Replanting a Denomination: The Growth Cycle

Over the last few weeks, I wrote a series of posts on replanting a church, the idea being to consider how a church might work to change itself to be more nearly the church Jesus wants it to be. Reader Bill Perkins pointed me to some material on how a church can change from being plateaued to growing, and I thought it would be interesting to consider that material in denominational terms, rather than congregational terms. And so, the materials we’ll be considering apply very well to congregations, too.

The next posts in this series will be built on the Church Life Cycle PowerPoint I’m borrowing from the Episcopal Church.

Now, consider the following graphic in terms of the Churches of Christ as a denomination —


The church growth experts uniformly say that it’s normal for any human institution to grow, plateau, decline, and finally die — unless the leadership works to overcome this natural tendency.

It’s easy to think of examples. Consider, for example, me. The downhill slope isn’t that far away. Physically, I’ve been there for a while.

Consider most nations — the Roman Empire, England, France … some believe the United States is on the downhill slope. Be that as it may, the fact is that human organizations struggle to maintain their vitality and growth forever. Few do.

Denominations are the same way. The Churches of Christ grew rapidly from 1906 until about 1970. The rate of growth slowed to nearly zero over the next few decades (less than the biological growth rate), and since 2000, the Churches of Christ have been in numerical decline.

We are not alone. Nearly all Protestant denominations are in decline in the U.S., with the most significant exceptions being the independent Christian Churches and some of the Pentecostal denominations. Even the Southern Baptists are in numerical decline, even though they grew rapidly during the years we were plateaued.

Before we consider how to reverse the decline, we should pause and ask what happened around 1970 to change things? Why did our steady growth for 70 or so years come to halt? What changed?

Growth in the 19th Century

The Churches of Christ are a product of the 19th Century Restoration Movement or Stone-Campbell Movement. Growth was the natural result of the vision of the leaders: to bring unity of all Christians by treated as brothers all penitent believers in Jesus.

Sometime later, the Movement began teaching that baptism should be believer baptism by immersion and that baptism is for the remission of sins. However, in the early years, baptism was not made a test of fellowship.

Alexander Campbell wrote a series of articles in his periodical called the “Search for the Ancient Order” in which he argued for a return to the order of worship and form of church organization found in the New Testament. However, he explicitly stated that these teachings should be tests of fellowship.

Over time, however, the original vision — to join all penitent believers into a single community of faith — was replaced with a new vision: to teach the correct doctrines of baptism, worship, and church organization, and to unite all people by persuading them of these doctrines. Indeed, after the Civil War, many churches split over the use of instrumental music in worship.

But the original vision allow a Movement to grow from nothing to a million or more believers by the turn of the century. However, the seeds of the Movement’s collapse had already been sown. In 1889 Daniel Sommer had led a small group to separate themselves from the larger Movement, considering most of the Restoration Movement heretics for hiring located preachers, raising money through bake sales and other means other than free will offerings, supporting missionary societies, and permitting the use of instrumental music in worship.

Advertisements

11 Responses

  1. Jay, you wrote:

    “Over time, however, the original vision — to join all penitent believers into a single community of faith — was replaced with a new vision: to teach the correct doctrines of baptism, worship, and church organization, and to unite all people by persuading them of these doctrines.”

    To be fair, I think the original vision was for all penitent believers to come out of their denominations (to leave them) and THEN unite together into a single community of faith. Thomas Campbell had been a minister of the Old-Light Anti-Burgher Seceder Presbyterian Church.

    In the above post — “Replanting a Denomination: The Growth Cycle,” you make it seem as though the movement was doing well and growing UP UNTIL the vision shifted from (as you claim) “the original vision — to join all penitent believers into a single community of faith — was replaced with a new vision: to teach the correct doctrines of baptism, worship, and church organization, and to unite all people by persuading them of these doctrines.”

    In actuallity, the concept of teaching “the correct doctrines of baptism, worship, and church organization, and to unite all people by persuading them of these doctrines” was in place well before the movement even got off the ground.

