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Showing posts from February, 2013

Decline & Renewal in West Coast Churches of Christ, part 4

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The Decline of the College Church of Christ (Fresno), part 1

"The Church of Christ in America is not in good health. Her divided ranks, her declining membership, and the noticeable diminishing of her missionary force over the last 20 years are alarms that are sounding, calling for loving care and immediate attention."
When Jim Woodroof published those words in the foreword to his 1990 book The Church in Transition, few at the College Church of Christ in Fresno (College Church) would have likely heard the alarm or seen the signs of decline. The College Church was at its peak: over 900 members, two Sunday services, a recently expanded building, and a growing budget to support local ministries and foreign missionaries.

The College Church’s origins go back to 1964. It was an intentional plant by members of the Palm Avenue Church of Christ. Palm Avenue leadership foresaw two important trends. First, the city of Fresno was growing to the north and east. Second, the university campu…

Decline & Renewal in West Coast Churches of Christ, part 3

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"Happy families are all alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way" (Leo Tolstoy, from the first line ofAnna Karenina).

Perhaps the same could be said about churches. It's not hard to find commonalities in healthy, happy churches. Nor is it hard to step outside the world of practicing believers and find common threads in why unchurched people don't go to church. Together, we could list multiple books written about both subjects.

But it's hard to sum up the failings of declining churches. How have we messed up? Let us count the ways!

Each church's struggles are unique. Leadership personalities play a role. Sexual sin sometimes plays a role. Changing demographics play a role. Decisions about worship style can play a role.

But that's just what we see from the outside. The causes of church decline are often far more trivial. We rarely notice these unique factors, but they often stack up and create layers of disappointment and dysfunction.

For ex…

Decline & Renewal in West Coast Churches of Christ, part 2

West Coast Churches of Christ aren't the only group of churches in decline. Loss of membership is occurring across North America in practically all denominations. Conservative and liberal churches alike are shrinking and failing to attract younger generations.
I know it's not a shocking revelation and certainly not new but I want to say it clearly and boldly, "We have a problem!"
Our decline doesn't simply stem from technical challenges that we know how to fix. We're facing adaptive challenges that we've never before experienced. What do I mean by technical and adaptive challenges?
By "technical" challenge, I'm talking about the kind of problem that can be addressed with existing resources and knowledge. For example, our church in Fresno decided that we weren’t dedicating adequate space to our children’s ministry. We assessed our building, had lengthy conversations, and moved some pieces around to better accommodate our kids. This was a technic…

Decline & Renewal in West Coast Churches of Christ, part 1

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"Can Liberal Christianity Be Saved?" This op-ed piece by Ross Douthat in last summer's New York Times prompted lots of response. Many jumped on the bandwagon to say that the Episcopal Church had lost its way. Its blatant liberal path had caused more and more of its members to hit the eject button while attracting fewer and fewer new members. The numbers were bleak (23% decline in the last decade) and the outlook bleaker. This was the conclusion of Douthat and many who re-posted and commented on his article.

"But not so fast!" retorted church scholar Diana Butler Bass in her op-ed for the Huffington Post. While she didn't disagree with the data about the Episcopal Church, she reframed the question. "Can Christianity Be Saved?" was the title of her article. Her point? Churches of all stripes and types are declining in North America.

Say what you will about liberal churches, but all denominations are struggling—even conservative ones. Southern Baptist…

RENEW conf. this Friday!

Can't wait for RENEW this weekend at the College Church in Fresno. We'll be exploring interesting and challenging questions this weekend as we seek to live out the mission of Jesus Christ in various contexts.

We've drastically swung the pendulum of church confidence in the last couple decades. We moved away from believing that we were the only church that had the right answers to where now many of our churches wonder if we have anything to offer at all. Both ends of the spectrum are obviously problematic.

This weekend, we'll be relying on Doug Foster, Lee Camp and others to help us see that we have something valuable right under our feet. Yes, our churches have weaknesses. But name one that doesn't. We also have incredible strengths and a rich heritage upon which we can lean.

As Stan Hauerwas and Will Willimon say in a follow-up article to their book, Resident Aliens, “Christians are sitting on a gold mine called the church, but unfortunately the very categories we ha…