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Denominational Breakdown

Although membership in the nation's largest Christian communions declined last year, two Pentecostal denominations showed an increase. The Assemblies of God (AG) of Springfield, Mo., and the Cleveland, Tenn.-based Church of God were the only two denominations of traditional Christian orthodoxy among the 25 largest churches in the U.S. to report membership increases, according to the 2009 edition of the Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches, an annual chronicle of religious institutions edited by the National Council of Churches (NCC) and published by Abingdon Press. The AG listed nearly 2.9 million members while the Church of God reported 1 million.

The ecumenical NCC reported the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Jehovah's Witnesses as the only other church groups to show membership increases, even though most Pentecostals, and many mainline churches and orthodox Christians, would consider those two groups separate religions.

A slight membership decline among Catholic and Southern Baptist churches, according to the yearbook, raised eyebrows because both denominations have typically grown over the years. "Now they join virtually every mainline church in reporting a membership decline," stated an NCC release.

In the bigger picture, the yearbook reported the small less-than-1-percent drop in membership in each denomination was not "earth-shattering" because there are still more than 67 million Roman Catholics in the U.S. and 16 million Southern Baptists.

Churches listed in the NCC yearbook as experiencing the highest rate of membership loss are the United Church of Christ, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

The Rev. Eileen W. Lindner, the yearbook's editor, said there are no clear-cut theological or sociological reasons for church growth or decline. "Many churches are feeling the impact of the lifestyles of younger generations of churchgoers-the GenXers or Millenials in their 20s and 30s who attend and support local congregations but resist joining them. A slowing of the rate of growth of some churches and the decline of membership of others ought to be the focus of continued research and thoughtful inquiry." [AP, 2/25/09;, 2/25/09] read more

Mistaking Crowds for Churches

QUOTE: "The biblical New Testament church is vanishing from society today. Anything and everything is acceptable as long as it builds a crowd. Jesus wasn't as interested in building a crowd as He was in telling the truth." -Bob Pearle, pastor of Fort Worth's Birchman Baptist Church and president of the Grapevine-based Southern Baptists of Texas, a conservative state convention. In his latest book, The Vanishing Church, Pearle rails against the growing segment of American churches-particularly nondenominational, seeker-sensitive megachurches-that build their "product" to meet consumer demand based upon churchgoers surveys. "It's a bankrupt philosophy," the conservative preacher adds. "Our responsibility as pastors and leaders is not to give people what they want necessarily but what they need." [, 2/28/09] read more

Changing of the Guard

QUOTE: "There really has been a shift and in some ways, a fragmenting of American evangelism. A new generation of evangelists is blogging their way around the old power structures and challenging many dogmatic ideas that people like [James] Dobson set forth." -Bill Leonard, dean of the School of Divinity at Wake Forest University, on the emergence of new leaders within the evangelical movement. Last Friday, Dobson resigned as chairman of the board of Focus on the Family, the ministry he founded in 1977. "One of the common errors of founder-presidents is to hold to the reins of leadership too long, thereby preventing the next generation from being prepared for executive authority," Dobson said. "Though letting go is difficult after three decades of intensive labor, it is the wise thing to do." The move was part of Dobson's leadership succession plan, which began six years ago when he stepped down as president and chief executive officer. The 72-year-old psychologist will relinquish his administrative duties but continue to host the ministry's daily broadcast and write a monthly newsletter that is distributed to 1.6 million supporters. [, 2/28/09; AP, 2/27/09] read more

A Glass Half Full for Parachurch Ministries

Despite the economic recession, ministry giving was higher than expected in late 2008, according to the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA). In a survey of 300 member ministries, the ECFA found that 72 percent met, exceeded or came within 10 percent of their fourth-quarter contribution goals. More than a quarter (28 percent) were more than 10 percent below their goals.

"Many of the parachurch ministries we surveyed reported small donations [those between $10 to $100] were relatively unaffected, and in some cases, donations in this category increased," said Dan Busby, acting president of ECFA. "In fact, some of our members had the strongest fourth quarter they've had in years and ended the year debt-free."

The organization said some member ministries attributed the survey results to increased prayer and greater interest in supporting organizations that help the poor and disadvantaged. More than half of member organizations said they increased one-on-one contact with key donors to buffer fundraising during the economic downturn. More than 30 percent said they changed their message to donors about how the ministry was responding to a changing economy.

Despite the good news, half of those surveyed reported that their investments had lost 15 percent to 30 percent of their value. And many ministry leaders are concerned about how the recession will affect 2009 giving. Most ministries are reducing costs, 41 percent have frozen or delayed salary increases, and 38 percent have frozen or reduced hiring.

