Questioning The Decline

  According to a recent article in The Christian Chronicle, churches of Christ have declined by 102,000 members over the course of only eight years.  This alarming statistic should provide more than adequate motivation for leaders to examine the causes of such an unfortunate defection.

There is no doubt that there are a number of factors that contribute to such a radical decline. Although I can’t offer scientific evidence, Sharon and I absorb a rare perspective through observing the church from a broad scope through our travels.  A couple of conclusions have become obvious:  1. A large number of churches do not place adequate priority upon their worship, and 2. A significant number of members are leaving our congregations in search of more meaningful worship experiences. I’m convinced this trend can be turned around through worship renewal.

People from many different church backgrounds read this blog, but I’m guessing that some of the trends are similar across various denominations – – and I welcome your comments.

What are your thoughts? Do think the church decline (referenced in the article) is tied in any way to worship and/or music? Do you believe that leaders should re-examine their assemblies? Are people leaving congregations for reasons connected to worship or music?

I pray that we can find effective solutions.  Thanks for sharing in this discussion.

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61 Comments for “Questioning The Decline”

  1. I believe from our experience in a lot of travels and syudies with others it is a simple answer. People want to participate and chew on spiritual meat, but we have made a fairly passive worship service. We sit on the pews and listen to what one person has studied and thinks. We go to classes and have mini-sermons or watch clips, without challenging each other. We don’t unite to as a group apply what we learned together in our weekly/daily studies. People want to know they can make a difference. God says we can and calls for his people to gather the harvest. But we have programs and professionals who do the work for us. So we become a passive group of non-doers in that environment. Those wishing to live vibrantly for God feel that leaving is the only option then to grow. Take a look at the CPM program, it is revolutionary.

    As to the music/worship time. Singing is one of the parts of worship that we can all be involved in. I wonder how much deeper singing while looking fellow Christians in the eye would change things too. We are to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritaul songs to each other for exhortation. We need to connect. :-). #prayingforactiveunity

    • Vicki, I couldn’t agree more! When worship is passive, it is not “mine” I am a spectator and not a participant! I really think we need to get away from the lectures and challenge folks. I would also say that the church NEEDS to be engaged in the outreach locally. You need to be able to “work” and know what your doing is making a difference. We can no longer just sit back and just allow our money to support oversea missions and do nothing in our backyard. Not only is it important to the local people we touch, but it important to us! I know that when I worshipped somewhere that had no active local outreach, I had to find civic organizations to fill the need of getting my hands dirty and working. Now that I am in an active church with several outreaches, I work harder with the family… that work unites us and I really do feel like the church is family! Now that I have a church that is like family I crave to be with them!

  2. Part of the reason people are leaving is worship but I don’t think that is the major reason. We no longer have people in our homes and take the time to get to know each other. We have to get back to the basics and connect with each other and accept people where they are at in their lives. None of us are perfect but if we are all trying to get to Heaven our worship and our lives will show this. Music is a way to get people in the door but that by itself will not keep people in the church.

  3. Until the cofc begins including women in worship roles, I think the decline will continue. We can’t continue to be “half a church”.

    • We are using women in our worship services, and in serving communion. There are more in the brotherhood who are…you just need to seek them out.

    • I would just like to say as a woman… I don’t agree with this comment… humbling ourselves to the scripture always trumps adjusting to social norms. I work in the church, I don’t need to lead…the more leading you take from the men the more the men will not step up and be leaders. God designed us differently… I know I am capable of leading… I was an officer in the military for 10 years yet it is NOT about me it is about God. HUMBLNESS is something that America is not too keen on teaching, but it is essential to following his word. We need to look at the scriptures for what it teaches us, not try to mold it to our American idea’s. This is dangerous and done too often in this wonderful country of ours… We are so me centered, that is not Christlike!

    • What God says matters more than what man wants!

  4. Its a real challenge to find workable arrangements of great Christian tunes lots of people hear in the popular Christian radio. What churches are using Chris Tomlin or Matt Redmond tunes? All our typical songbook contain Tunes from 1940’s! What kind of message is that? Our most up to date tunes are from the 1970s at best. And im just talking about the tunes, not the words, so the issue is strictly a culture gap, not A theological gap.

  5. Some very insightful questions, Keith. My primary concern is that nearly all Evangelical faiths are losing members, and the fasting growing segment is now “No faith” or “atheist”. The rest of it trickles down as members “left shift” from more conservative faiths to more moderate, then more liberal, and then no faith at all.

    Ultimately, we need to be able to lead our congregants to a meaningful faith, and that remains my primary concern. But we can’t expect anyone (including ourselves) to reach that faith unless we learn how to actually feel the presence of God.

    That’s where worship comes in. That’s where a meaningful, soul-stirring Sunday morning comes in. As far as I’m concerned, as long as we remain true to the New Testament, anything goes. People deride praise teams, PowerPoint, video productions, and congregational singing practice as fads and distractions. That’s nonsense. Sunday School itself is a (rather enduring) fad, and quite a distraction from the worship.

    If your particular congregation needs to abandon the new and return to the long-lost hymns, then follow God’s lead.

    I picture many of us members at the front of the auditorium quarreling over these issues after church. Meanwhile, no one notices the people in the back of the auditorium are walking out with no plans to return.

  6. What are thiking people supposed to think of churches that clearly prefer Stamps-Baxter over Tomlin-Redmon?

  7. Such a loaded question… but I’ll give it a shot in one paragraph: I see the main reason is that the church is so bogged down with legalism, and the letter of the law. This hinders not only the worship, but individual growth and spiritual freedoms. People who are being led by the Spirit to break out of this trend are far more likely to be squelched by the “mature” and “wise” Christians, rather than, in a spirit of humility, heard with an open heart to what the Lord might want to do about this problem. There are so many people with good hearts who, rather than being encouraged to live out their faith, and respond to the Lord’s leadership, are bogged down trying to fit into the confines of the local congregation’s restrictions, and having to endure the ongoing critiques of the “more mature” members who seem content with the decline. One man’s opinion.

  8. (corrected)

    Some very insightful questions, Keith. My primary concern is that nearly all Evangelical faiths are losing members, and the fastest growing segment is now “No faith” or “atheist”. The rest of it trickles down as members “left shift” from more conservative faiths to more moderate, then more liberal, and then no faith at all.

