Heres what's going on!

Sunday, March 8, 2009
This article is very telling and convicting about the state of Churches nowadays and how we can be apart of the remedy.

Churches blame empty pews on fewer babies

Denominations see membership drop as boomers age

By Bob Smietana • THE TENNESSEAN • March 8, 2009

Too many old people. Not enough babies.

That's what almost every major Christian denomination in the United States has in common — from Southern Baptists to Missouri Synod Lutherans.

In fact, 21 of the 25 largest groups in the United States reported a decline or flat line in membership last year, according to the 2009 edition of the Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches. In most cases, the so-called birth dearth is the reason.

Carl Royster, a Church of Christ statistician, says that churches are seeing the aftereffects of the baby boom.

For example, in the mid-20th century, conservative groups like the Southern Baptists and Church of Christ saw their membership spike. "You had humongous growth in the '40s, '50s and '60s," Royster said. "Now, the baby boomers are beginning to die off."

Those boomers had fewer kids than their parents, leaving fewer descendants to replace them in the pews.

Royster said that he's not panicking about the church decline. But he's worried about the future.

"The sky is not falling yet," he said. "But in a few years, it might be."

Paul Prill, professor of communication at Lipscomb University and the part-time preacher at Acklen Avenue Church of Christ, says the congregation once averaged about 120 but fell to 50 when kids in the church grew up and moved away and older members became too frail to attend.

In recent years, young married couples settling in the area have begun returning, at a trickle's pace, bringing the congregation back to about 80 members.

But it's a slow process, Prill said.

"It's hard to reach people who are in their 20s and are not going to church," he said.

Trend hits conservatives

Until recently, the membership decline had affected mostly mainline Protestant denominations, like Episcopalians and Methodists. Now the nation's two largest groups, Southern Baptists and Roman Catholics, are watching their numbers drop. In the 2009 Yearbook, Roman Catholics lost about 398,000 members, or 0.59 percent. Southern Baptists lost
about 40,000 members, or 0.24 percent.

That's still relatively healthy compared with other denominations.

The United Church of Christ, for example, lost more than 6 percent of its members. The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church was down more than 3 percent. The mainline Evangelical Lutheran Church was down 1.35 percent, while the more conservative Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod lost 1.44 percent.

On the other hand, four denominations reported growth.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gained 1.63 percent. The Assemblies of God were up 0.96 percent, the Jehovah's Witnesses grew by 2.12 percent, and the Church of God, based in Cleveland, Tenn., was up 2.04 percent.

But John O'Hara, statistician for the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod, said even those groups are struggling.

"They may not have lost members but their rate of growth has slowed," he said.

Then there's the issue of U.S. population growth. While membership in the largest 25 churches dropped by 0.49 percent in total, the U.S. population grew by an estimated .98 percent.

"It's not just a matter of decline," said Conrad Hackett, a postdoctoral fellow in the Population Research CenterUniversity of Texas at Austin. "It's a question of not keeping up with population growth." at the

Hackett agrees that most of the decline of mainline churches can be linked to declining fertility rates. As early as the 1930s, women in more progressive or liberal denominations had fewer children than women in conservative churches. Now conservative Christian women are having fewer children as well.

"The fact of the matter is that there are demographic trends that hit the liberal or progressive denominations earlier," Hackett said, "and some of these trends are now catching up with the more conservative denominations."

Go forth and multiply

Ed Stetzer, director of Southern Baptist-owned LifeWay Research, believes that denominations got complacent during the baby boom.

"We had home-field advantage," he said. "We had gotten used to being the place where people went when they had spiritual needs. And now we are like bears fed by tourists, and the tourists are gone."

Until the 1960s, Christian denominations faced little competition in the United States. Until that time, immigration from non-Christian parts of the world was largely banned.

Once those immigration barriers were lifted, people from other faiths, such as Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists, came here in large numbers. But established churches weren't ready to reach out to people of other faiths or other ethnic backgrounds.

"We send missionaries overseas," Royster said, "but we neglected our own backyard."

Now, several denominations have begun intensive outreach efforts to reverse the decline in their members. The Southern Baptist Convention, for example, starts more than 1,000 new congregations every year. The United Methodist Church and Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod also plan to aggressively plant new churches.

Those efforts will help, Hackett said, but not as much as having more babies.

Sociologists of religion like Rodney Stark argue that the early Christian church grew from a small group of followers to the dominant religion in the Roman Empire by having more kids than non-Christians.

Churches might want to try that approach again, Hackett said.

"The fact is that one of the most reliable predictors of growth is fertility," Hackett said. "In the long term, for denominations, having members who have more children is one of the most likely means of growing the denominations."