Friday, January 25, 2008

For a more balanced approach

To my readers,

I really weary of progressive posters who think that all of us in the middle-of-the-road preach for dying and shrinking churches. It is absurd and false to think that all the growth among us has been among the progressives. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I spoke earlier of two church plantings nearby. Both happened among the mainstream, neither among the progressive. Both are growing well, and we thank God for them (Heritage in Franklin and Spring Meadows in Spring Hill). At the same time I have seen nearby progressive churches lose large numbers of members.

According to Yeakley, the more progressive the church, the more likely they are to lose their teens. I am not really surprised. Once you start down the road of compromise and self-made religion, it is hard to keep your kids from going one step further than you have gone. What I do weary of is the constant harping by progressives that mainliners won't keep their children. The fact is the ones who keep their kids best are the middle-of-the-road churches.

What was also important is that the attendance to membership ratio and the giving to member ratio were so outstanding among members of the church. To assume this is only progressive churches goes against the grain and my experience. Why is it that progressive publications can hardly stay in print, while the mainstream and conservative ones last on and on?

Forgive me for a shameless plug but Think magazine, now in its third year is booming! It is the first publication among churches of Christ to enter into the larger religious market. It is a high-quality and well-designed periodical. You can find out more about it at Yes, I have a column there. Whatever happened to Image or Mission magazine?

Now the stats showed that in America we gain 4,000 congregations yearly and lose 7,000. A net loss of 3,000. I understand there are about 350,000 churches of all kinds in the USA. If the net loss of American congregations from 2000 to 2006 was 18,000, I maintain the loss of only 69 congregations among the 12th largest religious group and the fourth most congregations is not all that bad. One must also wonder how many of those losses were not losses but mergers.

Well, it will be interesting to see what else we learn from these studies.



Terry said...

I have been trying to remember if I have posted anything that was offensive to you or to the church you serve, but I can't remember. I don't even remember posting anything about church growth or losing our children. If I have offended you, please forgive me. I do not try to be offensive, but sometimes I don't even realize it.

Rick said...

Numbers in Oklahoma are not as good as the rest of the nation evidently. In the last three years there have been 16 churches shut their doors and the majority were not merging but dying. In the last two weeks, I have received notice of two closing in North Texas alone. One, I know died to a lack of care, the other I just do not know as of yet.

At the same time, I am not pessimistic about the work of the Lord. Appreciate the articles: we must keep our head up and our hands to the plow.

Phil Sanders said...


Being a native of Oklahoma but living in Nashville area keeps me hopping on both sides of the Mississippi. I will be at North MacArthur for the seminar on February 25. I am scheduled to preach at Cherokee Hills that Sunday. All of these places hold dear memories for me.

I fear many of our churches (mainstream) have not been very evangelistic. They have been content to keep house or get into the pessimistic frame of heart.

We need to encourage each other and help each other grow. A dear friend is taking a small nearby congregation of less than ten and reviving it. I thank God for his faith and zeal. I wish more had such zeal.

I have heard nearly every criticism people can make toward the church, and sometimes I have a lover's quarrel with her; but the church is still God's plan and deserves our love and support.


Matthew said...

Amen, Amen, Amen, one cannot expect to put down the church and think the children will not be influenced. The story you told me at lunch about the near by congregation, really left a impact on me. More people need to hear this message. People on the right will drive the children away because of a lack of Christ's love, and the other side will push the children away because of a lack of love for the church. True Christianity always works.

Dale's Spot said...

Thanks Phil. If people are told often enough that we must change radically to survive we will believe it. Truth is the greatest changes are the ones when the Gospel changes the hearts, minds and lives of individuals. I love you brother and praise God for your example, balance and spirit.

Rick said...

We are looking forward to meeting with you at the North MacArthur lectures. I agree wholeheartedly, keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

I think you are being too kind.

"progressive posters who think that all of us in the middle-of-the-road preach for dying and shrinking churches"

No, they don't THINK we are dying they BELIEVE we are obsolete and ALSO ungodly. I've read more than one blog about how "we" are dying out BECAUSE God wants us and our doctrine dead in His church.

I've seen conservative brethren and doctrines compared to racist and racism and the progressive movement compared to the Civil Rights Movement.

Phil Sanders said...

Progressives believe also that we are all "salvific judgmentalists" who are in danger of losing our souls because we insist people obey the gospel according to the teaching of Scripture (be immersed for forgiveness as a penitent believer).

They do have zealots who have cast their curse upon us. It is interesting that those who judge us for judging don't realize they are also judging. I guess they think it is all right when they do it.


Keith Brenton said...

Well, Phil, New Wineskins is still going strong as a Web site, and personally I think it's good that all kinds of points of view - however you wish to label them - can be expressed among followers of Christ. I wish you and your publication well, even though there are a good number of items on which we'd disagree.

On one item of primary concern, we certainly agree ... there are a lot people who need and even yearn to know Christ and draw closer to the Father through Him. Getting out that message is important!

Preacher Caleb said...

Although it be true that the "progressive" churches are losing just as many if not more than they are gaining (I read on Mike Cope's blog a while back him trying to justify why so many were leaving his church), a large area of concern to me is anytime we try to justify our existence based upon numbers. Where did we ever get they idea that increase or decrease in numbers meant the blessings or cursings of God? At some point the Lord's church born on Pentecost began losing numbers. Was it at that point that the Lord's church was no longer following Christ or blessed by God? If my understanding of church history is at all correct the majority of the church went with Augustine. Did the numbers justify the doctrine?

Did hear me to be argumentative of the stats - they are encouraging. My question deals more primarily with the whole idea of trying to rationalize right or wrong based upon numbers. What if the numbers did show we were dying? Does that mean it's time to give up the tripartite hermy and embrace the ever enigmatic "new hermeneutic?" What if the numbers showed that Instrumental Music churches were increasing in number and A Cappella churches were loosing numbers? Does that mean it's not time to depart from the understanding that silence can be prohibitive and God really does want to be worshiped with mechanical instruments? Am I making any sense at all?

Let me give you a real life example. The congregation where I am at we have experienced over 40% increase in numbers sense I got here 2 years ago. Am I supposed to take from that we are doing everything right, if anything? How about this... I know a man who has been preaching the gospel since Noah built the ark and the congregation where he is at has dropped probably 30% in that same time frame (and he is one of the most evangelistic men I know). Does that mean his message is not valid and "my" ministry is approved of by God more than "his" ministry? Does that mean I'm successful and he is not?

I fear greatly that we have put trust and faith in numbers instead of putting trust and faith in God's word. It says what it says and I will follow regardless of the numbers – as I am confident you will too. I think the great lesson to learn from all of this is that their (progressives or whatever you want to call them) rational for existence is entirely built upon numbers. They can stand on their numbers and I will take God’s word.

Just my thoughts,

Phil Sanders said...

The reason for this discussion is that progressives have touted the "change or you'll lose your children" argument for a long time.

The biography of Benjamin Franklin who preached up in Ohio in the 1800s reveals this very argument was made by the instrumentalists in the 1860s and 1870s.

During the twentieth century, a cappella churches of Christ have grown nearly eight times larger, while the DoC has grown and lost. Today, they have only 700,000 members. They have lost more members since 1960 than any religious group in America.

Numbers were the issue for THEM as a reason to make changes. That's why the whole issue is before us.

But what are they converted to? A swollen crowd of deceived people is still deceived.


Preacher Caleb said...

I absolutely agree with you Phil – it’s their justification and it is works against them. It’s also important that I clarify that I’m trying to get on you for talking about the numbers (as I can see how I may have left that impression). What I’m trying to do is get us all to step back a look at the whole validity of the process. If it can be proven that the whole process is invalid it negates the need for us to waste time and resources in the process. Throughout history men have sought to justify all sorts of evil based upon numbers. Kip McKean’s great justification for “God’s modern day movement” was the fact that they were the fastest “growing” group. They touted numbers at every turn and persuaded many to follow. That’s just one example of many. It just came to my mind that when I was reading Shelly’s “I Just Want to be a Christian: Revised” that he hinted at the numbers shifting being one of the reasons he sought to “reexamine” things. In other words – we’ll there must be something wrong with our movement because people are leaving and not flooding in our fellowship.

Here is my question – where does this rational come from to begin with? Upon what basis do we get the idea that numbers equate to what God defines as “growth” or “blessing.” Why is it that so many ministers experience burnout and quit? Perhaps we have sent them out into the local mission field and planted the idea in their mind that if the numbers are not going up then they are not being “successful.” I want to see this discussion in our fellowship go right back to the source. Let’s let the Bible define “growth” and “blessing.” I truly believe that if we were all honest we would be shocked at how radically different God defines the words “growth” and “blessing” from how we generally use them. Now I’m stepping off my soapbox because I have to catch a plane from Nashville back to the mission field of California.

Sow the Seed Faithfully,

p.s. I really appreciate all you do in the pursuit of truth

p.p.s. Sorry for writing novals for responses :)

Phil Sanders said...

You asked: Here is my question – where does this rational come from to begin with? Upon what basis do we get the idea that numbers equate to what God defines as “growth” or “blessing.”

I think some might turn to the first ten chapters of Acts to answer that--at least in part. Acts records numbers and equates that with the work of God.

Of course, a large mob is still a large mob. Truth is not determined by counting noses.

You asked: Why is it that so many ministers experience burnout and quit?

There are many answers to this: overwork, little support, out-of-balance life, wrong emphasis, spiritual weaknesses, sin, discouragement, complaining, and worry.

The Bible is the right source to find truth in every aspect of life.