I have never been more optimistic about the future of the church in America. I believe we will soon see an unprecedented revival.
Growth occurs in cycles. We are born, we grow, we die. It is true of people. It is true of plants. It is true of churches, it is true of Sunday School classes, it is true of denominations. It is true of businesses and products.
Consider the following charts from some well-known business books that illustrate this principle. The Ten Day MBA illustrates a product life cycle with the following graph:
The Portable MBA has a similar concept. Products are developed, they are introduced to the market, revenue increase, the product matures, then it declines, following a predictable pattern.
The key to success, then, is to introduce new products before the existing products hit their peak. Successful companies introduce an unending line of new products. Sometimes, the new products kill the old products. That is OK. Better to compete with yourself than to see someone else put you out of business.
How does this relate to churches? One application is the idea that no group or class will last forever. We need to constantly be introducing new classes and starting new groups. We need to do some of this just to stay even, because no class will last forever. We need to do a lot if it if we want to grow the church. But, we are getting ahead of our selves. Let’s look at this principle from the perspective of denominations.
Here is the history of the Episcopal church:
The Presbyterian church:
And the Methodist church, along with population growth during the same period:
For a long time, Southern Baptist stood a part from this trend, but look what is happening in recent years:
(We will look later as to how to avoid this trend.)
- If you were a betting man, what would you bet this trend will do in years to come?
- If you want to see a national revival, what would you do?
I tell you what I would do, I would start a whole bunch of new denominations. It is the only way. New groups grow better than old groups. New churches grow better than old churches. New denominations will grow better than old ones.
Now, here is the good news: we have a whole slew of new denominations in their infancy right now. They are on that flat part of the line that you see above–although, it doesn’t look very flat from where they sit.
Now, check out this chart from Wikipedia on the growth or decline of various denominations. Look at the percentage column. In a column that is nearly all single digits, with a sprinkling of double digit’s, we have the number 4040.2%. I put it in red so you can’t miss it.
in % of
|Adult population, total||175,440||207,983||228,182||30.1%|
|Adult population, Responded||171,409||196,683||216,367||26.2%||97.7%||94.6%||94.8%||?2.9%|
|United Church of Christ||438||1,378||736||68.0%||0.2%||0.7%||0.3%||0.1%|
|Protestant – Unspecified||17,214||4,647||5,187||?69.9%||9.8%||2.2%||2.3%||?7.5%|
|Pentecostal – Unspecified||3,116||4,407||5,416||73.8%||1.8%||2.1%||2.4%||0.6%|
|Assemblies of God||617||1,105||810||31.3%||0.4%||0.5%||0.4%||0.0%|
|Church of God||590||943||663||12.4%||0.3%||0.5%||0.3%||0.0%|
|Other Protestant Denominations||4,630||5,949||7,131||54.0%||2.6%||2.9%||3.1%||0.5%|
|Churches of Christ||1,769||2,593||1,921||8.6%||1.0%||1.2%||0.8%||?0.2%|
|Total non-Christian religions||5,853||7,740||8,796||50.3%||3.3%||3.7%||3.9%||0.5%|
|New Religious Movements & Others||1,296||1,770||2,804||116.4%||0.7%||0.9%||1.2%||0.5%|
|None/ No religion, total||14,331||29,481||34,169||138.4%||8.2%||14.2%||15.0%||6.8%|
|Did Not Know/ Refused to reply||4,031||11,300||11,815||193.1%||2.3%||5.4%||5.2%||2.9%|
Who are these non-denominational churches? Churches like Willowcreek and Northpoint to name a few. When I was growing up, only kind of weird churches were non-denominational. Now it is common place. Take a look at Outreach Magazine’s list of the 100 largest and fastest growing churches in America. The largest single category in both lists in non-denominational. 51 of the largest churches in America are non-denominational; 60 of the fastest growing churches in America are non-denominational.
Bradley Wright says, “Reflecting this change, in 1990, only about 200,000 Americans described themselves as nondenominational Christians, but in 2008, 8 million did.”
Who are these non-denominational churches? The seeds of a new denominations, that is who they are. 79 of the largest churches are multi-site. The average number of sites among all the 100 largest churches is 3.88. Nearly 4 locations per church. Something is happening here.
Take Northpoint, for example. Charles Stanley’s son, Andy Stanley is the pastor. Or, perhaps we should say that Charles Stanley is Andy Stanley’s father. Saul has killed his thousands; David his ten thousands. Northpoint is the second largest church in America. I watched their 15 year celebration service. Bill Hybels spoke. In his message, he called Northpoint the fastest growing movement in Christendom. Let’s take a closer look.
In addition to reaching 24,325 at their three main campuses, Northpoint has also started a number of daughter churches they call strategic partners. Attendance at these churches would not be included in the 24,325 number:
Many of the top 100 churches could show a map like this. Here is Community Christian in Naperville, IL:
I couldn’t find a map for Lifechurch.tv, but I did find a list:
Again, 80% of the 100 fastest growing churches in America are multi-site. And, a whole lot of other churches are joining the movement. Many of these will, from the viewpoint of history, bet the seeds of new denominations. Now, the new denominations will not be like the old denominations. The old denominations were about theological differences. The new denominations will about distinctive style, culture, and branding.
Now, here is what is exciting to me:
- It is not that the second largest church in America got to 24,000+ in only 15 years.
- It is not that in addition to that, they were able to start a couple of dozen churches.
- It is that these churches were all started with reproduction in their DNA. They understand they were born to reproduce. In the coming years, many of these churches will have maps of their own showing a couple of dozen churches coming out of each of these churches. By about the fourth generation down, things get really exciting.
There will come a day when there will be a Northpoint, a Saddleback and a Willowcreek in every city in America. They will be a common as Wal-mart.
What about my denomination, does this mean we are dead?
No, it doesn’t, but you do have your work cut out for you. They key is to become an eco system rather than a plant. No plant can live forever, an ecosystem-desert, forest or jungle, can live forever. An forest can live forever because it is constantly planting new trees. A lot of them don’t make it. But, many do. And the existing trees eventually die of.
Jesus said this is how it would be. He told us about the wine and the wineskins. The wine must be poured into new wineskins. Here is my application of this idea: every new generation must reinvent the way we do church. Never messing with the wine itself, we must continually allow the Spirit to blow where it will and create new wineskins to contain the every expanding wine.
There is a fresh Wind blowing across our land. If you embrace it, pass this article on.
This article is a work in progress. Give me your feedback at [email protected]