Church Decline and Growth

I have been hearing a lot of intelligent reflection lately on the numerical decline of Christian congregations across the theological spectrum. Both the RCs and SBCs are now registering decline. The free fall of the mainline is notorious. I have been nervous about the conservative churches grow and liberal churches decline narrative for a while. The story is more complex and there are examples of very successful “progressive” churches. There is a counter narrative that is emerging that is also too simplistic which is that ala Diane Butler Bass that the new question is not what to believe but how to live. The subtext of this narrative is that issues of orthodoxy and heterodoxy are beside the point. It is the latest incarnation of the Enlightenment critique of religion; the desire to peal away ceremony and dogma and get at the “true moral religion of Jesus.”

To take up these issues is to take up the question of the mission of the church and the mission of the church will always need innovators and pioneers and leaders who by God’s grace become especially effective at reaching new people and new generations. But these innovators are living the missionary life and the missionary life is a life of sacrifice which can only be sustained especially in its try, fail, try again, fail, try again routine by a deep consecration to the Son of God sustained by constant resort to and love for the scriptures and the great teaching tradition of the church, what the church calls her doctrine and dogma. Without a renewal of personal devotion, scriptural knowledge and apostolic doctrine the persevering love which discovers effective missionary strategy cannot be sustained.