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** IS THE CHURCH ON THE ENDANGERED LIST?


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

annually.


"Most denominations are either declining or stagnant," says

Winseman.


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

Protestant groups.


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

country.


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

church."


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

Christians.


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,"

Winseman says.


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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