DECLINE & How dying churches abuse pastors. A review of researcher #GeneFowler’s examination of why traumatized congregations so often attack their leaders.

by April 23, 2020, Christian Century.

… Church abuse of clergy is quite different. It’s a pattern driven by the congregation’s social unconscious reaction to traumatization. Fowler skillfully builds on the work of Wilfred R. Bion (who helped develop the theory behind psychoanalytic group psychology—including the power of the herd instinct) in explaining how this trauma plays out in congregations.

The motivation for church abuse is usually fear, Fowler explains, and this fear can be especially acute in times of palpable decline. As members of a congregation consider the annihilation of the church they’ve long known and revered, they experience a collective trauma. No longer able to maintain an idealistic image of themselves, they fall into denial and then fear. Abuse may also stem from ancestral trauma that’s passed on to a congregation from a previous generation.

Fowler tells the story of decline across several generations, beginning with Robert Wuthnow’s premise that the 1950s were marked by “a spirituality of dwelling.” After the chaos of World War II and the Korean War, people needed to view the church as a safe space, a sacred place in which to be nurtured, a spiritual home where they did not have to think too much. This was the heyday of the popular children’s rhyme, “Here is the church; here is the steeple. Open the doors; see all the people.”

The 1960s, Fowler explains, “constituted the initial period in the story of Protestantism’s trauma-producing membership decline in the United States.” The spirituality of dwelling was replaced by a “spirituality of seeking.” “Sacred moments of experiencing the divine and a continuing spiritual journey replaced sacred space and the need to know the sacred territory.” This major cultural and ecclesiastical shift stretched across subsequent decades, even as it went largely unnamed.

Christians who see their image of the steeple church shattered are often traumatized by this shift. The shattering of a beloved image is a loss that many congregants find unbearable. They realize that they cannot depend on the church’s culture—including its clergy—to remedy the shocking sense of annihilation that comes with the displacement they’re experiencing.

“When congregations must defend themselves against confronting their fear of congregational annihilation at all costs, their effort is at the expense of the pastor and the pastor’s loved ones,” Fowler explains. In their pain, the congregation begins the movement to get rid of their pastor—even when there is no reason justifying such a move. Common tactics include defamation of character, casting of shame, forced termination, and unemployment.

Read more at … https://www.christiancentury.org/review/books/how-dying-churches-abuse-pastors

TRENDS & 73% of American churches are declining & we are seeing a marked decline in fast-growing churches (from 12% to 3%) and a marked increase in churches declining toward death (10% to 19%). #LifeWay

by Thom Rainer, LifeWay, 6/3/19.

Based upon an aggregate of several research projects, I made some notes of growth and decline rates of churches and summarized my estimates into five categories by worship attendance changes over the previous five-year period. I compiled the following numbers ten years ago:

Growth and Decline Categories of North American Congregations 2009

  • Fast-growing (growing greater than 5% annually): 12%
  • Growing (growing nominally to 5% annually): 23%
  • Steadily declining (declining 0% to 3% annually): 34%
  • Rapidly declining (declining 2% to 5% annually): 21%
  • Declining toward death (over 5% decline annually): 10%

This past week I conducted the same exercise based on some of my updated research and the research of others and estimated the following:

Growth and Decline Categories of North American Congregations 2019

  • Fast-growing (growing greater than 5% annually): 3%
  • Growing (growing nominally to 5% annually): 24%
  • Steadily declining (declining 0% to 3% annually): 32%
  • Rapidly declining (declining 2% to 5% annually): 22%
  • Declining toward death (over 5% decline annually): 19%

My numbers admittedly are estimates, but they do have some quantitative basis, such as denominational statistics, research by LifeWay Research, and the data available in the increasing number of consultation and coaching requests we receive.

Obviously, the staggering reality of these numbers is the pronounced change in the two extreme categories. We are seeing a marked decline in fast-growing churches and a marked increase in churches declining toward death.

Read more at … https://thomrainer.com/2019/06/the-faster-pace-of-decline-toward-death-of-many-congregations/

DECLINE & Is there a church death spiral? #ThomRainer

by Thom Rainer, LifeWay Research, 7/3/17.

A Review of the Research

You can peruse the details of our research at my previous blog post. Simply stated, we conducted a random sample of churches with data in 2013 and 2016. The margin of error of the research is +/- 3.1 percent. It’s an accurate study – very accurate.

In the previous post, I shared that 65 percent of churches are declining or plateaued. For most of us, that number was better than the conventional “wisdom” we have heard. In that sense it was good news.

