Many Americans are on a spiritual quest. This should be good news
for the church. But, according to researchers, many of them are
choosing noninstitutional forms of religion. A recent poll by Gallup
shows that weekly church attendance is holding steady at about 40
percent of the population - the same rate as in the 1950s. But other
researchers - like Dave T. Olson, director of TheAmericanChurch.org
- claim only 17.7 percent of the population attends a church service
any given weekend.
Olson, who bases his numbers on annual church attendance reported by
individual U.S. congregations, says, "People who only go to church
now and again exaggerate how often they go."
Albert Winseman, religion and social trends editor for the Gallup
Organization, says people are shopping for alternatives to church
and that is one reason 3,000 local churches close their doors
"Most denominations are either declining or stagnant," says
The Assemblies of God is one of the few Christian groups to show
steady growth in recent years. The Yearbook of American and Canadian
Churches reports the Assemblies of God and Southern Baptists are the
only Protestant faith groups of the largest 25 to report an increase
in membership for 2004.
An April Gallup poll indicated 65 percent of Pentecostals attend
church weekly, second only to Church of Christ (at 68 percent) among
VANISHING PROTESTANT MAJORITY
Half a century ago, two-thirds of the population considered
themselves Protestants. Officially, for the first time last year,
self-identified Protestants dipped below half of all Americans,
according to Gallup research.
Evangelical and Pentecostal church attendance looks stable, but
membership isn’t keeping pace with population growth. Olson says
although the same number of people are attending church as 15 years
ago, there are an additional 48 million people living in the
But people are not necessarily flocking to other faiths. J. Gordon
Melton, author of the Encyclopedia of American Religions, says
tabulating all the Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews and New Agers
accounts for only 7 percent of Americans. Self-professing atheists
comprise another 10 percent of the population.
"In the culture today we don’t have the churchgoing momentum we did
in the 1950s, when ’respectable people’ attended church every week,"
says Earl Creps, director of the Doctor of Ministry Program at
Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield, Missouri.
"There’s no guarantee anymore that people are going to come to
Although only 17 to 40 percent of Americans attend church regularly,
about 80 percent of the population professes Christianity.
Pollster George Barna, who last year wrote the book "Revolution:
Finding Vibrant Faith Beyond the Walls of the Sanctuary," believes a
transformational shift is occurring in how Christians view church.
He claims more than 20 million committed yet disaffected
"revolutionaries" have struck out on their own to form house
churches, family faith communities and cyberchurches.
WHAT CHURCH OFFERS
Creps, author of "Off-Road Disciples," believes these
"revolutionaries" are forfeiting a great deal by not being involved
in a local church. "A great church offers relational connections,
people modeling how to live faith, accountability, the enormous
power of a group worship experience and the operation of the gifts
of the Spirit," he says.
Theologian J.I. Packer says the reality of corporate church life
pervaded first-century Christianity and should today as well.
"Individuality is not correct, according to biblical standards,"
says Packer, author of "Knowing God." "The church is central in
God’s plan. God uses the church to set up His kingdom - the
corporate relational reality where people respond to Christ as King.
We can’t dismiss the structure God has established."
Many observers believe house churches and cyberchurch movements are
short-lived trends that will never amount to more than 5 percent of
Melton says such methods don’t represent a new phenomenon. "For
decades people have been saying they can be a good Christian and
never go to church," he says.
Gallup sees a strong link between individual spiritual commitment
and church attendance by measuring factors such as prayer, Bible
study and small group involvement.
"People can say they are a spiritually committed person without
attending church, but it happens only 5 percent of the time,"
Creps says merely getting people into the sanctuary isn’t the goal.
"The issue really is the need for every person to come to God
through His Son Jesus Christ. That involves a connection with a
community of Christians - which we call church."
"The church is God’s primary vehicle for the proclamation of the
gospel," Winseman says. "The abundant life is found most abundantly
in the community of the local church."
--John W. Kennedy, Today’s Pentecostal Evangel
This article reveals the current condition of the church and some new trends in Christianity but for the church to be the Acts New Testament church we need to continue to explore and discover from acts what it looks like and what it does.
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