have gripes about how they were treated, about disagreements with focus, about not being recognized, about most anything. True biblical Holy Spirit empowered Christians are ready to die to their own opinions and serve. Today when people are rejected they run from the church with complaints in their hearts. Two thousand years ago when Jesus was rejected he died for the church with love in his heart.
Acts Christians are not flowing under the radar, blending in with their culture. They are causing controversies and inciting riots!
40 For we really are in danger of being charged with rioting today, since there is no cause that we can give to justify this commotion.” Acts 19:40 (ESV)
It angers me that so many supposed Christians refuse to declare the offensive Gospel message out of fear that they may lose friends, offend family or put their financial security at risk!
Did you know that’s why there was a riot in Ephesus? People’s financial well being was compromised when Paul and his team of firebrands arrived on the scene!
23 About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way. 24 A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in no little business for the craftsmen. 25 He called them together, along with the workmen in related trades, and said: “Men, you know we receive a good income from this business. 26 And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that man-made gods are no gods at all. 27 There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited, and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty.” 28 When they heard this, they were furious and began shouting: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 29 Soon the whole city was in an uproar. The people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia, and rushed as one man into the theater. Acts 19:23-29 (NIV)
I absolutely love Acts 19 verse 23:
23 About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way. Acts 19:23 (NIV)
Where is such a disturbance today?
“God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” is not the gospel message! It’s a true message, but it’s not the gospel message. When we start preaching about man’s depravity, our darkness, and God’s holiness and Lordship and his extreme sacrifice on the cross we will begin preaching the gospel. Anything that does not upset culture as it sets people free is suspect as a true message.
People on the right side of Acts chapter one will burn with a mission. Others will live normal, low impact lives. Sure, they may enjoy God, say their prayers, go to church, worship him, read their bibles and be people of great conviction. However, the very reason they were born eludes them. The tears over the lost and the zeal for intercession are absent. An aggressive, unwavering daily pursuit of humanly impossible God given projects and assignments is nowhere to be found.
The primary purpose of the Promise in the Upper Room was not to make us feel better as we worship or to help us in our daily lives. The primary purpose of the Holy Spirit is to empower us to live free from sin (He’s the HOLY Spirit) and to preach the message of the cross to the world; to expand the Kingdom. How different this is than what the disciples presumed in Acts one!
The Holy Spirit enables us to work and to advance in mission in ways that are not possible via human determination. Jesus is physically gone and we are the ones to do the work!
12 I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. John 14:12 (NIV)
When on the earth, Jesus was about his Father’s business. Now that he is gone we are to be about our Father’s business!
49 And He said to them, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” 50 But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them. Luke 2:49-50 (NKJV)
I propose there are many post-resurrection/pre-Upper Room Christians today who also don’t understand what it is to be about our Father’s business.
Acts chapter one where we see disciples of Jesus transition into apostles. In a moment, they went from followers to ‘sent ones’ with a mission.
I want to encourage you, when you wake up each morning, stretch and yawn and get ready for the day that you function as a sent one. Burn with a passion for Jesus and the advance of his Kingdom. Embrace the impossible assignments that God has for you. Pray continually with others. Live and walk in the Spirit. Disrupt the culture you live in. Trouble the lukewarm and awaken the sleepers. Live in great power—power that’s found on the other side of Acts chapter one.
John Burton has been developing and leading ministries for over 20 years and is a sought out teacher, prophetic messenger and revivalist. John has authored nine books, has appeared on Christian television and radio and directed one of the primary internships at the International House of Prayer (IHOP) in Kansas City. Additionally, he planted two churches, has initiated two city prayer movements and is currently directing a prayer- and revival-focused ministry school in Detroit called theLab University. John's mandate is to call the church in the nations to repentance from casual Christianity and to burn in a manner worthy of the King of kings. He is equipping people to confront the enemies of God (established religion, Jezebel and so on) that hinder an extreme, sold-out level of true worship.
