It’s no secret that church attendance and membership in the United States and Canada is decreasing. The Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, 2012 states that the three largest denominations (the Catholic Church, Southern Baptist Convention, and the United Methodist Church) all showed drops in membership from the previous year, 2011 (Linder, 2012, p. 80). Only a few of the denominations surveyed for the yearbook showed an increase in membership.
Now how do these trends mesh with research done on the Adventist church? A 2014 study conducted by the Institute for Church Ministry showed that over one-third (38%) of NAD church clerks reported a greater church attendance than five years ago; this clearly which goes against the multinational trend! However, a little over one-third (36%) of churches reported that attendance has stayed the same, with about one fourth (26%) reporting that attendance has decreased.
Unfortunately, previous research has shown that churches that start to plateau typically begin to decline in membership after ten or twenty years of unchanged membership numbers. Without intervention and revitalization, these churches may be doomed to close their doors. Churches which show a perpetual decline in membership are typically beyond help and eventually end up being closed down.
This begs the question: what are the “growing” churches doing right that is bringing in new members? If you are a member in the one-third of congregations in which your attendance held steady or in the 26% of churches with an attendance decrease, what will need to change for your congregation to survive?
In a post on the “Sojourners” website, author Theresa Cho (2011) outlines 10 simple steps to increase church membership and attendance. In this article, Cho emphasizes the need to know who you are as a church so as to better meet the needs of current members, the importance of having a strong, Godly leader to follow, and how central outreach is to growth. She also discusses the importance of prayer as a central part of any and all efforts.
One of the key points that Cho brings to light is the importance of being relevant to the community in which the church is located. In order to reach out to the community and to bring new faces into the church, the church itself must be able to recognize its own strengths, and understand how to use their gifts to meet the needs around them. It does not matter the size of the church body, the age of the congregation, the size of the church facility. What matters is understanding the church’s mission and how that applies to those who are currently unchurched.
Relevance is about figuring out the current identity and gifts of the church now and matching that with the needs of the community. Relevance is not about survival, but about recognizing no matter the size of your congregation, Christ is calling you to use your gifts in a particular way for a particular reason. (Cho, 2011)
Looking forward to the next five years, what differences could you make in your own church body to boost church membership? Even if your church is currently in the “growing” category, what can you do to continue that growth instead of slipping into the “maintaining” or “declining” category?
Wouldn’t it be amazing if the next NAD survey showed a huge percentage jump in the “growing” category? And wouldn’t it be wonderful to see so many more souls introduced to the love of Jesus? With careful planning on the part of Godly leaders, along with the commitment of the current church body, it is possible to propel the Seventh-day Adventist church forward and bring those on the outside into our church.
Lindner, E. (Ed.). (2012). Yearbook of American and Canadian churches, 2012. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.
Cho, T. (2011, July 12). 10 ways to revive a dying church. Sojourners. Retrieved from http://sojo.net/blogs/2011/07/12/10-ways-revive-dying-church
Image from Canva©.