And Now the Bad News, At Least Some of It

Over 61 percent of churches average fewer than 100 in worship attendance. Yes, we are a nation of small churches. I love it. I love small churches.

But if your church has fewer than 100 in worship, it is likely to be a declining church. In fact two out of three of these small churches are declining.

Even more, there is a direct correlation with the rate of decline in a church and the size of the church. Simply stated, the smaller the church, the greater the rate of decline in attendance. Perhaps these three statements will clarify my point:

  • A declining church with an attendance of 200 or more declines at a rate of 4 percent each year.
  • A declining church with an attendance of less than 100 declines at a rate of 7.6 percent per year.
  • A declining church with an attendance of less than 50 declines at a rate of 8.7 percent a year.

It’s a death spiral. Declining smaller churches decline much more rapidly than larger churches. Once the declining church goes below 100 in attendance, its days are likely numbered.

Here is the sad summary statement of this portion of the research: Once a church declines below 100 in worship attendance, it is likely to die within just a few years. The life expectancy for many of these churches is ten years or less.

Gloomy But Not Hopeless…

Read more at … http://thomrainer.com/2017/07/church-death-spiral/

CHARISMATIC MOVEMENT & Why the UK movement gains as Church of England sputters

by Trevor Grundy, March 29, 2016, Religion News Service.

CANTERBURY, England (RNS) Church closings are nothing new in this country.

In the past six years, 168 Church of England churches have closed, along with 500 Methodist and 100 Roman Catholic churches.

“Christianity in Britain has seen a relentless decline for over 100 years,” says Linda Woodhead, a sociologist at Lancaster University.

Visitors to Britain are often shocked when they see the state of some of this nation’s once-proud church buildings.

But for every Anglican church that has closed over the past six years, more than three Pentecostal or charismatic churches have taken their place, according to an analysis by The Times of London.

These Pentecostal and charismatic churches are drawing young, black, Asian and mixed-race people.

Hillsong Church London holds four services, attended by 8,000 people, every Sunday at the Dominion Theatre. Photo courtesy of Hillsong Church L

Pentecostalism is one of the fastest-growing movements in world Christendom, with an estimated 500 million followers.

“A century ago the face of European Christianity could have been labeled as white, but now it is increasingly becoming multicolored,” said Israel Olofinjana, a Nigerian-born minister in London told the Times.

While aging Church of England congregations decline, charismatic churches thrive.

Hillsong Church London holds four services, attended by 8,000 people, every Sunday at the Dominion Theatre.

“It feels like God’s nightclub, with love songs to Jesus,” said one young African after attending an evening service.

Christians from Eastern Europe, especially Poland, where Catholic roots run deep, are among the participants. And their enthusiasm is contagious.

“There’s been a seismic shift,” said Robert Beckford, a professor of theology at Canterbury Christ Church University. “Christianity in Britain has become much more ethnically diverse as a result of migration from West Africa, Eastern Europe and, to a degree, Latin America.”

Elizabeth Oldfield, director at Theos, one of England’s leading think tanks, told The Times: “Church structures have to take immigration much more seriously. They’re having to listen to people on the ground that are joining the churches in quite large numbers, speaking a different language, perhaps coming from different forms of worship and working to bring change. It is shaking the church up.”

The Pentecostal growth is bringing renewed hope to many.

“I am optimistic that we will see this nation come back to God,” said Pastor Agu Irukwu of the Redeemed Christian Church of God. The group, founded in Nigeria, now has 600 congregations across England.

(Trevor Grundy is an RNS correspondent based in Canterbury, England)

Read more at … http://www.religionnews.com/2016/03/29/charismatic-movement-gains-church-england-sputters/

RELIGIOSITY & Americans Skeptical Of God But Think Heaven Is Real, Somehow

By Joshua A. Krisch, Vocativ News, Mar 21, 2016.

The United States formally separates Church and State, but it’s hard to deny that America is inundated with religious innuendo, from its controversial pledge of allegiance all the way down to its Judeo-Christian courthouse displays and faith-espousing legal tender. Yet fewer Americans pray or believe in God than ever before, according to a new study in the journal Sage Open.

Researchers found that the percentage of Americans who claim they never pray reached an all-time high in 2014, up five-fold since the 1980s. Over the same time period, belief in God and interest in spirituality appears to have similarly declined, especially among young adults.

