Has the church in America finally reached a tipping point? It seems so, according to a national consultant.
For many years, the warning signs have mounted. The institutional church is in decline. But, up to now, few in the church have shown much desire to change, to seriously respond to the erosion around them.
I have noticed a slow shift in attitude over the past decade. When we first released our book Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore, many people seemed unaware the American church was bleeding. Then, gradually, people began to acknowledge something was happening. But they often dismissed it as a problem confined to old mainline liberal denominations, or to “bad research.” Eventually, most church leaders and members came around to accept reality–that the organized church, overall, is shrinking and losing its influence in society and in individuals’ lives. But, even with that acknowledgment, the people seem to be paralyzed, not ready to consider significant changes to become more effective.
But perhaps the pain in this paralysis is becoming too intense to tolerate much longer. Consider some of the data emerging this year:
- Gallup reports that the percentage of Americans who belong to a church, synagogue or mosque, has dropped to an all-time low. Even those who identify with a particular religion are less likely to belong to a church.
- The largest evangelical denomination, the Southern Baptists, recorded the 12th straight year of membership decline. Attendance also decreased again. And baptisms dipped to an all-time low (pardon the pun).
- Americans who claim no religion at all rose to an all-time high–now 23 percent of the population, according to a new study from Eastern Illinois University.
- The public’s confidence in organized religion sank to a new low–just 36 percent of the population, according to Gallup.
Change, for any organization, is difficult and uncomfortable. Experts in organizational culture often cite that change rarely comes until the pain to continue the status quo becomes more intense than the discomfort that change brings. That turning point has arrived, according to national church consultant Kent Hunter, founder of Church Doctor Ministries.
In this week’s Holy Soup podcast, Hunter reveals the biggest shift he’s seeing among his church clients nationwide. Church people–leaders and members–tell him that “we can’t go on this way any longer.” He said the threshold of church decline has finally commanded people’s attention. He hears an erupting “holy discontent” among the faithful.
While many pastors and other church leaders have taken a “hold on till I retire” intransigence, a growing wave of “early adopters” in congregations are now pushing for change. Will they be enough to turn things around? Hunter seems hopeful.
Listen to the conversation with Hunter on the Holy Soup podcast here: