The effects of the pandemic, the growing cultural disdain for “organized religion,” and the socio-politico turn to secularism have reduced church rolls. A Gallup report going all the way back to 1937 shows formal church membership has dropped from a high of 70% to 39% in 2020.
“Continued decline in future decades seems inevitable,” predicted Gallup Senior Editor Jeffrey M. Jones.
Is it over for American churches? Are we living in the era of end-times apostasy signaling an inevitable, irreversible slow fade of church life as we know it?
Movements come and go, say some historical observers, and it just may be that the church’s journey in finite time from the launch at Pentecost has sputtered out. Institutional atrophy seems inevitable.
Sadly, the institutional quest causes a church to become introverted, focusing more on its institutional survival than on incarnational mission. The focus on survival and reconstruction on the ruins of a collapsed institution means a church’s own survival becomes more important than the Lord who created it, the truth He gave it, the call to which He summoned it, and the people to whom He sent it.
The biblical view is the kairological outlook: God so often uses catastrophes for His purposes and no doubt this will be a new day for the Church of Jesus Christ. The church Jesus intended as described in the Book of Acts.
The focus must not be on trying to breathe life into dying institutions. In the biblical scheme, death leads to resurrection. Rather than seeing this period with the desperation of hopeless people watching the creep of finite time bringing death to antiquated hulks, the better focus should be that of the infusion of new life. Rather than pre-occupation with sustaining structure, the energy should be spent on building ministry, making disciples of Jesus. Instead of mourning the death that is inevitable in chronos-time, it is better to rejoice at the new kairological day that is rising before us.
adapted from an article in Christian Post: A New Day for the Church Part 1 by Wallace B Henley
Hundreds of clergy, staff and congregants of the Church of Sweden, Europe’s largest Lutheran denomination, have declared in an open letter that it is now a trans-inclusive institution.
“We write to you from a church that is also trans,” reads a line from the letter, titled “Personal Letter to You Who are Trans,” posted on a dioceses website and addressed to trans-identifying people who serve and attend the church, Summit News reported.
Signed by around 1,000 priests, deacons and members and published on the official website of the Västerås diocese, the letter also seeks to explain how the church could be described as trans.
However in 2017, the denomination had already told clergy that they needed to start using gender-neutral language when referring to God, and avoid masculine terms such as “He” and “Lord.” so this letter is not something new. The church had already departed from Biblical values many years ago and are suffering the consequences of that decision. For example, in 2009, the left-leaning Swedish Church voted in favor of blessing same-sex marriages and elected Eva Brunne, the world’s first openly lesbian bishop.
Many of the members have been leaving the religion in record numbers. In 2018, insiders said the denomination was expected to lose over 1 million members over the following 10 years.
Sputnik News at the time translated the official Members in Motion report from the denomination, which found out that 85,848 Swedes left the Church in 2016, followed by 93,093 members in 2017.
The Bible the Lutheran church has rejected prophesies that prior to Jesus return much of the church will fall away and compromise with the world’s values. If only they could see, that by their actions, they are fulfilling this prophecy.
A new peer-reviewed study published last month in the academic journal Sociology of Religion demonstrates that churches grow under persecution.
The study’s findings, outlined in Christianity Today by authors Nilay Saiya and Stuti Manchanda, buck conventional wisdom. In places where Christians enjoy official support from national governments, religious faith tends to decline. Conversely, Christianity spreads most successfully in countries with legal commitments to religious pluralism and in places that actively discriminate against and persecute believers.
These are the countries with the fastest growing Christian populations (the states with low/no official support for the faith are in bold): Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Uganda, Rwanda, Madagascar, Liberia, Kenya, DR Congo, and Angola.
And here are the countries with the fastest declining Christian populations (the states with moderate/high official support for the faith are in bold): Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Latvia, Estonia, Albania, Moldova, Serbia, Germany, Lithuania, and Hungary.
Hungary, for example, is an officially Christian nation. Even still, faith is waning: Although a majority of Hungarians identify as Catholic, only 12% regularly attend church services and just 14% describe religion as “very important” in their lives.