    Ultimately, we need to be able to lead our congregants to a meaningful faith, and that remains my primary concern. But we can’t expect anyone (including ourselves) to reach that faith unless we learn how to actually feel the presence of God.

    That’s where worship comes in. That’s where a meaningful, soul-stirring Sunday morning comes in. As far as I’m concerned, as long as we remain true to the New Testament, anything goes. People deride praise teams, PowerPoint, video productions, and congregational singing practice as fads and distractions. That’s nonsense. Sunday School itself is a (rather enduring) fad, and quite a distraction from the worship.

    If your particular congregation needs to abandon the new and return to the long-lost hymns, then follow God’s lead.

    I picture many of us members at the front of the auditorium quarreling over these issues after church. Meanwhile, no one notices the people in the back of the auditorium are walking out with no plans to return.

  9. DeNise Koetting

    I was raised in the Church of Christ. I attended a Pentecostal church camp when I was a teenager. I then beame the secretary to the Pastor of the fasstest growing church in the Southern Baptist Convention. I used to say that if I found a Church of Christ that acted like they were part Baptist part Pentecostal, that’s where I would go. And I found that church. It was a spin off of a large Church of Christ in Amarillo, Texas. I think people want to — and should — get excited about God and His wonders. I think the main stream Churches of Christ are still practicing legalism. I believe churches should be evangelical and not just think of themselves and their members – which I think many COC’s do. COC is not the only church, gotta tell ya. Unfortunately, my beliefs don’t coincide with my parents’ beliefs – which hurts my heart. I think the music and worship is only a small parat of why people are breaking off of the mainstream Churches of Christ. I must say that the worship service, for me, really sets the tone for the sermon. I listen to Christian music all day every day. I love to worship my Lord that way.

  10. I agree that the causes are multifaceted. I think music and worship are certainly a part of the issue. The generation gap allows for tension between mostly older Christians who value tradition and find spiritual uplift in the older hymns and the younger generation who have little ‘brand loyalty,’ value experience over tradition and like the newer contemporary songs. I also think the “we’re right and everyone else is wrong” mentality is a huge turn off to the internet generation. I believe that churches are going to need to look at worship and discover what it takes to connect with this younger generation. There are some that will and some that won’t. I think the results are very predictable.

  11. Keith, I believe the problem is deeper than worship. It has to do with faith. I believe we have a whole generation of members who haven’t taught their children, because they don’t know themselves.

    The devil is good at what he does. Children go to public school and learn about evolution. Then they go to Bible class and hear something different. Well you go to school to “learn.” Who do you think they are going to believe? Parents have to stop relying only on Bible class to teach their children and start teaching at home.

    The book called “Already Gone” by Ken Ham is a very interesting read and deals with this issue. The Church of Christ is not the only church having this problem.

    • Kary- I was relieved to read your reply, as I agree with you. Congregational worship is an outward expression of our inward faith. If there isn’t any faith, it doesn’t matter how entertaining the service is– I live in the northwest, and maybe it is different from the “Bible Belt”- but my observation is that the kids who leave are the ones who have no faith of their own. Many of the kids who grew up with mine are gone- either to “no church” or are moving from one trendy group to another. The ones who have stayed- and are serving the Lord wherever they are, have developed a deep faith- and knowledge of the word… and continue to grow in their relationship with God.

  12. The music/instrumnets issue is a part of the decline inthe coc. Interestingly enough I believe the move is by many who grown up in the “Church”. Contempory Christian music on the radio and in concerts sets the standard high when people come off the mountain top and set foot into Sunday morning. I have found most of our new converts come in with no preference to type of music on Sunday morning. They stand in awe of a new master and Lord for their lives. Each part of worship experiecnce needs to be the best that it can be. Kieth thanks for your efforts over the years to make our singing better.

  13. Being a member of the Lord’s church since the age of 10 and being in a family of Church of Christ members on both sides all of my life, I have a very definite opinion. I have lived in Texas and Michigan. I have visited numerous churches in various states (black and white). The church is dying on the vine because of “dead” worship services. Not only is the singing “dead”; the theology is outdated. By this, I mean that preaching “you’re going to hell if you are not a member of the COC” is not the way to gain souls. It is a way to ensure that visitors will not come back. What happened to “can you read about your church in the bible” or “is what your church doing in the bible”? Being a member of a small church where the brethren “drag” every song is very hard. I have learned to sing to the Lord and focus on the words being sung.

  14. There’s no argument that there are many causes to decline but the one thing that we have total control over is the selection of the music and the tunes to go with the whatever words make sense to people. This is one area where we have great leverage have done very little to address. The oom-pah cadences of the 1940s and 1950s-style barbershop harmonies –AND the arguments of people who say its bible– all speak messages that say we have little interest in people and the importance of connecting with Gods will.

  15. Some questions:

    Why is this decline something to be concerned about?

    If all CofCs around the world closed their doors tomorrow, what would the effect really be?

    Is the CofC doing something so remarkable that the world would weep for days at its loss?

    The short answer to the last one (for me) is: No. Everything done by all of the CofCs worldwide could easily be absorbed by other denominations.

    Apologies for the long feedback, but you did ask. On Facebook, nonetheless. :^)

    When the reflection of the most remarkable Being in the universe is dulled by piety, true light doesn’t get to shine. Worship is a part of that reflection.

    Here in the south, it’s easy to see – take a coach/dad to a football game and watch him jump up and down and holler for his own son. But put him in front of the most awe-inspiring, most beautiful, most perfect, completely undefeatable, holiest Son ever witnessed by the eyes of man, and that same coach/dad stands still. He’s nervous about what others might think, afraid of doing something that is not “pleasing in thy sight”™, and otherwise completely detached from the emotional, physical, and spiritual experience that is communion with God (and not just the juice and crackers part).