For the original article, visit johnburton.net.
by Rebecca Barnes and Lindy Lowry, Outreach writer for churchleaders.com (Kelly Shattuck)
1. Less than 20% of Americans regularly attend church — half of what the pollsters report.
While Gallup polls and other statisticians have turned in the same percentage — about 40% of the population — of average weekend church attendees for the past 70 years, a different sort of research paints quite a disparate picture of how many Americans attend a local church on any given Sunday.
Initially prompted to discover how church plants in America were really doing, Olson, director of church planting for the Evangelical Covenant Church (covchurch.org), began collecting data in the late “80s, gradually expanding his research to encompass overall attendance trends in the Church. In his study, he tracked the annual attendance of more than 200,000 individual Orthodox Christian churches (the accepted U.S. church universe is 330,000). To determine attendance at the remaining 100,000-plus Orthodox Christian churches, he used statistical models, which included multiplying a church”s membership number by the denomination”s membership-to-attendance ratio.
His findings reveal that the actual rate of church attendance from head counts is less than half of the 40% the pollsters report. Numbers from actual counts of people in Orthodox Christian churches (Catholic, mainline and evangelical) show that in 2004, 17.7% of the population attended a Christian church on any given weekend.
Another study published in 2005 in The Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion by sociologists C. Kirk Hadaway and Penny Long Marler — known for their scholarly research on the Church — backs up his findings. Their report reveals that the actual number of people worshipping each week is closer to Olson”s 17.7% figure — 52 million people instead of the pollster-reported 132 million (40%).
“We knew that over the past 30 to 40 years, denominations had increasingly reported a decline in their numbers,” Marler says. “Even a still-growing denomination like the Southern Baptist Convention had reported slowed growth. Most of the mainline denominations were all reporting a net loss over the past 30 years. And at the same time, the Gallup polls had remained stable. It didn”t make sense.”
The Halo Effect
What Hadaway and Marler, along with Mark Chaves, author of the “National Congregations Study,” discovered was at play is what researchers call “the halo effect” — the difference between what people tell pollsters and what people actually do. Americans tend to over-report socially desirable behavior like voting and attending church and under-report socially undesirable behavior like drinking.
Gallup Poll Editor in Chief Frank Newport agrees that the halo effect factors in to poll results. During a Gallup telephone survey of a random sampling of about 1,000 Americans nationwide, interviewers ask respondents questions such as, “In the last seven days, did you attend a church service, excluding weddings and funerals?” to determine their church-going habits.
“When people try to reconstruct their own behavior, particularly more frequently occurring on-and-off behavior, it is more difficult, especially in a telephone interview scenario,” Newport says. But he stands behind Gallup”s 40% figure: “I”ve been reviewing [U.S. church attendance] carefully,” he says. “No matter how we ask the question to people, we get roughly 40% of Americans who present themselves as regular church attendees.” He adds, however, that if you were to freeze the United States on any Sunday morning, you may find fewer than 40% of the country”s adults actually in churches.
“Although about 40% of Americans are regular church attendees, it doesn”t necessarily mean 40% are in church on any given Sunday,” he explains. “The most regular church attendee gets sick or sleeps in. The other reason may be people who tell us they go to church but are worshipping in non-traditional ways, such as small groups, people meeting in gyms or school libraries.”
In another study surveying the growth of U.S. Protestants, Marler and Hadaway discovered that while the majority of people they interviewed don”t belong to a local church, they still identify with their church roots. “Never mind the fact that they attend church less than 12 times a year,” Marler observes. “We estimate that 78 million Protestants are in that place. Ask most pastors what percentage of inactive members they have — they”ll say anything from 40–60%.”
Even with a broader definition of church attendance, classifying a regular attendee as someone who shows up at least three out of every eight Sundays, only 23–25% of Americans would fit this category. Olson notes that an additional million church attendees would increase the percentage from 17.7% to only 18%. “You”d have to find 80 million more people that churches forgot to count to get to 40%.”
