Paul wrote, “All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing” (Colossians 1.6). It seems to be true in all parts of the world other than North America and Europe. Just a few statistics give us cause for concern:
- Only two countries in the world have more nonbelievers than the USA: India and China, making the USA the third largest mission field in the world.
- Church attendance in North America continues to drop, going from 60% after World War II to 49% in 1991 to the current 18% (some pollsters have reported that 40% of Americans currently attend church each Sunday, but actual head counts of Sunday morning attendance tell a different story).
- 81% of US churches are either plateaued or declining.
- In America, it takes the combined efforts of 85 Christians working over an entire year to produce one convert.
- Each year, three times a many churches are closing (about 3750) as are opening (about 1350).
- In just 20 years, two thirds of all Christians will live in Africa, Latin America, or Asia. The center of gravity for church growth has shifted from the Western church to the non-western world.
Many writers have tried to give their reasons for the condition of the church in America. Personally, I am coming to the conclusion that the problem lies within our understanding of what “church” is. In North America, we have adopted a Reformation view of the church. The church is a place where the gospel is rightly preached and the sacraments rightly administered. Church is an event we attend and observe. When worship becomes a spectator sport, boredom will eventually set in, so most of our energy is put into trying to put on a better show. But we have neglected the obvious; if church is nothing more than a gathering point to hear the preacher, something is wrong with our concept of church. The church ought to be the living body of Christ, where the Spirit of God flows freely, where every member is a tool of the Spirit to minister to one another, where lives are transformed and community is shared.
For that to happen, I think we need a new model.
(Statistics taken from The Church that Multiplies by Joel Comiskey)