    Years ago, I saw footage of a skydiver who had a chute malfunction. Somehow he got tangled up, and body was horizontal to the ground as his parachute struggled to slow him down. The footage from his helmet cam showed him spinning uncontrollably. As he spun, you could see trees, power lines, and a road flashing by. When he hit the ground, it was miraculously on the side of the road in the soft grass. It took him a second to realize he wasn’t even bruised. When he realized he was alive, he jumped up and down, celebrating like crazy, screaming at the top of his lungs that he was alive. The helmet cam was now laying on the ground recording it all. It was a beautiful moment!

    When you have looked your own death in the face and have been delivered by no effort of your own, you celebrate!
    When someone you love performs well in a game (or in the Kingdom) you rejoice!
    When you wake up realizing that you were allowed to live another day, it changes you!

    Changed people reflect God.

    And the CofC is built on nothing changing.

    I was raised in the CofC, but left about 10 years ago now (that being one of the hardest and best decisions I’ve ever made). Just last night, I was able to visit the local CofC in my small town. Nothing was different. The Songs Of The Church (21st century addition – no, that’s not change) was laying on the pews. Even the wooden attendance & offering board was on the wall, dutifully filled in. It felt like a time capsule, or a museum.

    If we are to be continually transformed into the likeness of Christ, will we look like we did 40 years ago? 60 years ago? Even 20 years ago? Dos my physical body look like it did 20 years ago? Why does Christ’s body look like it was stuck in the 1950s?

    Seek the Kingdom first, and worship will be taken care of as well.

    Thanks for asking. I wish more would.

    • If I might ask, what religious insitution do you belong to now? And how do you reconcile what ALL of what they teach to what’s in the Bible. By no way am I condemning you. Being a member all of my life, I find myself doubting that the COC is ONE true church. Personally, I don’t believe that it’s about the name on the building. Even though we teach that the building is not the church, it’s not what we practice. My email address is: Please reference this topic. Thank you.

  16. A couple of guys at Zoe have done a great job of arranging some contemporary Christian music for a cappella congregational singing. Some really great jewels have been created by them. Not sure if they are even published yet. Making powerpoint slides of the scores seems so inefficient. The problem is it isnt enough. We need 5x more than that…, and some diversity would help too. We are WATING for some more talented arrangers to help here. HELLO KEITH?

    • We were fortunate to have one of the Zoe team as our worship minister for many years. And we still use his music today. There are so many talented musicians in our brotherhood (yes…you, Keith!!!) that need to keep arranging and writing! Some of our most meaningful music comes from you guys! Thanks

    • Working in a non-profit job supported by Churches of Christ churches and individuals, we have seen this decline over the past six years since I have been there. I deal with the database every day, and it is scary to see churches just dying. When we get the new book listing the Churches of Christ in America, we are amazed at the statistics shown there. Not only are the numbers of members dropping, but many churches (some really large, more progressive congregations) are not listed now. This is due to some churches beginning to use a few instruments in worship. It saddens me to see non-salvation issues become catalysts to drive away members of the church.

      Our society has become a group of multi-tasking, entertainment-loving, over-worked, and stressed out people. How can most folks find the time to get to know their neighbors and the people they worship with each week? We have become lazy and tired from overtaxing our senses. It becomes more difficult to find a church service that feeds those senses like it used to. Worship definitely needs to be addressed, since that is what draws us to gather together. Since I love to sing, and praise team is my favorite way to serve in my congregation, I feel that music is the way to save our beloved churches. Not everyone feels that way. My son-in-law loves to play guitar. To him, listening to music draws him closer to God. We have to reach people who do not know how or do not have vocal ability. I always think everyone loves to sing. That isn’t necessarily true!

  17. Now following the thread above where I suggested we need more contemporary scores it may be that we need to figure out the business model for arrangers to get their just desserts. Maybe arrangers could sell their scores on iTunes or in some APP to churches. Our congregation has no songbooks; only handouts and projected content. We have no instruments and meet in our towns conference facility. We give out youtube links for practice at home. We’d gladly pay for this at say 99 cents per download. I wonder if we could do an app for that?

  18. Where is the “Like” button for some of these comments? Great discussion!

  19. I agree with Earle. Check out AVOW (a view of worship)

  20. James Whitefield

    I don’t think this phenomenon is limited to the c of C. I’m pretty sure all of the “name brand” churches are experiencing much the same thing. At the risk of oversimplification, I think many churches have allowed their focus to move away from God and toward the churches, themselves. It is easy to become disenchanted with a church that is self absorbed. In too many cases it has become more important to be Church of Christ or Baptist or Methodist or whatever, than to be Christian. That is why “cowboy churches” are some of the fastest growers, these days. They seem more real than the old places.

  21. Lets face is. Every member of the church of christ when growing up was told by their parents or was taught in their classes about if someone asks you what denomination you are your response would be….”we are not a denomination..we are Christians.” And we were taught that the word “Christian” is a word that ONLY describes CHURCH OF CHRIST members. But lets be honest. The church of christ HAS become a denomination all in itself.

    So my thoughts on why the number is declining:

    1.) The Church of Christ, though not every member, believes that THE CHURCH OF CHRIST is the ONLY group that will get to make it to heaven.

    My roommate from college (and now), believes it was wrong for me to go see Chris Tomlin perform. We had a big argument about worship and instruments. He honestly believes that if I don’t change my ways, I will be condemned. But on the other end, he is listening to music that talks about SEX and WOMEN and watches movies with the F-WORDS. There is sooooooooo much more to being a CHRISTIAN then just the CONTROVERSIAL topics that are within the church.


    I know Jesus would not do that. And Church of christ universities do that! They have debates! They bring a member from a different denomination and debate on petty topics like instrumental worship!

    This sounded more like a venting session than anything else. But its a good topic to talk about. Cheers.

  22. I don’t think it has to do with worship at all. I think people need to get working for Jesus. Worship is important, but it is worthless if we are just pew surfers.

  23. In my view, lackluster church gatherings are not the problem, nor are dwindling membership numbers–they are merely symptoms of a root cause. I believe the problem is closer to a failure to understand true discipleship by the average Christian today. (John 15:1-8) And that failure is manifested in ritualistic “worship services” that edify few. (Isa. 29:13) In other words, the spiritual life of the Christian (root) is commensurate with the level of spiritual energy in the Christian gatherings (symptom). And so, our assemblies are “attended” by a lot of eunuchs who sow no seed in the world. I could teach all the attenders how to read music, understand harmony, project their voices, etc., but I could do that with a room full of atheists too. So why keep focusing on symptoms thinking that’ll fix the problem?