Clearly, a disconnect between what Americans say and what they actually do has created a sense of a resilient church culture when, in fact, it may not exist.
2. American church attendance is steadily declining.
In 1990, 20.4% of the population attended an Orthodox Christian church on any given weekend. In 2000, that percentage dropped to 18.7% and to 17.7% by 2004. Olson explains that while church attendance numbers have stayed about the same from 1990 to 2004, the U.S. population has grown by 18.1% — more than 48 million people. “So even though the number of attendees is the same, our churches are not keeping up with population growth,” he says.
Well-known church researcher and author Thom Rainer notes that the failure of churches to keep up with the population growth is one of the Church”s greatest issues heading into the future. In a 2002 survey of 1,159 U.S. churches, Rainer”s research team found that only 6% of the churches were growing — he defines growth as not only increasing in attendance, but also increasing at a pace faster than its community”s population growth rate. “Stated inversely, 94% of our churches are losing ground in the communities they serve,” he says.
A breakdown of overall attendance percentages by church type shows decreases across the board in evangelical, mainline and Catholic churches.
The most significant drop in attendance came at the expense of the Catholic Church, which experienced an 11% decrease in its attendance percentage from 2000 to 2004. Next, and not far behind were mainline churches, which saw a 10% percentage decline. Evangelicals experienced the smallest drop at 1%.
Though scholars are hesitant to definitively acknowledge a decline, they do say that attendance is not increasing: “There”s no good evidence to suggest that overall church attendance has gone up in the recent decade,” Chaves says, adding that he believes there has been a decline. He cites the watershed book Bowling Alone (Simon and Schuster) by Harvard sociologist Robert D. Putnam as his primary reasoning.
“I think church attendance is a close cousin to the other kinds of activities Putnam says Americans are doing alone — indicating that Americans have become increasingly disconnected from family and friends,” Chaves says. “So if all those areas are going down and church attendance isn”t, that would be odd.”
He identifies various implications declining attendance may have for church leaders: “If this is the reality, then I see a trend toward people being less involved, while maintaining a connection to the church. Maybe a pastor used to be able to count on seeing someone every week, but what”s now happening is that people”s lives are busier and they”re attending more infrequently. So church leaders can”t count on these same people to teach Sunday school, serve on committees, etc.”
Recent data from The Barna Group (barna.org) indicates just the opposite. Church attendance is actually growing, company President George Barna says — climbing slowly from 1996″s 37% to 47% in 2006. His research shows that other core religious behaviors are also up.
For example, Bible reading increased from 40% in 2000 to 47% in 2006.
“The data shows the number of unchurched people is unchanged — 76 million adults,” he says. “And 47% of Americans reported to us that in the last seven days, they attended a church service, excluding weddings and funerals.” His research indicates that attendance at house churches has also spiked. That may explain, Barna says, why these core religious behaviors are up. “Nevertheless, people are seeking God.”
Ed Stetzer, missiologist and director of the Center for Missional Research at the North American Mission Board (namb.net) of the Southern Baptist Convention, has found similar evidence of spiritual behavior occurring outside church walls. He recently finished a study on alternative faith communities, and found that a growing number of people are finding Christian discipleship and community in places other than their local churches. The study found that 24.5% of Americans now say their primary form of spiritual nourishment is meeting with a small group of 20 or less people every week.
“About 6 million people meet weekly with a small group and never or rarely go to church,” Stetzer says. “There is a significant movement happening.”
3. Only one state is outpacing its population growth.
Hawaii, where 13.8% of the state”s population (1.3 million) regularly attends church, was the only state where church attendance grew faster than its population growth from 2000 to 2004. However, church attendance in Arkansas, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Tennessee — all of which have higher percentages of church attendees than Hawaii — was close to keeping up with population growth in the respective states (see U.S. map on page 50).
In Hawaii, 6.3% of the population attended an evangelical church in 2004; mainline denominations accounted for 1.8%; and 5.7% regularly worshipped in Catholic congregations.
A few states break from regional attendance trends. Texas — in the middle of the Bible Belt and home to more than 17 of the country”s largest churches — saw only 18% of its population (22.5 million) attend church on any given weekend in 2004, compared to sur-rounding states Oklahoma (22%), Louisiana (28%) and Arkansas (25%). And Florida (14.1%) had the lowest percentage of the Southern region (averaging 23%). Both Texas and Florida saw population growth (2000 to 2004) that was twice the national average.
Olson notes that states with very diverse cultures tend to have lower attendance numbers than the states surrounding them. “Most of our churches know how to address only one culture,” he says.
A closer look at the states only found more decline between 1990 and 2000. Church attendance declined in more than two-thirds of all U.S. counties: Slightly more than 2,300 counties declined, and 795 increased.
4. Mid-sized churches are shrinking; the smallest and largest churches are growing.
While America”s churches as a whole did not keep up with population growth from 1994 to 2004, the country”s smallest (attendance 1–49) and largest churches (2,000-plus) did (see graph on page 52). During that period, the smallest churches grew 16.4%; the largest grew 21.5%, exceeding the national population growth of 12.2%. But mid-sized churches (100–299) — the average size of a Protestant church in America is 124 — declined 1%. What were the reasons for the decline?
“The best way I can describe it is that a lot of people believe they”re upgrading to first class when they go to a larger church,” Olson says. “It seems highly likely that some of the people in those mid-sized churches are the ones leaving and going to the larger churches.”
Stetzer agrees and adds that because today”s large churches emphasize small groups and community, hoping to create a small-church feel, they offer the best of both worlds.
“There are multiple expectations on mid-sized churches that they can”t meet — programs, dynamic music, quality youth ministries,” he says.
“We”ve created a church consumer culture.”
As president of the Bridgeleader Network, David Anderson, senior pastor and founder of Bridgeway Community Church in Columbia, Md., has consulted with church leaders nationwide. In his work, he has observed that mid-sized congregations tend to lose the evangelistic focus they once had, and instead adopt what he calls a “club mentality.”
“You have just enough people not to be missional anymore,” he explains. “You don”t have to grow anymore to sustain your budget.”
As for why the smallest churches have kept up, Shawn McMullen, author of the newly released Unleashing the Potential of the Smaller Church (Standard), notes that smaller churches cultivate an intimacy not easily found in larger churches. “In an age when human interaction is being supplanted by modern technology, many younger families are looking for a church that offers community, closeness and intergenerational relationships,” he says.
Olson points out that for a church of 50 or less, the only place to go is up. “They have a relatively small downside and a big upside. A church of 25 can”t decline by 24 and still be on the radar. But it can grow by 200.”
5. Established churches — 40 to 190 years old — are, on average, declining.
All churches started between 1810 and 1960 (excluding the 1920s) declined in attendance from 2003 to 2004. The greatest attendance decrease in that period (-1.6%) came from churches begun in the 1820s, followed by the 1940s (-1.5%).
The numbers climb to the plus side in the 1970s, with churches between 30 and 40 years old showing a slight .3% increase. The percentage goes up significantly for congregations launched in the 1980s (1.7%) and 1990s (3%).
Established churches in decline are suffering from a leadership crisis, says Kirbyjon Caldwell, senior pastor of Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston. While his church is 50 years old, Caldwell says he has been there 25 years and in effect has made a “DNA change.” The church has grown from a struggling congregation of 25 to 7,100 under his charge.
Reversing the decline, he says, was about the leaders of the church — both clergy and laity — deciding to redefine the congregation and meet the needs of the community.