Conference travel and capital projects have largely been reduced or delayed. Roughly 20 percent are sharing resources with other organizations and businesses. "Most ECFA member ministries expect 2009 to be more challenging, primarily because major donors who made gifts in 2008 have expressed they may not be able to renew their financial commitments because of the economy," Busby said. "But for leadership and staff members, this is ministry, not a job. Despite challenges, most remain committed to making positive operational and structural decisions, including developing contingency plans, which will enable them to continue to carry out God's purpose despite limited resources." [, 2/24/09] read more

Would the Person Who Dropped $1 in the Plate Please Stand Up?

While Wall Street continues to endure a string of high-profile scandals and plummeting markets, a church in nearby Queens, N.Y., has decided to tackle its financial difficulties by making things personal-a little too personal for most of its members.

Two weeks ago St. Luke's Church in Whitestone, Queens, began publishing a breakdown of members' tithes and offerings in the weekly bulletin. Though the listing doesn't name any specific names, read more

How the Recession Is Really Hitting Churches

The pendulum of how churches are faring during the current recession swings on a weekly basis, according to whatever news outlet you read. While some declare this a time when masses are swarming into the church, others say the economic turmoil isn't affecting church growth at all.

The National Association of Church Business Administration (NACBA) recently tackled the issue with a national survey specifically targeting churches' financial health. Gleaning from the answers of more than 800 administrative pastors, the survey found that churches are doing relatively well in comparison to other sectors of society-though there are still many reasons for concern. read more

The ‘Clergified' Church

QUOTE: "We have to recognize that we've created the system that we loathe. I don't think the reason 15 percent serve is because 85 percent are lazy. We've created a system that glorifies the clergy and marginalized the laity. We got the outcome we created programs for. We've become ‘clergified.' There's a three-tiered structure: laypeople, clergy and missionaries. ... All religions tend to create a class of people who are above others so 1) they can revel in that and 2) the rest of us can say it's their job. Christianity was started without any of those structures, and ended up like so many false religions do when they create a ministry caste structure. When we see real movements of God take off, they happen when people are free." -Lifeway Research director Ed Stetzer [, 2/09] read more

Arrested for Life

A California pro-life pastor is currently serving a 30-day jail term and awaits further sentencing after being arrested for offering sidewalk counseling at an Oakland, Calif., abortion clinic. Walter B. Hoye II, pastor of Progressive Missionary Baptist Church in Berkley, Calif., and founder of Issues4Life Foundation, was convicted last month of "unlawful approach" under an Oakland city ordinance that bars picketers from coming within eight feet of women entering an abortion clinic.

Hoye was originally sentenced to 30 days in jail, a $1,130 fine and three years probation. A further sentence, scheduled for March 20 because of a legality, however, could increase that to up to two years in prison and $4,000 in fines. read more

Smells Like Teen Spirit

If the teens in your church don't seem to care what you have to say, here's a possible reason why: A survey from Junior Achievement and pollster Deloitte found that a mere 3 percent see pastors and members of the clergy as role models. A slight majority of the under-18 crowd (54 percent) looks up to parents as role models, yet pastors were ranked lower than friends, teachers, coaches and siblings as those deemed worthy of emulating.

The survey, which provides a fascinating look at the current teen generation's moral compass, also found that although 80 percent feel equipped to make moral decisions in the business world, 40 percent believe they'll have to "break the rules" to succeed in life. Another 46 percent think lying to a parent is sometimes acceptable. In addition, a staggering 86 percent feel more accountable to themselves than to parents or guardians (52 percent), friends (41 percent) or society (33 percent). read more

Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition

Arkansas' Senate will soon vote on a bill that would allow churches to decide whether worshipers could bring weapons into church. Last Wednesday, the bill passed in the state's House by a 57-42 vote, which prompted concern from many church leaders.

"I believe it would disturb the sanctity and tranquility of church," said John Phillips, a pastor who was shot 23 years ago as he concluded a service at his Little Rock church. "Do you want ushers to stop you at the door and frisk you? ... People are not going to react the way they think they're going to react in the heat of the moment. It was utter chaos when I was shot."

Current Arkansas law allows those with concealed weapons permits to carry their guns anywhere except houses of worship and bars. The current bill, proposed by Rep. Beverly Pyle in response to the numerous church shootings around the country in recent years, would give churches the final decision on whether to allow members to carry arms into their sanctuaries.

"It is time we changed our concealed-handgun law to allow law-abiding citizens of the state of Arkansas the right to defend themselves and others should a situation happen in one of our churches," Pyle argued.

For many pastors and government watchdog groups alike, however, the main issue isn't one of churches protecting themselves against guns but instead against government infringement.

"It's not about gun rights, it's about church rights," said Nathan Petty, who leads Beech Grove Baptist Church in Fordyce. "Is it right for the state to make that decision for the church?"

Added Grant Exton, executive director of the Arkansas Concealed Carry Association: "It's a problem of (the government) telling churches what to do in an area of moral issue, where that should be none of their business." According to Exton, of the 48 states that currently allow concealed weapons to be carried, 42 place the decision with individual churches. "We have the government in an area that it shouldn't be." [AP, 2/12/09, 2/14/09] read more


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