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Plant more churches

Plant more churches

Clint Schnekloth, writing for the Lutheran Confessions blog, predicts the demise of “most churches” within the next seven years.

We know that religious commitment in the United States has been declining for quite a while. What is less remarked upon is the accelerated rate of decline. …

In fact, I believe that the next seven years will be even worse than preceding years. Many small churches all across the country are more precarious than ever, and will likely fold, and fold quickly. Ken Inskeep of the ELCA says that about 2/3rds of our congregations are at risk.
 Schnekloth’s solution? In addition to ideas like stop competing for the same pool of people, and give up graduate studies for clergy, his suggestion is to give up on the old, and start new churches.

New churches don’t always survive, but they grow more than existing churches.

In fact, statistically pretty much no churches older than seven years grow at all, but tons of churches started in the last seven years do. So it’s disturbing how few churches most denominations are starting in comparison to how many they are closing.
Do you agree with Schnekloth’s dramatic predictions? What remedies would you suggest?

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Robert Coghill

Perhaps we could blend our smaller churches with others with whom we share most of our traditions, like the ELCA Lutherans. Even the Anglican Church of North America shares most traditions, why not church buildings and Sunday Schools? * We would not giving up anything but we could be sharing.

Wayne Rollins

I am an Episcopal priest serving as Interim Pastor of an ELCA congregation in a small, struggling town in southern Ohio. Our average Sunday attendance is hovering around 50, aging from toddlers to 90+ years. I am part-time, but the congregation kept its parsonage, and provides housing, which makes the part-time salary feasible. I get health insurance through the marketplace, with subsidies. But more than all that, the congregation has a history of being alive in the wider community. A monthly food pantry through Lutheran Social Services, an annual day camp, free of charge to children, a backpack give-away to some 1,700 school children (with the help of a larger congregation in Columbus), and food boxes given to 600 families in December make us “the church that does so much for our community.” A weekly sewing group makes quilts to send for disaster relief wherever they are needed. Yes, our building is aging, but we care for it just as we care for ourselves and others. Life is how you measure it. But last year, I baptized and received more new members (11 total) than I buried or transferred out. Jesus calls us to make disciples, not steal them from the folks down the street. It’s not easy work, but it is, at our core, what we are about. That’s the only statistic we really need to be concerned with. The others just point us toward our own graves.

Jerald Liko

Sounds like a tough vineyard yielding good fruit. God bless you in your labors there!

Jeff Walton

These are dramatic predictions for the ELCA, but in the Episcopal Church we can see many of the same symptoms. 2014 parochial reports show that 53 percent of Episcopal parishes have declined 10 percent or more in the past five years. At the same time, only 18 percent of parishes have grown 10 percent or more in the same time frame. The Episcopal Church will continue to have a strong presence in college towns and major metropolitan areas, but most Episcopal congregations in rural areas and small towns are likely to merge or shutter in the next 20 years. About 45 percent of Episcopal congregations have only part-time or no stipendiary clergy: the economic and demographic pressures on these congregations will only grow with time.

Rich McDonough

I can’t speak for the Lutherans, but certainly the Episcopal church has held fast to the idea that inner city churches must be kept open at all costs. In reality, we have become a society that wants convenience. People have moved to the suburbs and we have not, for the most part, followed. In those areas where we have followed the migration of people, we have maintained strong, vibrant congregations. As for later starting times, that too has some truth to it. My church in Knoxville started at 11 a.m. In Greater Cincinnati, most churches start at 10, and the crowds are much smaller. Possibly the hierarchy could talk to the folks in the pews and find out what we want and what our priorities are?


For me, the time of the Sunday morning service is a huge issue! Many working people no longer adhere to a Monday – Friday 1st shift schedule and must work odd hours which makes Sunday morning mass impossible! 33 years of working a late 2nd shift schedule including every other weekend, and retiring to bed at 3 AM every night I find I cannot get out of bed at 8:30 AM for a 10 AM service. Why are the services so early? I wonder if the time was later would more people attend? Maybe or maybe not.

JC Fisher

My parish (St Michael’s, Carmichael CA) has—in addition to Eucharists at 8 & 10AM—a Eucharist at 5PM Sunday, also. I agree that having an other-than-morning liturgy on Sunday is highly desirable thing.

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