    Compare Paul’s instruction for the church gatherings in Corinth (1 Cor. 14) with our scripted services today. In the early church gatherings, each Christian had something to share, so much so that Paul instructed: (1) take turns, (2) don’t hog the assembly, and (3) edify the body. That was it! There was no such thing as a scripted church service. So where did ours come from? Why do we think we need them? And are we masking spiritual health by relying upon them?

    When Christians do not bear fruit (which cannot take place without sowing seed), they have little to nothing to share with the body when the church comes together. So why are most Christians not bearing fruit? Is it because we have been taught that bearing fruit is only for the few specially gifted professionals, and that most Christians may consider themselves excused? Have I been taught that by giving money for a missionary to spread the gospel in China, I am absolved from having to do it in America? I mean, why would people want to give their money to a church that tells them that they must also work in the vineyard? Who wants to keep coming back to hear that?

    I have heard these same concerns for many years, but we keep trying to force square pegs into round holes by focusing on symptoms. I pray we are starting to see that it will never work. God bless!

  24. This is a trend that I see happening in my home town here in Nassau ,The Bahamas also. The problems have roots going back to the early days of Restoration. All of our fancy tenets on hermeneutics (if thats how its spelt) have in the past 20 years set us up for decline. Its not ony that churches have not placed emphases on proper worship-its that we have put more emphases on defending our doctrine–what we dont do-what we cant do- than concentrating on what we should do. We concentrate more on enforcing the “truth” of worship more than the “spirit “of worship. Young people who are well studied and have hearts of worship are seeing all of this and getting frustrated-especially if they are well exposed outside of the local congregation….lets not forget how we lost a great Talent Like Amy Grant!
    Thus the Music issue is not the only reason why people are leaving but it is symptomatic of deeper issues of legalism,dogmaticism and attitudes of elitism and we need to be very mindful. I have had some close friends of mine in recent years either leave my congregation or leave the church of Christ directly and worldwide it is going to get back to the point where we are only baptising members children .We MUST review this trend.Enthusiastic worship Worship i agree with you is a great way of reversing the trend—-but Praise and Harmony Seminars will only be effective if leaders see the root of the problem and get serious.

  25. I know I’m not the first to answer along these lines, and hopefully won’t be the last – but I think that the “worship service” (which can’t be found in the NT, BTW,) has received way too much attention. When people talk about faithful Christians, it’s most often divided first and foremost in terms of attendance statistics – and that’s just what happens: attendance. It’s not participatory, like in the 1st century. We’ve traded positions from an active, edifying one to sitting in an audience. We don’t encourage one another anymore; we have professional clergy for that. We believe that fellowship is something that happens outside our “worship service,” but the pattern we see in the NT is that fellowship WAS worship. (Romans 12 & 1 Cor 14)

    However, I’m not saying that worship is not important – it’s crucial! All I’m saying is that worship and fellowship are SO much more than an hour on Sunday morning. If I’m not fired up for the kingdom on Tuesday afternoon and excited to tell my neighbor on Thursday morning about the change that Jesus has brought to my life, then Sunday is just “tradition learned by rote.” Sunday is a natural extension of the rest of my week and my fellowship with my brothers and sisters in Christ. Emphasize a *life* changed by Jesus and you’ll get worship/fellowship that’s changed.

  26. Keith,

    Came across this article today. Coincides with your post:

    Grace and peace,

  27. Carmen House-Jacobo

    Great question Keith….I was bred, born and raised in the CofC. I LOVE my roots. They are what led me to my relationship with God. My family has been musicianaries for decades in Cali. I love acappella music and have been to ACMS 2x’s. I love your ministry! I was baptized at the ripe old age of 9 at church camp and was in youth ministry for 10 years. 6 months ago, after 30 years in the same CofC congregation, my husband and I left our congregation and are now attending a nondenominational church that has awakened our spirits.

    The problems in our worship are not THE problem, they are a symptom of a deeper more damaging issue: the quenching of the Holy Spirit. When the HS is alllowed to move, work, transform, and affect, then there is life! Women’s roles aren’t an issue, old song vs new song isn’t an issue, the order of services isn’t an issue, small groups aren’t an issue. I feel the CofC has gone into this protective mode of trying to maintain and pass on tradition at the expense of listening to the Spirit. The body I was attending carrys the stench of death. It breaks my heart. Funny but what God used to open my eyes to needing to leave was the music and worship service. Something happened one Sunday, it killed me inside. I was in tears, spoke to a friend about why I couldn’t take it any more and left. God immediately led us to a body where the Spirit runs rampant and I am being healed in ways that are mind blowing. Jesus is the answer and the Holy Spirit is our guide.

    P.S. I don’t mean to infer that all CofC’s are the same, they are not. There is a CofC north of us about 50 miles. It is alive! If we lived closer, we would definitely be attending there.

  28. I think the decline has to do with many factors. Worship is one of the factors. Are we willing to make our worship services relevant to everyday life and culture? Are we willing to change and adapt without fear of being attacked by other churches? Community plays a role. Are churches of Christ making community a priority? How we treat and view others such as women plays a role. Just curious has there ever been a women in Acappella or AVB? Even how we reach the lost list changing…Are we willing to do what it takes to reach the lost? House churches, ministering to the homeless, and getting out in our own neighborhoods instead of a global view.

  29. Dennis Ensor, Author "Great Divide in the Church of Christ"

    When so much of our CofC leadership focus has been centered on regulating what legalistically happens for an hour on Sunday morning instead of on what true worshipers do–“worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24) by “offering our bodies as living sacrifices . . . (‘this is your spiritual act of worship'”) (Rom 12:1) we are destined to become irrelevant. Only when we understand that true worship is all day every day by living loving and Godly lives and making a difference in the world around us do we become effective at growing spiritually and numerically.

    Our fight is not against flesh and blood and the Baptists down the road. Our mission is not to enforce regulations for worship. Our charge is to love and trust in God, live wholesome, joyful lives, and to love our neighbors as our selves.

    When we do these things, the worship assemblies can’t help but be filled with songs of praise and thanksgiving and joy, and we will be a part of a fellowship that draws people in rather than drives them away.

    • Carmen House-Jacobo

      Yes! The false spirit of religion rejoices when our focus is on “us” instead of on Jesus and what HE is about.

  30. I grew up as a prebyterian – married and LDS mormon who when my faith was waning and my passion for christ was it’s lowest my wife inspired me and introduced me the LDS faith…. many of it’s doctrines were similar and I still keep my love for Acappella music and singing. I am in the throws of loving tradition but also accepting of new music….. I say to people who can not enjoy hymns but love contempary stuff that hymns were once upon a time ‘new age’
    I realise that I stopped attending church because I had the wrong mindset always wanting to be entertained or I was ‘bored’ rather than expressing my love for an Awesome God…. I thank acappella ministries for the music that allowed me to keep my head on my shoulders through my dark time…

  31. Surely worship assemblies are important, but I’d say there’s more to the decline. First, members are not sold on the importance of “Church.” Even our own people have bought into the very unbiblical notion of a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” not realizing that such a relationship is impossible without the Church. Second, because we are not sold on the importance of Church, we see no need to invite our friends to worship with us. Third, churches are failing miserably at assimilating the new members they do get — and so folks leave as fast as they come. People will put up with a lot (bad singing, poor preaching) if they are tied in their lives to the community of faith. On the other hand, where people are so connected, they usually will seek out improvements to singing and preaching when they ARE poorly done.

  32. The CoC offers women no real leadership. The women are the backbone of the church. When I started studying the Bible earnestly I found that so much of what I learned in the COC was erroneous. I got tired of hearing how all the other churches were in error. How does that make one desire to know God on a deeper spiritual level? The best decision I ever made was when God led me out of all that spiritual abuse. I have a deeper walk with God and understand more of God’s deep, never-ending love for us. When is the grace of God through Jesus Christ ever mentioned in the CoC? Why does the CoC like to engage in debates as opposed to dialogues?

    I pray that CoC be transformed into something more spiritual, if they don’t they will simply fade away.

  33. 1. 51% o the pop. is singles and we blow them off
    2. we are an unforgiving lot
    3. we (amputate) congregations and believers who are different than our mainstream,
    4. We fight with each other more than we serve others

  34. I think there are multiple facets to the problem –

    1) First is legalism. We have taken the examples given us in the New Testament and made them into our own “tablets of stone”. Christ was more about the spirit of the law rather than the letter of it.

    2) Second is that we (CoC) do not have exclusive access to heaven. This comes directly from the first point. We seem to believe there are limits on grace. That grace only applies to individuals and not groups. That it applies to our lives only beyond the way we worship and practice religion.

    3) In many cases our worship is a passive experience. This also relates to 1) as we have taken this to mean 2 songs and a prayer, one song and a scripture, one song and the Lord’s Supper, etc.

    If we break our tablets of stone and follow the law written on our hearts we will reverse the decline.

  35. If it’s the music as many here indicate then it’s not about ‘worship’ it’s about taste and many times looking for something that ‘moves’ us without us having to ‘move’. Worship begins with sacrifice and service (see beginning of the last supper) – we are not suffering together, we are not serving the hurting world together (‘serving’ in the church building does not count – and token service once at Thanksgiving to feed the hungry doesn’t get it). Last cofc I was in I asked if I could have a Sunday School Class that met at the building at 8 – took tools, mowers, weed eaters, and went out and served the elderly, handicapped, and disabled (then would come back for ‘worship service’ (lol)- – – elders said they would have to meet about it – – – never did. I’m gone.

  36. Thanks Keith, great post and great thoughts from everyone. Looking at this in the Northwest after one of our colleges closed I would suggest that some has to do with worship. I feel that a larger part has to do with our lack of emphasis on outreach and evangelism. If the church has been in an “attractional mode” rather than a “missional mode” we stop growing. Young people have always left churches only to return later. However, the churches would grow because they were out “getting” people. People return to churches that have life. I have found that most Christians will tolerate worship that is OK but they will not tolerate churches which aren’t active in their community. They may be attracted to churches with great worship, it is only temporary and their involvement tends to be minimal. Young people are attracted or captured by churches that they see active in the community making a difference. If you visit the churches that are attracting young people they have very well developed community outreach programs.

    Younger people today also place a high value on social justice. Martin Luther King Jr. once wrote that if the church doesn’t engage in social justice people will see it as an irrelevant institution. This is now one of the criticisms of churches today according to modern church growth authors. As an “older man” in the church and a leader I find that younger people are frustrated at the lack of spiritual maturity in our leaders–and from what I have seen I have to agree. They wont put up with leaders who don’t model outreach, good marriages and parenting, and becoming friends of sinners and tax collectors like Jesus.I know that this sounds somewhat judgmental but I became a Christian at 21 and had a huge father wound as a young man. As a minister I unfortunately have to admit that this wound was reopened often by male leaders in the church. While there are good leaders they unfortunately were less common than the males who modeled the same behavior as my father. I stayed because I believed in what the churches of Christ have taught concerning unity, and Lori and I decided to be an answer to the problem and help heal the wounds of our people.

    Just my thoughts and experiences from up here and listening to young people for a few decades. Thanks for all your comments.

  37. As the owner/admin of a website dedicated to gender equality in the churches of Christ, I hear from women and men on a regular basis that they are considering leaving the CoC because of the male only “leadership” and female silence issues. This is probably the most underreported problem we have because of our failure to recognize the problem in the first place. We bury our heads in the sand in favor of male only leadership, male only speaking in worship, and male only teaching, and in the process we blind ourselves as to what is actually occuring and what the real proplems are in our fellowship. We try to put the blame on other areas such as stale worship, instrumental music, patternism, etc, which are only minor issues built on legalistic thinking in comparrison to the gender issue which is a true biblical issue. Many who are infavor of equality of gender are affraid to say anything due to fear of being labeled or worse. We are loosing both men and women, both young and old, because people are tired of one sided leadership and participation. Many women I have talked to over the last few years yearn to be an actual part of worship rather than simply bench sitters who are only allowed to sing out loud when the men sing. I have talked with and know personally many women who are far more qualified to teach, preach, and be elders than many of our present men who are holding leadership positions, pulpit ministry positions, or teaching in classes. These men in control continue hold to a view of male only patriarchal style control or the so-called complimentarian views that are nothing more than a politically correct 1986 CBMW version of the patriarchal system. When we finally get the message that women are equal in God’s eyes to men and that God expects us to be gift based rather than gender based, our decline will cease and we will again start growing and reaching out to those who are truely hurting.