    In his book “Reviving The Ancient Faith,” Richard Hughes noted that Alexander Campbell himself “could not avoid defining ‘New Testament Chrsitianity’ in concrete terms, laying out its terms of admission, its organizational structure, and its order of worship.” Hughes further noted, “And when he (A.C.) did this, many of his followers inevitably identified nondenominational Christianity with the particular movement that, in the early days, they called ‘Churches of Christ’ or ‘Disciples of Christ.’ More than anything else, Campbell’s insistence on immersion for the forgiveness of sins and salvation encouraged that identifiction.” p.7.

    If Hughes is correct, then the teaching of “the correct doctrines” was more responsible for the growth of the Churches of Christ than any demise.

    And as the new Barna study confirms, believers today are not as concerned with correct doctrines as they were in times past. Today, as Barna suggests, people want the freedom to believe whatever it is they feel like believing. If he is right (which I think he is), then is it any wonder that the Church of Christ is not as popular as it once was?

  2. In other words the Church of Christ denomination has the correct understanding of the Bible, disagreement with what the COC denomination says is wrong since no one else cares about the Bible. Such an odd thing to say when those who attend the COC denomination argue disagreeing over much of the Bible. That wouldn’t have anything to do with people leaving there would it.

  3. Episcopal church. Episcopal is the adjective; Episcopalian is a noun.

  4. A logical analysis (found here: http://www.netzarim.co.il ) of the earliest manusscripts (including the logical implications of the research by Ben-Gurion Univ. Prof. of Linguistics Elisha Qimron of Dead Sea Scroll 4Q MMT)) of “the gospel of Matthew”, implies that Ribi Yehoshua was a Perushi (Pharisee). Ribi Yehoshua ha-Mashiakh (the Messiah) from Nazareth was called a Ribi and only the Perushim (Pharisees) had Ribis.

    The same logical analysis proves that the Church and Ribi Yehoshua ha-Mashiakhs followers Netzarim were two different movements that were always separated.
    The historical Ribi Yehoshua didn’t not teach about building an antinomian Church.

    Anders Branderud

  5. Brother Guin;

    I would recommend you consider the points raised in “The Empty Church: The Suicide of Liberal Christianity.” Thomas C. Reeves, a member of a major Protestant denomination, chronicles the demise of his and other liberal groups.

    Except for a vague ecumenical aspiration, and a shared disdain for traditional Church of Christism, I find very little around which my Progressive friends can coalesce. You message almost seems to be, “You don’t believe very much, and we don’t believe very much, so why don’t we all get together and share our lack of convictions together.”

    Best wishes to you and yours in the coming year,

    Greg

  6. L.B.

    Thanks. Correction made.

  7. […] conservative preacher), who participated with me in the GraceConversation dialogue, wrote in a comment, I would recommend you consider the points raised in “The Empty Church: The Suicide of Liberal […]

  8. Jay, you wrote:

    Alexander Campbell wrote a series of articles in his periodical called the “Search for the Ancient Order” in which he argued for a return to the order of worship and form of church organization found in the New Testament. However, he explicitly stated that these teachings should be tests of fellowship.

    Did you mean to say that Campbell “explicitly stated that these thesching should not be texts of fellowship?

  9. You mentioned a leadership vacuum with the loss of influence of editors and “leading preachers.”

    The vacuum extends to the local congregations, with a generation of leaders lost. Ian Fair wrote of this in his book on leadership in the Kingdom of God. I had noticed this as early as the 1970’s – and have seen it over and over. I blogged about it at http://committedtotruth.wordpress.com/2009/10/28/leadership-12a-more-on-the-family/.

    Basically, my thesis is that without a strong male leader in a boy’s life in his formative years, he will not develop into a strong leader himself – and a generation of boys’ fathers were away fighting in WWII. It was not until the boomers began to come of age that another group of leaders emerged, but these are the ones who, in the 60’s & 70’s broke with the authoritarian approaches of the past (in some good ways as well as some that are not so good).

    Jerry

  10. This is the most articulate, sensible explanation of what seems to be happening to CoCs and Christianity in general that I have read. Thanks.

  11. Thanks, Bonnie.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: