The Crash of the American Church?

Research shows that the “evangelical church” lost around 10 percent of her people in the last decade. There are many factors that are involved that have resulted in this decline. Further, most churches that are growing are just taking people from other churches, not converting people. The Great Evangelical Recession explores the factors involved in the decline of the church and offers suggestions for the future. I found the book helpful and thought-provoking. 

Here are some quotes I liked from the book:

“The decline of evangelical Christianity is not just that we’re failing at evangelism or just that we’re failing to keep our own kids or just that we’ll lose 70 percent of our funding in the next thirty years. It’s all those factors (and more) combined and gaining speed simultaneously” (John S. Dickerson, The Great Evangelical Recession, 22). 

“By multiple accounts [i.e. Dr. Christian Smith, David T. Olson, Barna Group, and Christine Wicker], evangelical believers are between 7 and 9 percent of the United States population” (Dickerson, The Great Evangelical Recession, 26).

“Of America’s 316 million residents, we evangelicals only account for about 22 to 28 million. As mentioned before, we lose about 2.6 million of those each decade. And the number of our new converts does not hold our position with population with growth” (Dickerson, 26).

“In the next decades we will see a massive decrease in evangelical influence politically, economically, culturally, and financially” (Dickerson, 26). 

“If the generational changes examined in the upcoming chapters persist, evangelicals could drop to about 4 percent of the population within three decades. That is, in just under thirty years, we may only be 16 million of about 400 million Americans” (Dickerson, 33).

“Unless giving trends change significantly, evangelical giving across the board may drop by about 70 percent during the next twenty-five to thirty years” (Dickerson,  84).

“American evangelicals give more than $12 billion to churches, parachurches, and mission agencies every year, by modest estimation” (Dickerson, 85). 

“The most important issues we face today is the same the church has face in every century: Will we reach our world for Christ? In other words, will we give priority to Christ’s command to go into all the world and preach the gospel? Or will we turn increasingly inward, caught up in our own internal affairs or controversies, or simply becoming more and more comfortable with the status qou? Will we become inner-director or outer-directed?” (Billy Graham in Dickerson, The Great Evangelical Recession, 119). 

G. K. Chesterton said, “Christianity has died many times and risen again; for it had a God who knew the way out of the grace” (Dickerson, 123).

“The stakes are eternal.
The victims or victors are not organizations or churches, but souls that will live forever…
We can feel a bit like Frodo the hobbit in The Lord of the Rings. We are tiny creatures entrusted with an impossible task—to rescue humanity from unthinkable evil…
All we have to decide is what to with the time that is given to us” (Dickerson, 126).

The apostle Paul “never based his hope for the church in the trajectory of the church. He always based his hope for the church in Christ” (Dickerson, 128).

“The Holy Spirit and His ‘power’ run like steel trusses under the church in Acts” (Dickerson, 129). 

“When God stepped down into darkness, He humbled himself to reach us. He didn’t claim to love us from an impersonal distance” (Dickerson, 140).

“We must suspend judgment, demonstrate unconditional acceptance, and anticipate that we’ll be misunderstood” (Dickerson, 140). 

“God’s love was not merely spoken or claimed from a distance” (Dickerson, 141). 

“No matter which tribe a soul hails from, if we expect an unbeliever to claim victory over sin in their own strength, then our expectations are out of line with Scripture. Such expectations dishonor Christ’s blood shed at Calvery. To assume that nonbelievers can overcome sin—apart from Christ—is to imply that Christ is not necessary to overcome sin. And if that’s the case, then the gospel is foolishness” (Dickerson, 144).

“No matter what tribe an unbeliever belongs to, we should lovingly expect them to act like pagans until they come to Christ” (Dickerson, 145). 

“Are we more committed to American culture, or to Christ and His radical message?” (Dickerson, 149). 

“Over the next fifteen years, if the church cannot offset the 50-percent decrease in giving, it can offset the loss of two or three full-time staff pastors with ten part-time or alternative ministers and staff members. These alternative pastors will not be forty-hour-per-week staff members, but their combined efforts more than offset the loss of two ‘full-time’ pastors… The solution is disciples. Not dollars” (Dickerson, 172-73). 

“David Kinnaman put it this way: ‘Some (though not all) ministries have taken cues from the assembly line, doing everything possible to streamline the manufacture of shiny new Jesus-followers, fresh from the factory floor. But disciples cannot be mass-produced. Disciples are handmade, one relationship at a time” (Dickerson, 184).

I believe the Lord is calling us to prayer, planning, and action! We together need to go out with the good news of Jesus and compel people to come into His Kingdom of abundant life. Further, I think we need to do it as much as we can in partnership with other churches. We’re definitely not going to run out of “fish.”

We have a huge calling, task, and opportunity; and we have Jesus as the Lord of the harvest. The one that has given us marching orders is Lord with all authority and He has given us His Helper who will convict the world. So, let’s go out with boldness and confidence! Let’s go out with reliance! Let’s go out knowing there is hope for the world and the Church but only in Christ Jesus.

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About Paul O'Brien

I am a lot of things; saint and sinner. I struggle and I strive. I am a husband and father of three. I have been in pastoral ministry for 10 years. I went to school at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary but most of my schooling has been at the School of Hard Knocks. I have worked various jobs, including pheasant farmer, toilet maker, construction worker, and I served in the military. My wife and I enjoy reading at coffee shops, taking walks, hanging out with friends and family, and watching our three kid's antics. :)

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