    Floyd Rose, an African-American minister, in a book he wrote a few years ago titled “An Idea Whose Time Has Come”, takes on the gender issue in the light of the racial discrimination which he had lived with all his life. He makes this statement in his book:

    “Slavery in America was built on the premise that the worst white man was better than the best black man. Male chauvinism in the church is built on the premise that the least qualified man is more qualified than the most qualified woman.”

    We have more or less handled the racial discrimination problems in our churches. Now we need to handle the gender discrimination problems in our congregations. The process has started but the numbers are still very small where churches of Christ can say they are true egalitarian, gift based churches. Gender inclusion on limited scale has begun in a slightly larger number of churches but this is still less than 1% of all churches of Chrsit, in my opinion. The majority of churches just keep on killing the spirit in our own with all of our restrictions on gender, and at the same time, we kill our congregations by driving truely spiritually gifted women and men to other church denominations in search of freedom and a way to use the gifts supplied by God!

    April 27 & 28, 2012, are the dates of the Christians for Biblical Equality Houston Conference titled “A New Creation. A New Tradition.
    Reclaiming the Biblical Tradition of Man and Woman, One in Christ” to be held at the Heights Church of Christ in Houston, TX. The web site is Make plans to attend if you can and learn about Biblical Equality from high quality, very knowledgable speakers, including Dr. Katie Hays, who was for a number of years our only female pulpit minister. Registration is online or by mail. Please come and learn if you can!

  38. There can be so many reasons for decline.

    Sometimes people are neglected and do not feel loved. Other times it really is a congregation not realizing WHO they are singing to, praying to or WHOSE Word they are preaching and consequently, are unenthused and disinterested in worship and in the preaching of the Word.

    Sometimes its traditions being passed off as inspired truth (“You have to wear a suit and tie or you’re disrespecting God,” “The message can’t be more than 20 minutes,” “You have to have a table that says ‘Do This in Remembrance of Me”).

    Sometimes its being looked down upon “Because you don’t use the ‘authorized’ version.” Authorized by who? I can guarantee you God didn’t write that on the first page. :)

    Sadly sometimes it really is some (not all) who think the only ones who are going to heaven meet in a building with a sign that says “Church of Christ” on it.

    Sometimes its because it seems a greater emphasis is being placed on making an external show – on looking good on the outside with fancy suits and dresses and being clean shaven taken greater emphasis than being beautiful in HEART (attitude, your faith, your passion for worship, fellowship, etc.).

    Many visitors who don’t have suits or nice dresses feel intimidated by this and understandably go to another place where they don’t think you have to put on a 3 piece suit everytime you open the Bible.

    In some places, it can even be racism. A dirty, smelly, long-haired Native American homeless man who really wants to worship is thrown out by the large men of the congregation who have added “Church Bouncer” to their spiritual giftedness while a wealthy white business owner who visits is carried around on a chair and has the red carpet rolled out for him.

    In many places it’s a lack of JOY and EXCITEMENT! Or even worse, a lack of love.

    For some they are just plum wore out from too many business coffee meetings and who can blame them for that! It’s easy to be drained of your joy and energy when the Church is treated like any office business environment.

    A main cause, I think is lack of men to serve the flock as elders, leaving us with mens committees. I know there are unqualified elders out there but (good) elders show us why that is in God’s blueprint.

    …And the list goes on and on.

    But at the same time, lately, I’m afraid that many 21st century philosophies have made their way into the Church, that are just as dangerous and just as responsible for decline as the deadest worship or the most tradition-minded heart.

    Where “Thus says the Lord” is replaced with “As long as it’s my personal preference and I’m sincere anything is okay.”

    Where “Speak Lord for your servant is listening” is replaced with “If it makes me feel good, then there’s nothing wrong with it.”

    Where “Not my will but Yours be done” is exchanged with “I’m free to do what I want.” Or “Have it my way.”

    It seems the primary philosophy that all generations have struggled with, even before the Church in Old Testament times is “What about me?”

    I’m afraid that one of the latest causes for decline is because in the United States for many people, “Church” has become another consumer product.

    It’s become a competing business for “What’s in it for me?” where you have X church here, Y church there and Z church there and, “Now which one has the best package for ME?

    Which place is going to entertain me the most? Which place is going to meet MY needs?”

    And forgetting that Jesus meets our needs at the CROSS and the empty tomb and that it is Him who “supplies all our needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

    As the Church, we certainly need to serve each other and love one another and carry each others burdens and we should be blessing each other by encouraging each other daily.

    But worship is not so much “Sit back and Enjoy a Great Worship Experience.”

    That sounds great at first but when we think about that for a moment, if you are worshipping you are going with the intent of OFFERING something.

    Not GETTING something.

    Worship is what we bring as we kneel with our faces to the ground at the throne of God Almighty. It is not trying to kick Him out of the throne and sitting down, expecting to be catered to by everyone else.

    Worship is not necessarily what I feel when I go away.

    But that’s what the emphasis is becoming – “Come and see what YOU can get.”

    The emphasis in Hebrews 10:23-25 is usually only on not forsaking our assembling together. Yet that passage also speaks about holding fast together and stimulating one ANOTHER to love and good deeds and encouraging each other (the opposite of coming to see how I and only I can be stimulated).

    Our mindset needs to change from “What I get” to “What I bring to God. What I bring to others when we come together.”

    The Hebrew writer is saying, “When you come together. You’re thinking, ‘How can I encourage and build up someone else? Not “What can I get out of it?”

    Instead of thinking “What’s in it for me,” we replace that with “How can I encourage Sister Becky? How can I edify Tom? How can I lift up John today?”

    And most important of all “What attitudes are in my heart that need to be crucified so I can worship THIS holy God and offer to Him an acceptable service of worship (whether that is singing, giving, praying, the Lord’s Supper, etc.)?”

