Have you ever come across something that you thought was true but you found out that it isn’t quite true at all? That was my experience today. It is not a major pillar of our faith that I’m talking about but a truth that is usually backed up by anecdotal evidence and personal experience. You might have heard it this way:
In America, churches are closing at an alarming rate!
In fact, I actually had that statement in my thesis proposal. It was fine because I knew it was true. Everyone knows it. The problem is that I had to have a citation for the fact “that everyone knows.” So to the internet I went, to research the truth. What I found was surprising.
According to an article in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion entitled “Dearly Departed:How Often Do Congregations Close?” ((2008) 47(2):321-328) the average annual death rate for a church is 1 percent which is among the lowest death rates for any type of organization. What is even more amazing, some of these ‘deaths’ are not really deaths but mergers. It is true that small churches (50 members and under) have a higher death rate overall but still within the 1 percent range.
It seems that the unchecked closing of congregations across the land isn’t like we imagined. Of course in actual numbers, we are losing churches. One percent of 1000 churches is 10 churches closed. That does translate into some towns and other areas not having a witness for the gospel. BUT it is not the crisis that I always imagined and that is good news!
The authors believe that it is because the church is a “minimalist” organization. Meaning it is basic in it’s organization when compared to other organizations. It is flexible and adaptable in tough times. Other observations such as “churches are relatively easy to start,” betrays the fact that they have never tried to start a church in New England. Minimalist or not, I think the reason is something more basic.
Jesus said that he would build his church (Mt 16:18).
Jesus is in control.
Always has been.
Always will be.
So it really doesn’t matter whether ‘churches are closing at an alarming rate’ or if that rate is 1 percent - Jesus will build his church and I want to be a part of it.
Originally Posted Thursday, January 15, 2009
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