Churches//People

History: A young nation came into it’s 46th year as the sovereign state of the United States of America, the year was 1820. At this point in our nation’s youthful appearance–50 was the new 18, as far as national ages go…–there was approximately 1 church per every 875 Americans. However, during the years 1860-1906, Protestants expanded along with the West. They planted a new church for every 350 people, resulting that in 1900, we had 1 church for every 430 Americans. Obviously this is increased the amount of attendance and involvement by Americans in the local church, so much so that, in 1916, 53% of the US population were “religious adherents” up from 17% at the founding of the nation (1776). 1

At this point though, church planting ceased to increase as it had done over the last century. After WW1, older, established churches which dotted the towns across the nation resisted the addition of new churches in to their “neighborhoods.” We have seen the results of this resistance. Not only is church membership down in Mainline congregations–those that most heavily impeded and apposed new churches–but many churches have had to close their doors in the recent decades. Numbers-wise: 20.4% of Americans attended a church (Catholic, Mainline, or Evangelical) on any given weekend in 1990 and dropped to 17.5% in 2005. Evangelical attendance has only slightly declined: 9.2-9.1% over those 15 years. However, in the same years we saw a net population growth of 52 million people. Illinois alone declined 7.2% in church attendance (Catholic, Mainline, or Evangelical) from 2000-2005. In fact, every state has declined in church attendance between 2000 and 2005. 2

I called the 1st, 2nd, and 47th Wards of Chicago today to do a quick survey of how many churches were in each ward. Each ward contains an average of 56,000 people and 25 churches. This is only 1 church per 2240 residents of these wards. Only the 47th Ward knew of 2 churches that were under 15 years old and both of them have been planted in the last 3 years. The median church size in America is 75 congregants with the average being 185. There are approximately 25 churches in these wards, then that means that between 1,875 and 4,625 out of 56,000 are going to church each weekend. Percentage-wise that’s 3-8%. That’s less than unemployment (8.3% February 2012 national average)!

What in the world!

#FAIL.

Jonah comes to mind. Are we so wrapped up in our own agendas that our hearts don’t break for the lost cities of the world?

But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” And the LORD said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 person who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” (4:8-11)

Conclusion: we need more churches in the great cities of the world.

  1. Keller, Redeemer Church Planting Manual, p 32.
  2. Olson, The American Church Crisis, pp 35-43.

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