Bob Coy, senior pastor and founder of Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale, points to a different crisis for established churches — one of relevancy, especially in light of today”s young people searching for real truth and reasons for actions. “The emptiness of yesterday”s liturgy has got to become relevant,” Coy says. “The next generation is screaming for a relationship with God.”
The declining numbers send a message to church leaders content with only building their own churches, Olson says: “I hear people say, ‘Why do we need new churches? Why don”t we help our established churches do better?” or ‘Don”t we have enough churches?” If we keep doing the same things, we”ll continue to have the same results — decline. Established churches are the base, and new churches build on top of that. Using established churches to keep up with population growth is just not going to work.”
6. The increase in churches is only 1/4 of what”s needed to keep up with population growth.
Between 2000 and 2004, the net gain (the number of new churches minus the closed churches) in the number of evangelical churches was 5,452, but mainline and Catholic churches closed more than they started for a net loss of 2,200, leaving an overall net gain of 3,252 for all Orthodox Christian churches. “In this decade, approximately 3,000 churches closed every year; while more churches were started, only 3,800 survived,” Olson explains. In the 21st century, the net gain in churches has amounted to only 800 each year.
10,000 more churches needed
Perhaps most telling is the fact that from 2000 to 2004, a net gain of 13,024 churches was necessary to keep up with the U.S. population growth. In reality, that means rather than growing with the population, the Church incurred a deficit of almost 10,000 churches.
The gap is a serious one for Christianity in America, as research and studies show that church plants are the most effective means of evangelism and church growth. “More evangelism happens through church planting than megachurches,” Anderson says. He urges leaders to plant multicultural, missional churches.
Although ultimately, America will continue to see a great dying off of churches, Stetzer says he is encouraged to see a renewed interest in missiology and Christology, as well as churches that are striving to change themselves. “They”re asking what a biblical church would look like,” he says. But he advises church planters to customize their church to their community rather than copy an existing model.
“What”s going to make an effective church plant in their community depends on what their community looks like,” he explains. “Far too many pastors plant their church in their heads and not in their community.”
Olson encourages churches, regardless of their size or expansion strategy, to either plant a church or work with other congregations to plant a church every five years.
Many church plants of the last five years are intentionally smaller than those of the 1990s, he observes, because the younger generation is opting for smaller churches that offer a more intimate experience. “So we need to realize that if churches are going to be smaller, we”ll need to start more of them to have the same impact.”
7. In 2050, the percentage of the U.S. population attending church will be almost half of what it was in 1990.
So what is the future of the American Church? Does declining attendance mean declining influence? If present trends continue, the percentage of the population that attends church in 2050 is estimated to be at almost half of 1990″s attendance — a drop from 20.4% to 11.7%. Olson”s projections for the years leading up to 2050 are less than encouraging. He estimates a drop to 16.6% in 2010, and 15.4% in 2020.
He notes that while church attendance is projected to increase from 50 million in 1990 to 60 million in 2050, because the U.S. Census estimates that America will grow from 248 million in 1990 to 520 million in 2050, the Church can”t keep up with population growth if it stays on its current course.
The prognosis doesn”t discourage Anderson. “It encourages me that the harvest is greater,” he says. “I”m somewhat comforted by the idea that Americans have left dead churches.”
Caldwell echoes Anderson”s positive outlook: “If anything, this information causes me to get fired up about what I can do to reverse these trends.”
Coy, too, sees the projections as a call to action for church leaders: “If we”ve given the impression that church is an option, maybe we”re the ones who are at fault,” he says. But church attendance is only the beginning, he adds. “We have to get serious and begin to live it every day.”