It is worth noting, as author Rod Dreher has, Prime Minister Victor Orban’s governance in Budapest is very much aligned with politically conservative Christian views. As such, the country has passed legislation to that end.
Nevertheless, Saiya and Manchanda argue that, in pluralistic societies, where religious ideologies coexist and must compete, for lack of a better word, Christianity — untethered from politics — often flourishes. Paradoxically, they found, “state favoritism of religion inadvertently suppresses it.”
That is due to the fact that, countries that are “officially Christian,” and even in the U.S., to an extent, Christianity may become less about a convictional relationship with Jesus and instead morph into just one aspect of a citizen’s larger national identity, resulting in faith being less about personal beliefs and more about cultural tradition.
On the other hand, the Christian faith has expanded most in Asian countries, where there’s no “official” faith and pluralism has been embraced: In contrast to Europe, Christianity in Asian countries has not been in a position to receive preferential treatment from the state, and this reality has resulted in stunning Christian growth rates. The Christian faith has actually benefited by not being institutionally attached to the state, feeding its growth and vitality.
Consider the case of South Korea, which in the course of a century has gone from being a country devoid of Christianity to one of its biggest exporters. It currently ranks as the second-largest sender of missionaries, trailing only the United States.
This example illustrates well the paradox of pluralism. Because South Korea is not a Christian country, Christianity enjoys no special relationship to the state. In fact, Christianity in Korea endured the brutal persecution of Japanese colonial rule, during which churches were forcibly closed down and their properties confiscated. Indeed, the church persisted through poverty, war, dictatorship, and national crises throughout Korean history.
Since World War II, Korean Christianity has grown exponentially, with tens of thousands of churches being built and seminaries producing thousands of graduates every year. Today, about a third of the country is Christian.
Christianity also seems to flourish — as it did for the early church leaders in Acts — in places where believers face discrimination and persecution.
The faith of those facing persecution for their convictions is often deeper and more profound, because the stakes are inherently higher when it’s not in one’s cultural best interest to embrace such beliefs.
Open Doors USA, an advocacy organization tracking Christian persecution around the globe, ranks Iran as the eighth-worst place in the world for believers. Despite facing “extreme” persecution — where the government has outlawed conversion from Islam, imprisons those who evangelize, and arrests people for attending secret house churches or sharing Christian literature — it’s believed there could be at least one million Christians in the Islamic country.
A similar phenomenon is believed to be unfolding in Afghanistan, which Open Doors lists as the second-worst place to be a Christian. There is only a small number of believers in the country, where it is illegal to convert from Islam, and those who do face certain imprisonment, violence, and potentially even death. Rula Ghani, the first lady of Afghanistan, is a Maronite Christian from Lebanon.
Outside the Middle East, the world’s largest persecuted body of believers is found in China, where the communist government continually discriminates against and harms Christians.
Much to President Xi Jinping’s chagrin, Protestant Christianity has continued to grow exponentially in China, where the government estimates some 200 million of its 1.5 billion citizens are believers.
Fenggang Yang, a sociologist of religion at Purdue University, said in 2019 he believes more Protestant Christians will live in China by 2030 than any other country in the world.
“When Communists took power in 1949, there were one million Protestants living in China, compared with 58 million in 2010 and probably around 100 million in 2019,” he said. “Despite the government’s efforts to suppress, I don’t think it will stop the growth of Christianity in China. All the evidence I have collected shows it’s undeniable; it’s already happening.”
If these numbers reveal anything to Christians, it is that believers should place their trust not in conventional wisdom, but in the often paradoxical work of the Holy Spirit.
Russian philosopher Fyodor Dostoevsky once lamented the deeply misguided belief held my many Christians “that Christ cannot reign without an earthly kingdom.”
It would be folly for the Christian to spend his or her life building an impenetrable kingdom on earth. We know from Scripture such an effort would be in vain. Psalm 46 says, “The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice and the earth melts. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” And, in Matthew 24, Jesus told His disciples it is His authority alone that will stand the test of time: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”
In Matthew 6, Jesus warned His followers against storing up treasures on earth, “where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal.” Instead, He told them to invest in the eternal Kingdom of God.
