The American Church In Serious Decline

Todd Rhoades had this on his blog yesterday:

According to an article in the Religion News Service: Booming megachurches might grab headlines, but the bigger story of American congregations is one of accelerating decline, according to David T. Olson, director of the American Church Research Project. Based on data collected from more than 200,000 churches, he projects that by 2050, only 10 percent of Americans will be in church on any given Sunday.

So… why is the American church in crisis? Olson says: The big problem is America continues to grow in terms of population, but the percentage of Americans attending church on any given weekend keeps declining. In 1990, it was 20.4 percent. In 2000, it was 18.7. In 2007, it was 17…

Some other questions/answers:

Q: Why is church attendance such a critical factor to measure?

A: Part of following Jesus is being connected in an authentic, consistent way with a group of Christians so that it’s not just an individualistic act. It’s a communal relationship with accountability. So when I see that percentage going down, it lets me know that the number of people following Jesus in that way is diminishing in America.

Q: Are certain types of churches faring better than others?

A: Yes. Since 2001 especially, mainline and Catholic churches have been experiencing severe decline. They are declining much faster than they were in the 1990s. Evangelicals are still growing numerically, but that numeric growth is not keeping up with population growth.

Q: What accounts for the decline that you’re describing?

A: Churches tend to stay pretty stable. So even though the community around them may be growing or be in transition with new people coming in regularly, churches often don’t notice those things happening and are pretty happy to just stay the same. From 1990 to 2006, there were 68 million new births in America and a net gain of 23 million immigrants, but churches a lot of times are really not looking outside their doors to think about how to connect with those new Americans.