The findings suggest that, “millennials are the least religious generation in memory, and possibly in American history,” says Jean M. Twenge, psychology professor at San Diego State University and coauthor on the study, in a press statement. “Most previous studies concluded that fewer Americans were publicly affiliating with a religion, but that Americans were just as religious in private ways. That’s no longer the case, especially in the last few years…”

The notion that the U.S. is inching away from organized religion is nothing new. Throughout the 2000s, studies repeatedly found that many Americans had lost faith in religious institutions. But scientists suspected the shift was from organized religion, rather than spirituality—that Americans had stopped attending formal services, but that they still prayed and believed in private…

But this new study suggests that Americans have a problem with God—and that our spiritual issues run deeper than paltry mistrust of religious institutions.

For the study, researchers pulled 58,893 entries from the GSS, a nationally representative survey of U.S. adults. The results suggest a steep decline in the number of Americans who pray, believe in God, take the Bible literally, attend religious services or identified as religious—all factors that should have relatively little to do with America’s skepticism of large institutions.

Read more at … http://www.vocativ.com/news/299168/americans-pray-think-heaven-is-real/

DECLINE & Most church attendance less than 80 & over 55% are not growing #HartfordInstitute

By Aaron Earls, Facts & Trends, LifeWay, 3/21/16.

Most American churches have 80 or fewer worshippers each week and fewer than 45 percent of churches have grown more than 2 percent in the last five years, according to a study from the Hartford Institute for Religion Research (American Congregations 2015 study).

Ultimately, it is God who brings growth to churches, but research shows several factors that are common in growing churches.

Read more at … http://factsandtrends.net/2016/03/17/7-statistics-that-predict-church-growth/#.Vu_fmEX3aJI

AFRICAN-AMERICAN Churches & Why they are bucking the trend of decline

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (RNS) At Alfred Street Baptist Church, the pews start to fill more than half an hour before the service begins. White-uniformed ushers guide African-Americans of all ages to their seats. Some stand and wave their hands in the air as the large, robed choir begins to sing.

In September, after using a dozen wired overflow rooms, the church will start its fourth weekend service.

So many people attend, church leaders are now asking people to limit their attendance to one service.

“Pick your service,” said the Rev. Edward Y. Jackson, an assistant to the pastor, at the start of a recent service. “Come in, come early, get your parking space so we can all enjoy and worship God together.”

A recent Pew Research Center survey found that Christians are losing their share of the U.S. population, dropping to 71 percent in 2014, down from 78 percent in 2007, with young people leading the exodus. But historically black denominations have bucked that trend, holding on to a steady percent of members during that same period.

As significant, the share of millennial-generation African-Americans who affiliate with historically black churches is similar to that of older churchgoers.

“I think black churches have always been very pivotal in social movements and outreach,” said Kelli Slater, 20, a Howard University student from Mississippi who was visiting Alfred Street at the invitation of her older sister. “I think black churches do a whole lot more than religion.”

Read more at … http://www.religionnews.com/2015/08/13/black-churches-bucking-trend-decline/

DENOMINATIONS & Mainline Protestants make up shrinking number of U.S. adults #PewResearch

by MICHAEL LIPKA, Pew Research, 5/18/15.

Most of the Founding Fathers of the United States – not to mention a majority of U.S. presidents – were members of Christian denominations that fall into the mainline Protestant tradition. But in recent years, the share of Americans who identify with mainline Protestantism has been shrinking significantly, a trend driven partly by generational change.

5 Million Fewer Mainline Protestant Adults Than in 2007Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study finds that 14.7% of U.S. adults are affiliated with the mainline Protestant tradition – a sharp decline from 18.1% when our last Religious Landscape Study was conducted in 2007. Mainline Protestants have declined at a faster rate than any other major Christian group, including Catholics and evangelical Protestants, and as a result also are shrinking as a share of all Protestants and Christians.

Indeed, despite overall U.S. population growth between 2007 and 2014, the total number of mainline Protestant adults has decreased by roughly 5 million during that time (from about 41 million in 2007 to 36 million in 2014).

Generational replacement appears to be playing a significant role. Older generations have larger shares of mainline Protestants, including 26% of members of the Greatest generation (those born before 1928) and 22% of members of the Silent generation (those born 1928-1945). Mainline Protestant adults in the U.S. have a median age of 52, higher than the group’s median age in 2007 (50) and older than any other major religious tradition.

While older generations die out, the young Americans rising into adulthood are significantly less likely to identify with mainline denominations. Among Millennial adults (born since 1981), 11% are mainline Protestants. By contrast, 16% of Millennials are Catholics, 21% are evangelical Protestants and 35% are religiously unaffiliated.

Read more at … http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/05/18/mainline-protestants-make-up-shrinking-number-of-u-s-adults/