Our ultimate hope, redemption, and restoration comes not in the protection of the state, which is never certain, but through salvation in Jesus, with whom we are heirs to a Kingdom operating outside the space and time of this temporal world.
This extremely simple presentation on a napkin outlines what church is all about, what it is designed to do and then explains what the institutional church has added which has made it extremely difficult for it to accomplish what Jesus designed for it to do.
I received the following email from Pastor Charles Otieno Owino. He is the leader of the Kenya House Church Movement which God is growing exponentially because it is all about making disciples who make disciples. There are no paid pastors nor church buildings. My followers would know that I have been connected with this group almost two years now. Moreover, my involvement as a Board Member of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICCC) Australia has enabled me to connect the KHC group with the President of ICCC Kenya, Rene Kiamba who is introducing them to the ICCC training materials in particular the Transformed Working Life Series available for free on http://www.transformedworkinglife.net.
On a recent Zoom Meeting, which I organised when all of the KHC leaders were together with Charles in Migori, I had the opportunity to hear the testimonies of all the leaders. Not all had English so one of the leaders fluent in Swahili and English acted as interpreter. It was a humbling but wonderful occasion for me as I realised what a privilege it is to be able to support my brothers work in this relatively poor country.
The background to the following email was a request from Charles for a small amount of money to bring several of the KHC leaders to Migori for a meeting with a number of Catholics including a priest who are interested in starting a KHC group in their area. I asked Charles for more background information on the reason for the meeting and the priest.
Dear Ron. 22nd April 2021
The Roman Catholic priest is one of the priests under a chief priest in Nyarombo church, Oruba Paris, Migori county.
I connected with him through my aunt, who for many years had been a Roman Catholic sister at Rakwaro seminary, where she lived most of her life. As a sister in the church, she was unable to marry.
God gave me an opportunity, to share with her the word of God, something which did not take me a year, but nearly 3 years, until she came to the truth of God’s Word and came out of the convent. She is now a believer; a disciple of Jesus Christ and she is married.
I understand she knew this priest for many years back in her days as a Catholic sister. I am sure it is no coincidence that they are now neighbours that she is married. The opportunity came up for her to share with the priest her newfound faith. The Holy Spirit has given her favour with him and she has met with the priest regularly to share God’s Word.
She then knew it was time to tell him about me and organised for me to meet him in her home. I have been meeting with him and sharing the word of God over several months now.
As I have shared with you, my time with him has borne fruit and he has invited KHC leaders to meet him and other people, in his home this week.
Requesting your prayers for a positive outcome from our meeting with him and this Catholic group.
If you feel led, please pray for Charles and the KHC leaders. I will let you know the outcome in another KHC post. Also, if you would like to join with me in supporting the KHC group then go to the DONATIONS link on the Home Page.
Many evangelicals in the USA have been anticipating some kind of confrontation with the changing social order. Crawford Griffen writes about it in his new book Survival and Resistance in Evangelical America – Christian Reconstruction in the Pacific Northwest. Over the last five years, he says, ” I’ve been writing about what might be one of the most significant trends among American evangelicals – a migration movement into the Pacific Northwest that has resulted in the formation of some very successful and increasingly influential intentional communities.
From small towns in northern Idaho, and elsewhere in the region, writers, artists and polemicists are publishing books with Penguin, Simon & Schuster and Random House, and broadcasting talk-shows on Amazon Prime. While offering different perspectives, they present a similar sense of crisis. The nation is no longer held together by common values, they explain. They argue that the teaching of evolution in public schools, the debates about abortion, gender and marriage, and the guidelines that shut down churches for reasons of public health are different fronts in a long war against Christianity. They recognize that the neutrality of the public square is an impossible ideal. They understand that politics is always about coercion. And so they proposed their solution. While, in the grand scheme of things, the believers who have migrated to the Pacific Northwest are not numerically significant – although they may number in the tens of thousands – they do project considerable soft power. Many of these believers live very visible lives. The community of several thousand members that has been established in Moscow, Idaho, for example, supports a publishing house, a music conservatory and an impressive liberal arts college. Led by Douglas Wilson, whose many publications include a book that he co-authored with Christopher Hitchens, this community sets out to make Moscow a Christian town.