Clearly, the future looks less than bright for the Church in America; nevertheless, countless stories of transformed lives remind us that God is using, and wants to continue to use, the 330,000 U.S. Orthodox Christian congregations to draw others to Him and strengthen believers for His work in a hurting world. In the words of the late author Henri Nouwen, the Church maintains the vital connection to Christ:
“Listen to the Church,” he writes in Show Me the Way (Crossroad). “I know that isn”t a popular bit of advice at a time and in a country where the church is frequently seen more as an ‘obstacle” in the way rather than as the ‘way” to Jesus. Nevertheless, I”m profoundly convinced that the greatest spiritual danger for our times is the separation of Jesus from the Church. The Church is the body of the Lord. Without Jesus, there can be no Church; and without the Church, we cannot stay united with Jesus. I”ve yet to meet anyone who has come closer to Jesus by forsaking the Church. To listen to the Church is to listen to the Lord of the Church.”
Over time, I've heard from some of you readers who tell me you haven't been going to church for years, and in my heart this feels as though you're turning down Disneyland, outlet malls, and a sunny day on the beach all at once. (ECWA Archives)
When generous people made a California trip possible for our family several years ago, we did the Disneyland thing and the outlet mall shopping trip and the sand-n-sea excursion. We also visited a megachurch one Sunday morning. When it came to extra time and choices of activities that weekend, I suggested we visit one or two or three other church services in the area. Because how fun!
But to the beach we went.
Mom. Is. Weird.
I just love the church so much. The church.
Last Sunday morning we went to a little town called Libby, Montana, where Matt has been filling in as preacher for a few weeks. It's a small church in the sticks. But the people are sweet, and I have been enjoying worshipping the Lord with them as much as I enjoyed the lights, cameras and action of the megachurch we visited in California.
There's something rich about gathering with other followers of Christ.
Over time, I've heard from some of you readers who tell me you haven't been going to church for years, and in my heart this feels as though you're turning down Disneyland, outlet malls and a sunny day on the beach all at once.
I told my friend last night that I was shipping this blog post to you, and she said, "What look will your readers see on your face when they're reading about why you think they should go to church?" So I showed her, and it looked like a child's best, "Mom, pleeeeeeease can we go to the park today?" look. So are you picturin' it? Me here with this begging face on?
My Top 10 Reasons Why You Should Go to Church
1. If you follow Christ, you are part of the body of Christ, and body parts, by nature, are connected. I know a sweet young woman who is recovering from surgery on the stump of her leg right now, so I can picture what a troublesome thing it is to have an amputation (1 Cor. 12:27).2. God wants to show others who he is through YOU. When you get involved at church, people get a bigger understanding of who God is (1 Cor. 12:7). Crazy, huh?3. You have been given a spiritual gift that is to be used to build up the body of Christ. Your gift is something other believers desperately need (1 Cor. 12)!4. You need to eat, learn and pray with other believers (Acts 2:42-47).5. You need to share with others, which means you have to hang out enough that you see the needs your brothers and sisters have. And they're gonna wanna share with you (Acts 2:45).6. You need encouragement, and other believers need encouragement from you on a regular basis because this life is seriously hard (Heb. 10:25).7. You need to laugh and cry with other believers through all the ups and downs of life. That can only happen if you're meeting with other believers through a lot of days (Rom. 12:15).8. God is going to comfort you, often through the words and actions of other believers, and He wants you to pass on the comfort to the believers around you (2 Cor. 1:3-4).9. If God is your Father, that makes church a family gathering (Phil. 1:2).10. When you gather with other believers and love them, God's love is made complete in you (1 John 4:12).
See, you need the church, and the church needs you.
It's messy. You'll get hurt by folks sometimes and will be disappointed by them often. But church is God's design, and if you risk going to church, you will bring glory to God and will find your own great joy.
Pleeeeeeeease will you go to church?
And for those of you who are regular church attenders, could you fill the comment section below with reasons why meeting regularly with your church family is so vital in your life? Maybe your words will be just the encouragement someone else needs to hear!
Christy Fitzwater is the author of A Study of Psalm 25: Seven Actions to Take When Life Gets Hard. She is a blogger, pastor's wife and mom of two teenagers and resides in Montana. Visit christyfitzwater.com for more information about her ministry.