    While we allow Him to humble us and mold us in all these other things (taking the joy that is rightfully ours in Jesus, changing our emphasis from “looking good” to making sure our heart really is right before God, drawing nearer and nearer to one another and to the Lord, etc.) we must also remember John 3:30 as we come together.

    It is a balance.

    Some of us are afraid of connecting our head to our heart because we fear our faith would be driven by subjectivism. Others are afraid of connecting their heart to their head ebcause they think keeping His commands from a heart of obedience makes you a Pharisee and a legalist.

    Both are extremes that must be avoided.

    Whatever our struggles are, “Let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold FAST the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one ANOTHER to love and good deeds, not forsaking the assembling together as is the habit of some, but encouraging one ANOTHER, and all the MORE, as you see the day drawing near (Hebrews 10:22-25).”

  39. Keith, I agree with your evaluation. I think our lack of intimate worship is one key to people migrating to “community churches”, which are usually charismatic in worship style.

    After years of working to interest our congregations in more intimacy with God through the study and practice of prayer, I find the congregations that will take prayer seriously are spiritually healthier. Those who don’t or can’t lead their people into God’s presence lose them to churches that can.

  40. I think one thing that is important to note in all of this is that it is not just the coC that is experiencing this downturn. If you follow George Barna and the research that they do, it is ALL Christian groups. I found their article about the “worship wars” very interesting. What they are finding across groups is that there is a decline in attendance, and behaviors (reading the Bible outside of the assembly etc.) everywhere, and it’s not really tied to what kind of show they put on Sunday Morning. It’s tied to their knowledge and understanding of their relationship with GOD. Hosea 4 speaks about the destruction of God’s people as a direct result of their lack of knowledge (experiential and head knowledge both!) of God. It should sound eerily familiar.
    We have a culture among churches that has placed it’s focus in all the wrong places. We burden our preachers with the load Elders are meant to carry, while they do the work Deacons ought to be doing, and the Deacons do no one’s work. (This is a generalization! There are many excellent churches that run exactly as they ought! You know who you are!) Meanwhile, Preachers fear speaking truth, acting truth, because they can be fired at the drop of a hat over anything. They are expected to move to a community, buy a home, and settle down, for less than the median income of their congregation, and with no assurances that it will last. Do I think a congregation should keep a minister that is preaching heresy? NO. But heresy isn’t getting bent out of shape because the preacher talks about how destructive gossip is and someone takes it personally and “Gets him fired.” Feel the difference? But who wants that job? Less and less of our young men. I believe that the ratio when my husband and I graduated from a Christian University in 2001 was something like 8 Bible Majors to 30 Business majors. Most of them end up in other fields after they graduate anyway (my husband is a banker, of all things!)
    Ministers are supposed to digest and ponder the depth and riches of God’s word, and then lay them out in a 3 point sermon in 20 minutes or less on Sunday morning so we get “fed.” Really?
    And then to top it off we place on the Minister the burden of”Doing” all the evangelism. I’m sorry, but all evangelism is personal, and most people shut down the second someone tells them “I’m a preacher.” Part of the problem we are having is an over all lack of personal relationships, with God and each other. As more women choose or are forced into the work place, we have less time for the “Hey, why don’t you come over for dinner/ bbq/ day out” than we once did. If your husband is the one organizing that, more power to him!! Most people maintain relationships through Facebook, Twitter and e-mail, where it’s more than awkward to put a virtual arm around someone and say, “Let me tell you about Jesus and what he is to me!! There is hope!” The word spread quickly in Acts because the people who encountered the Gospel were amazed and compelled to tell everyone they saw about the message. We just aren’t. I don’t know if it is fear, an overall lack of understanding on our part, or the belief that someone else will tell them, but we don’t.
    Also, we have subscribed for too long to the idea that we can put our kids in a “Youth Group” setting and have them brought up to have a functional faith. Are youth programs good? Yes, I think so. But we cannot raise our kids in a “One eared Mickey Mouse” configuration where they have little to do with “The REAL Church” and expect them to stick around when they are out of the house. Mentoring, and spending time with people, for example their parents, who teach them faith and Christian living are necessary, but that goes to the lack of time point again.
    On the female leadership front, I would tread very cautiously. Aside from not taking a government highlighter to scripture as the main reason to not go there, across denominations the number that have women in “pastor” roles is up, but attendance is down, and the Female pastors are much more likely to be divorced, and have an un-biblical worldview. (Barna again) I am very curious to see what they have to say about women leaving churches in the book “The resignation of Eve.”
    I think my husband is right… we are primed for another Great Revival.
    I think that until we get ourselves and our personal houses in order, we are going to continue as a group to lose people, because what we are offering is hollow. I agree with what David previously posted about people church shopping, because I know people are church hopping looking for something, and I think what they are looking for is God.
    To pose one more question, and sorry that it is not a delicate one, but how much of that number is attrition by members of the greatest generation dying?

    Anyway, all that to say this, I don’t think that is the main driving factor for this issue is the music, per se, but Keith is probably on to something on the Worship front. Unless worship is coming from a real place, with real emphasis on what and WHO is important, it cannot serve and fill the role it is meant to.

  41. I agree with Kary and Mike Tune’s comments above. Faith is a deeper issue, and so is our lack of desire or ability to fellowship with broader segments of the population – people who don’t think and act like us. We can keep our slim agenda and mind set, and we’ll see that reflected in our slim population.

  42. “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus! Sweetest name I know. Fills my every longing. Keeps me singing as I go!” These words are from a record that my mother played for me to go to sleep by. The record, I’m sure is lost, but the words and tune still live within my heart (scratches and all)!

    God bless singers, songwriters and worship leaders, both old and new, who exhort and inspire us to seek the Lord of Glory, to come to know Him and praise His name forever with joy and in utter humility.

  43. Statistics say fewer and fewer people are going to any kind of church these days (, especially young people ( I believe Satan is at work here.