Other migrants into the region prefer more secluded lives. They are attracted by the idea that this region could form an “American Redoubt,” as James Wesley Rawles has argued, a hold-out for those who want to resist the cultural powers that be. Rawles is the author of several novels and preparedness manuals, which are published by Penguin, and his website, survivalblog.com, attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors every month. His work sets out a more ambitious agenda for survival and resistance, in which readers are encouraged to adopt evangelical piety while being ready, if necessary, for less spiritual forms of defensive combat. For obvious reasons, those who follow Rawles’ agenda prefer not to attract attention. But for all their differences, Wilson and Rawles agree that believers need to expect an extraordinary cultural crisis in the short to medium term, and prepare for the new world that will follow. While their tactics for dealing with opposition are sharply different, their vision of the future is much the same. Dark skies are on the horizon, but they predict huge numbers of Americans will be converted, the social and political life of the nation will be renewed, and the policy of a renewed republic will be built around the demands of biblical law. Their optimism is appealing but I don’t believe Biblical prophecies such as these two by Jesus supports this optimistic view.
“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” Matthew 24:9-13
“For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.” Matthew 24:21-22
I believe the Bible reveals that those Christians that adopt a praying church as it was in the Book of Acts intent on making disciples in their own communities, loving their neighbours and honouring Jesus regardless of the cost, will have the most impact for the Kingdom in these last days. The power of the Holy Spirit will be once more evident in this Home Church environment.
Great to see God raising up young people who understand the purpose of the church is to make disciples who complete the Great Commission. Watch this young couple as they explain the 411 Discipleship Training Course. This is just one of the many initiatives God is raising up for His purposes in the “last days”. You will be encouraged as you learn what is being accomplished to build God’s Kingdom here on earth. I hope you embark on Troy’s 411 program with your partner. It asks the following four questions. WHY?, WHO?, WHAT? & WHEN? Go watch the video and find out why.
The following article by Roger E Olson October 10, 2020 “What Should “Church” Be Like? Answering the Question” is excellent, it is reproduced here in its entirety.
I believe a true Christian church should be one where God is very busy changing lives and influencing its social environment with compassionate actions.
I believe a true Christian church should be countercultural in the sense of resisting accommodation to secular and pagan culture while communicating the gospel in ways people of the culture can at least understand (but without letting go of anything essential to the gospel).
I believe a true Christian church should be an extended family where at least members and regular attenders know each other, share their lives with one another, share their property with each other (not as a common purse necessarily but with genuine generosity), and love one another in spite of differences of race, gender, ethnicity, economic and social status, educational level, etc.
I believe a true Christian church should be one where the preaching and teaching covers the whole of God’s revelation including judgment, conviction, repentance, and conversion—including the call to take great risks for God’s kingdom.
I believe a true Christian Church should be one where the people know the Bible well and are led by the teaching leaders into deeper understanding of its implications for being in the world but not of it.
I believe a true Christian church should select as leaders and teachers only persons deeply committed to Jesus Christ as God, Lord, Savior, and Coming King. The leaders should be broadly and generously orthodox in terms of belief in the Trinity, the inspiration and authority of Scripture, salvation through Christ alone by grace alone through faith alone without neglecting works of love.
I believe a true Christian church should practice loving discipline of members and regular attenders who fall into sin and who do not repent and seek to change.
I believe a true Christian church should require members (including leaders) to avoid worldliness in the sense of ungodly entertainment, conspicuous consumption, immodest dress, membership in organizations that require beliefs and/or ceremonies contrary to the sole Lordship of Jesus Christ (idolatry), sexual immorality, divorce (except in cases of abandonment, abuse, or adultery), identification with hate groups and ideologies, violence (except for self-defense or defense of vulnerable people under attack), gluttony, and extreme individualism manifested in lack of faithful participation in God’s people and their mission.
I believe a true Christian church should never hide its Christian identity.
