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.)

Two Questions:

  1. If you were a betting man, what would you bet this trend will do in years to come?
  2. 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.

Source:ARIS 2008[29]
Group 1990
adults
x 1,000
2001
adults
x 1,000
2008
adults
x 1,000
Numerical
Change
1990–
2008
as %
of 1990
1990
% of
adults
2001
% of
adults
2008
% of
adults
change
in % of
total
adults
1990–
2008
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%
Total Christian 151,225 159,514 173,402 14.7% 86.2% 76.7% 76.0% ?10.2%
Catholic 46,004 50,873 57,199 24.3% 26.2% 24.5% 25.1% ?1.2%
non-Catholic Christian 105,221 108,641 116,203 10.4% 60.0% 52.2% 50.9% ?9.0%
Baptist 33,964 33,820 36,148 6.4% 19.4% 16.3% 15.8% ?3.5%
Mainline Christian 32,784 35,788 29,375 ?10.4% 18.7% 17.2% 12.9% ?5.8%
Methodist 14,174 14,039 11,366 ?19.8% 8.1% 6.8% 5.0% ?3.1%
Lutheran 9,110 9,580 8,674 ?4.8% 5.2% 4.6% 3.8% ?1.4%
Presbyterian 4,985 5,596 4,723 ?5.3% 2.8% 2.7% 2.1% ?0.8%
Episcopalian/Anglican 3,043 3,451 2,405 ?21.0% 1.7% 1.7% 1.1% ?0.7%
United Church of Christ 438 1,378 736 68.0% 0.2% 0.7% 0.3% 0.1%
Christian Generic 25,980 22,546 32,441 24.9% 14.8% 10.8% 14.2% ?0.6%
Christian Unspecified 8,073 14,190 16,384 102.9% 4.6% 6.8% 7.2% 2.6%
Non-denominational Christian 194 2,489 8,032 4040.2% 0.1% 1.2% 3.5% 3.4%
Protestant – Unspecified 17,214 4,647 5,187 ?69.9% 9.8% 2.2% 2.3% ?7.5%
Evangelical/Born Again 546 1,088 2,154 294.5% 0.3% 0.5% 0.9% 0.6%
Pentecostal/Charismatic 5,647 7,831 7,948 40.7% 3.2% 3.8% 3.5% 0.3%
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%
Seventh-Day Adventist 668 724 938 40.4% 0.4% 0.3% 0.4% 0.0%
Total non-Christian religions 5,853 7,740 8,796 50.3% 3.3% 3.7% 3.9% 0.5%
Mormon/Latter-Day Saints 2,487 2,697 3,158 27.0% 1.4% 1.3% 1.4% 0.0%
Jehovah’s Witness 1,381 1,331 1,914 38.6% 0.8% 0.6% 0.8% 0.1%
Jewish 3,137 2,837 2,680 ?14.6% 1.8% 1.4% 1.2% ?0.6%
Eastern Religions 687 2,020 1,961 185.4% 0.4% 1.0% 0.9% 0.5%
Buddhist 404 1,082 1,189 194.3% 0.2% 0.5% 0.5% 0.3%
Muslim 527 1,104 1,349 156.0% 0.3% 0.5% 0.6% 0.3%
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%
Agnostic+Atheist 1,186 1,893 3,606 204.0% 0.7% 0.9% 1.6% 0.9%
Did Not Know/ Refused to reply 4,031 11,300 11,815 193.1% 2.3% 5.4% 5.2% 2.9%

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_population_growth

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:

  1. It is not that the second largest church in America got to 24,000+ in only 15 years.
  2. It is not that in addition to that, they were able to start a couple of dozen churches.
  3. 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]