Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Pertinent Statistics

A denominational website ( gave these statistics:

  • Fifteen hundred pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention in their churches.
  • Four thousand new churches begin each year, but over seven thousand churches close their doors.
  • Fifty percent of pastors are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.
  • Almost forty percent polled said they have had an extra-marital affair since beginning their ministry.
  • Eighty percent of pastors surveyed spend less than fifteen minutes a day in prayer.
  • Seventy percent said the only time they spend studying the Word is when they are preparing their sermons.
Whatever we think of these statistics, it is clear that many, many preachers have serious personal and spiritual problems. While the source of this information probably comes from outside churches of Christ, there is no doubt that these problems occur among us as well.

After reading this statistic, I want to pray a whole lot more.


PS. Churches of Christ have lost 69 congregations (2000-2006). This is eleven per year. How many of these were mergers is hard to know. Two new plants have taken place near my home since 2003 (Heritage in Franklin and Spring Meadows in Spring Hill).


Kent said...


Thanks for the stats. They are very troublesome but I can totally see evidence of all of them even in Churches of Christ. The stats are sad but not surprising.

I would like your take on the a couple things you reference in your post. First, church planting. This is something we are seeing more and more of. I think it is a good thing overall. The majority of church plants I hear of are going into areas where there are no churches and taking Jesus to people who don't have him. The thing I see with church plants, though, are that more and more people are wanting to go out and plant churches than go into existing churches and work. Is it easier to plant a church than to go into a stagnant church and revive it? Another thing I wonder is on church death. You give the stat of churches that have closed that you know of. The fact is that there are countless churches that are at that point where they are hanging on and probably should close. What's your take on that, when a church is just "keeping house" and just meeting to meet and not going out and making an impact on the world as God has called the church to? Isn't it better sometimes for a church in that type of situation to die than for it to keep on existing? I don't have answers to either question but these are things that I have been confronted with and I am sure many others have as well.

Kent Benfer

Phil Sanders said...

Kent, thanks for one of the most thought-provoking posts I have received in a while.

I am teaching a church growth course at NSOP right now, and this subject is quite close to my heart.

If you count these new brand of evangelical, community churches I can count about three new plants within a mile or two of where I am sitting.

Much of the church growth literature touted the ability of new plantings to grow, and many do. I think there is a reason for this and a reason why many older churches remain on a plateau and gradually shrink.

New churches desire growth, older churches talk growth.

New churches desire and assimilate new people, older churches talk new people but do not give them much place in the congregation. In some cases if one did not grow up in that church, one will never be able to have any real influence there. And if one did not grow up in the long-time families, one may not be able to count. People who have the social connections filled don't need new people, even if they talk new people.

One study I saw about a decade ago showed that the average age of members of the churches of Christ was slightly younger than the national average. I found that encouraging. There were some other stats that also encouraged me about younger folks.

I know that many churches are graying in older neighborhoods. When the average age of a congregation is above 75, that church's days are numbered. Churches filled with old people can attract other older people, but they will have a hard time attracting the young. In some cases "keeping house" and keeping the doors open is about all they can do. I have known some older churches who have knocked doors, worked hard, and really tried to reach out. They are to be commended for their efforts.

Churches of Christ were building up in neighborhoods in the 1940s to 1960s. They built many neighborhood churches. When the neighborhoods changed, and the families grew old, the congregation got to the point it no longer reflected the neighborhood as it once did. Its choices were to move or to appeal to the changed neighborhood. Those that did not reach out to the new neighbors declined.

Parents with children at home tend to go to churches with children their age. They want them to have church friends. New church plantings are nearly always full of young families. They can attract others naturally.

When the second generation comes along, the church house is full and the pressure to get new people begins to waver. The though is "we've filled this place; we've done our job!" So the kids of the first generation are scattered, and the zeal for the new planting begins to wane.

By the third and fourth generation, you have folks who don't see any need to evangelize. They think they've heard it all and begin to doubt what their parents and grandparents believe. They then begin to flirt with alternatives in religion--ultimately falling away.

One more snapshot. Many medium size churches do very well for generations in small towns. They raise up a crop of kids who cannot find work there and have to move. The church appears not to have grown, but this is simply not the case. They have been producing for a long time, but their numbers remain the same because of the outflux of students after graduation. Sometimes we think a church has plateaued, when in reality it is a good producer. Not all growth stays in the same assembly.

just some thoughts,

Kent said...


There is a church planting movement in Churches of Christ these days as well. Mission Alive is a group that is sending people to various parts of the country to plant churches. And there are others as well. I know of a minister who is planting a church currently around Elizabethtown, KY in the vicinity of Fort Knox. I think there is a segment of the population that is scared off by the traditional, established church. They feel more comfortable getting in "on the ground floor" if you will with a church plant. It's just an interesting phenomenon. It will be very interesting to see how it goes in the coming years. And, as you have mentioned in previous posts, with the US becoming less and less evangelized, I think we will continue to see more domestic missionaries and fewer foreign missionaries.

As for the other issue, I just think that there are certain situations where churches need to die and people need to move on. Now, certainly, each church is different and each situation is different. But, it seems to me that there are many churches just hanging on, refusing to close the doors because they see that as a failure. They see a church closing as a bad thing, which it is in a way. The fact is, though, that scripture teaches us that God can bring new life out of death. I believe that he can do this through churches as well. Again, I know it's a tough thing and the last resort but we don't ever acknowledge that this might be the best thing in some certain situations.


Matthew said...

Great thoughts on church growth, and personally we see what you are talking about in Waynesboro, TN. We are staying the same in numbers on Sunday morning, but we have had a lot of people move, die, and leave because of work. But we are not a dying or stagnant congregation. We are reaching new people all the time.