I believe a true Christian church should preach and teach the Word of God, the gospel, faithfully and in all its dimensions and aspects, live life together in love, worship God enthusiastically, train members and attenders in Christian discipleship for everyday life, reach out to help hurting and vulnerable people live human lives, care for the environment, expect miracles to happen especially in response to fervent prayer, pray for the sick and the hurting, hold members and leaders accountable to their Christian callings, speak truth to power prophetically, encourage members to seek and use the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and never be ashamed of Jesus Christ even for the sake of attracting visitors and others to fill empty pews or seats.
Finally, I believe a true Christian church should celebrate the sacraments of water baptism and the Lord’s Supper regularly.
Nickey Gumbel, vicar (pastor) at Holy Trinity Brompton in London, developed the world-famous Alpha Courses and has decades of experience with in-person small groups. Like so many, he never considered online groups as a viable option and only transitioned his church’s small groups to online when forced by the coronavirus pandemic. A few short months later, he is a true believer in online groups and their advantages According to Gumbel, here are nine ways that online groups are actually better than in-person groups:
1. Everyone is more relaxed. Think about it: instead of walking into a strange environment, everyone is sitting in their favorite chair at home, they’ve got their coffee or tea (or whatever) fixed just the way they want, and they’re in their comfortable clothes. All of this puts a person at ease, leading to better discussion.
2. Everyone is in their own home. For most, home is a place of solace, and it’s much more inviting to join a group while at home. Some actually have a reluctance to walk into a church building or someone else’s home, so this can be an incredible advantage.
3. Travel time is cut down. This isn’t as big of an issue in smaller towns where distances are reduced, but in larger urban environments, travel time can be a groups killer. For instance, the average commute time where I live (Northern Virginia) is about an hour each way. Adding another meeting with travel time on top of that can be a huge hindrance. Online groups eliminates the travel time.
4. The total meeting time is shortened. Because travel time is eliminated, the total meeting time is shortened, making it easier for people to commit to a group.
5. Childcare becomes so much easier. Unless your small group meets on Sunday morning at church when children’s activities are going on, childcare for young families can be a deal breaker for in-person groups. Gumbel shared about a single mom that was able to join an online group precisely because it was online and she didn’t have to try and arrange childcare for her kids.
6. The conversation flows better because everyone knows each other’s names. Even in groups that have met for awhile, people aren’t confident that they know everyone’s names. This can lead to reduced interaction out of fear of getting someone’s name wrong. When you’re on an online group meeting like Zoom, everyone’s name appears by their screen. As simple as that sounds, this is actually a big deal. Everyone knows everyone’s name!
7. There’s an easier out if you don’t like the group. People like to have an exit strategy before they try something new (like a small group). Think about the hurdles facing someone debating whether or not to try out a small group for the first time: they’re walking into an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people. If they don’t like the group, they’re stuck there at least for the rest of the meeting, longer if they feel a social obligation to continue. With online meetings, there’s an easier out: just get off the call. This easier out actually incentivizes people to try something new.
8. People tend to be more open online than in person. Call this the social media effect. Have you ever noticed how people tend to share more openly (even when they shouldn’t) online? It’s as if the screen gives them a sense of transparency where they can share how they really feel. This works for online small groups as well. Gumbel shared in his podcast interview that after leading in-person groups for decades, he was shocked at just how quickly his new online group shared and how quickly they went deep. Also, a good leader can make sure that all participate in the meeting, with the mute button. he can make sure no one person dominates the meeting.
9. Group dropout rates are reduced. A final positive aspect that Gumbel noted was that in his short time leading online groups, the dropout rates seem to have reduced. In any in-person group you start, the number you start with is hardly ever the number you finish with. It’s too easy for people to talk themselves out of getting dressed up, getting back in their car after a long day’s work to go to small group. If you’re not feeling well, if you’re got a lot to do, if childcare falls through (or any number of other things), you miss the group. With an online group, people tend to stick longer, leading to reduced dropout rates.
Likewise, I am a Board Member of International Christian Chamber of Commerce (ICCC) Australia and have been blessed greatly with the use of Zoom not only for meetings with Australian delegates but we now have Zoom meetings for Asia and the World for leaders and potential new members.