    The recent trend towards Mega churches is alarming. These churches offer little substance in my opinion. They cater to the spiritually weak. They have a “come as you are” mentality. If you build it they will come. They appeal to people. They attract people with their big fancy buildings and large numbers. They entertain people. Some churches of Christ attempt to attract people in the same manner. In addition the Mega churches are not accounting for any higher a percentage of “saves” than traditional congregations. The get their members from the already “saved” leaving their traditional congregations ( Sad really. I believe Satan is at work here too.

    We can debate contemporary vs. traditional, but I don’t think there should be both at one congregation. Either be one or the other. Being both is being lukewarm IMO. Contemporary=liberal Traditional=conservative  There can be and is good and bad aspects of both.

    Attract them with the truth (Eph 4). Have a scriptural basis for everything you do or don’t do (2 Timothy 3:16-17, 2 Peter 1:20-21). For far too long the coC has converted people, then left them as is. We need to continue to study with these people, to teach them what they need to fight off Satan. Teach them what is acceptable and right according to the Bible. We need to give them a firm foundation (Eph 4:17-24, 2 Timothy 3:16-17). I’ve seen it far too often. New Christians still doing the same things they did prior to their conversion. They have not been taught by the brethren that their old ways are not in line with scripture. I have also seen people baptized on the first day of the month and gone for good by the end of the month. Sad really. Satan is at work here too.

    Let’s talk about the young people for a moment. Why are there so many young leaving the church for good? I have talked to many of them. One thing I hear quite often, is that they can see right through the facade. The can spot a phony. See through the shallowness of so many Christians. That is their perception. They see people going to church on Sundays and maybe Wednesdays and living their lives differently the rest of the week. Satan is at work here.

    Now I get defensive sometimes about this issue. I tell people I am not perfect. I sin. Don’t judge me as a Sunday/Wednesday Christian just because you’ve see me mess up a time or two. But no, I’m not talking about people who are Faithful Christians that sin. I am talking about those Christians who are going through the motions. Those Christians who really do lead different lives the other days of the week. Too many people these days are casual Christians. They want to have their cake and eat it too. These are the ones who don’t work. They show up for church and hardly anything else. They are not engaged or involved. I think 90% of the work is being done by 5% of the people. I do not mean to sound as if I am painting with a wide brush, but I do think this is a problem more prevalent than people want to believe.

    What needs to change to get people back?

    It starts with the leadership. The Elders. 
    These men need to ready to confront sin. This is one area I think that has been lacking in the Lord’s church for quite some time. They need to get to know their members. After all, they accepted that responsibility when they became Elders. It’s easy to use the excuse that you didn’t know this or that was going on with brother or sister so and so, but we all need to hold each other accountable. Elders need to be bold and stand together. Quite simply, they need to lead. 

    Get back to the basic fundamentals.
    When was the last time you heard a sermon on why the coC does not have instrumental musical accompaniment? Or Abortion? Or women’s roles in the church, what is acceptable or not acceptable? Or Divorce/Remarriage. Or Homosexuality? Or is it okay or wrong to have choir or “worship leaders”? Or drinking? Or dancing? These are all things we feels strongly about, but why? Perhaps we have studied these issues on our own, but wouldn’t it be nice to hear it from the pulpit from time to time? Some of these issues are “controversial in nature”. We need to attack controversy head on, not run and hide from it.

    There are others things we could do better, but those are two good places to start.

  44. I write about topics like this all the time. It’s interesting to see so much debate about these issues on this site. I am not even sure how I ended up on this blog. This isn’t really a “Church of Christ” issue or worship issue as much as it is a spiritual battle and a problem with church leadership in all denominations. Check out my blog if you are interested in some heavy reading from a multi-denominational standpoint.

  45. First off I LOVE Acappella! I listen to Acappella and The Acappella Company music and groups that Keith has created all the time and in fact God used Keith’s acappella music to help save me but I am curious… Why does the church of Christ only worship through acappella singing? I’ve always wondered that. I see scripture in the old testament that speaks of praising God using instruments too. Not seeking a debate just honest curiosity of the scriptures used by COC to back the acappella only worship singing. Thank you so much.

  46. This is a Christianity problem. And the problem is solid food. I have a one year old who refuses to eat baby food anymore. She will turn her head and try to get out of the high chair when she so much as sees a baby food jar. She’s ready to eat and if I’m not going to feed her, she’s done, aside from the yelling.

    Translation? Hebrews 5 & 6 are two of the most ignored chapters in the New Testament. At what point do churches move on from saying the same baby food-type stuff every week? Jesus once said that the Pharisees diligently studied the scriptures because they thought that by them they possessed eternal life. But those scriptures pointed to Him.

    People who truly seek Jesus grow tired of the same old stuff for good reason. We re-lay foundational stuff weekly. If I hear one more sermon on the definition of faith I might just stand up and scream. I get it. Now how do I go about mirroring Jesus to a world that hates me? My fear is that many of us who have said to Jesus “Lord” will be unrecognizable to Him when He comes again because we never bothered to know more than facts.

    Our churches need solid food instead of the cowardly line-toting status quot that has plagued us now for decades, if not longer. Where are our men and women who want more? They are leaving, that’s where.

    Everything a church does is a reflection of what they are eating. Go ahead and condemn a church that might look different from you, but if they are producing the fruit of the Spirit and you are declining, which do you think is feeding properly?

  47. Joe Stephen McNair

    I am one of the 102,000. 4th generation C of C, went to Abilene Christina, degree in Biblical studies…whole 9 yards. I simply no longer bought into the things that made the C of C distinctive from other denominations and I was hearing the same thing from the pulpits so if we were just going to become another garden variety evangelical church, then why bother. So I started going to the nearest church to me (Methodist) and found them more welcoming and more accepting of my liberal politics and less judgmental. Do not miss it at all, never going back. You let the genie out of the bottle with modernization and now you can’t get it back in. The decline will continue. .

    • Joe, I can’t argue with the idea that mistakes have been made by imperfect people. Yet, we have many distinctive features for which to be thankful — including an emphasis upon everyone singing in worship. I love professional, “presentational” singing as much as anyone and have dedicated most of my life to such; however, there is nothing like the sound of everyone, regardless of ability, joining wholeheartedly in singing. I realize that some other groups have participatory singing to some degree, but none like I’ve found in our congregations. Thanks for your comments, Joe.

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