A new Gallup survey reports that for the first time in American history, church membership nationwide has dropped below 50 percent.
This past year has been a challenging one for pastors and churches. Although there are multiple factors that have contributed to decreased church attendance and membership, the Covid-19 pandemic has certainly brought them to a head.
Consider these reasons that may factor into the decline:
- Government mandates and media: Having liberal governors and secular news media tell people for months on end that they should not to go to church has taken its toll. Some of the decrease in membership we’re seeing is a result of the onerous activities of overreaching government and fear-mongering media.
- Broken homes: In our church, we have many single parents who are raising their family in church. I greatly respect them and thank the Lord for their faithfulness. But across our nation, as the fabric of the family is being torn apart, one staple of life that has fallen by the wayside is church attendance. Where there used to be continuity of values passed down to children through the family, now there is strife and sometimes even a ridiculing of those values.
- Secular humanism in education: After more than a generation of secular humanism being taught in public schools and universities, the unavoidable result is young people believing they don’t need God. In fact, as you look at the church membership poll from Gallup, you see that while the majority of Baby Boomers and older are holding strong in church affiliation, the younger generations are seeing less of a need for God or church.
- Retiring leaders: Many pastors are retiring, and fewer younger men are responding to God’s call to ministry. The two-fold result is that more churches are left without pastors and fewer new churches are being planted. The churches without a pastor struggle to sustain meaningful gospel outreach. Meanwhile cities around our nation are expanding, but church planting efforts are not even close to keeping up. Simply put, we need more young men to surrender their lives to preach the gospel and to train for soulwinning-based ministry. This is why we continue to train laborers for Christ at West Coast Baptist College.
- Laodicean church: It’s no surprise that unsaved people would become less interested in things of God. The real grief is that churches, like the Laodicean church of Revelation 3:14–20, are lukewarm to the Lord and to the needs around them. In fact, it may be that the real story behind the decreasing church membership is decreasing gospel outreach. If fewer churches are passionately and strategically saturating their communities with the good news of Christ’s death, burial, resurrection, and offer of salvation, it stands to reason that fewer people would be trusting Christ and following the Lord in baptism and church membership.
So, considering the data and these contributing factors, why do I say that local churches can flourish in 2021?
1. The World Needs the Message We Have
Think of it this way. The first three factors—government mandates, broken homes, and secular humanism—are all reasons people need the Lord more than ever.
You may remember a Gallup survey in December that revealed the only group of Americans whose mental health improved during the pandemic were those who attended church frequently.
It may be that the decline in membership represents churches that didn’t actually preach the gospel of Jesus Christ as the only way to salvation from sin. Or it may be that churches that do preach that message have become less bold in doing so. In either case, the fact remains, Bible-believing churches still have the only message every person in this world needs.
2. The Lord Is Able to Revive His Church
But if the first three reasons point to a world that needs the Lord, the last two point to churches that need the Lord.
Where we have become lukewarm in our zeal for Christ and sharing the gospel, we need to heed our Lord’s words to the church at Laodicea and repent:
And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. (Revelation 3:14–20)
Could it be that fewer young people are surrendering their lives to gospel ministry because they are not exposed to a fervent faith?
Could it be that when Bible-believing churches return to their first love for Christ that the young people in these churches will have a desire to invest their lives in that which will last for eternity?
Could it be that our communities are full of people who would gladly respond to the message of the gospel if people from our churches would go into the community and share our faith?
A Fox News article commenting on the below-majority church membership poll pointed out similar possibilities:
The poll suggested that major factors in helping spiritual leaders regain some of that lost membership included “spiritual programs geared toward children and teenagers, community outreach and volunteer opportunities, and dynamic leaders were also factors in their attendance.”
“A focus on some of these factors may also help local church leaders encourage people who share their faith to join their church.”
3. We Live in the Perfect Moment to Declare the Gospel
I believe that God has allowed this past year with the Coronavirus pandemic, in part, to expose our need for Him and for His power in ministry. I also believe that there are people in every city in whose heart the Holy Spirit is already working (Acts 20:23) and who will respond to the gospel if you and I will share it.
Because our world needs the gospel and because the Holy Spirit will empower Christians to witness (Acts 1:8), gospel-preaching churches can flourish regardless of the cultural religious apathy of our day.
So, I encourage you, pastor, preach the gospel this Sunday. People need the Lord. There are plenty of news articles to discourage you. There are statistics to distract you. But you have a message this world needs. Lift up Christ!
And I encourage you, Christian, share the gospel this week. Don’t let the media tell you the world is hopeless. You and I serve a risen Savior who gives hope and renewed purpose for living. And you and I know Him and can introduce others to Him.
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If you would like to be encouraged in both motivation and methods for declaring the gospel in this moment of history, I invite you to join us October 3–6, 2021, for Spiritual Leadership Conference here in Lancaster, California. Our theme for this year’s conference is “Declare the Gospel.” Every service and every session will be centered on Christ and the why and how to share the good news of His death, burial, and resurrection. Additionally, we have added some afternoon opportunities to connect and collaborate with every conference speaker as well as the staff of Lancaster Baptist Church. I believe this will be the most encouraging and equipping Spiritual Leadership Conference we have ever had. I hope you will join us.