Religion News Service reports that a new Gallup Poll found that Americans’ self-reported church attendance has increased slightly since 2008. When asked “How often do you attend church, synagogue, or mosque?” 43.1 percent of Americans in 2010 said they attended church “at least once a week” or “almost every week.” That’s up from 42.8 percent in 2009 and 42.1 percent in 2008. Researchers previously believed that church attendance rises when economic times are bad. The Gallup data, however, indicates that the opposite may be happening. “There has been well-publicized speculation about the possibility that church attendance has risen over the past two years as Americans became more despondent and worried as a result of the economic recession,” Frank Newport of Gallup writes. “However, trends … reflect just the opposite pattern, with both church attendance and economic confidence increasing from 2008 to 2009, and now into 2010.”
I am not sure we can see a trend here when the increase is so small. With that being said any increase in any area of church life is a good thing. There was a 2.2% increase in baptisms last year which stopped a four year decline. However church membership, Sunday School enrollment, and mission giving, all declined. Thom Rainer says it now takes 46 Baptists a year to win one person to Christ.
We all would like to see a “Great Commission Resurgence” but the truth is it takes more than a vote at a convention to turn this ship around or in some cases to keep her from sinking. There has been much said in recent days about winning the lost and penetrating the darkness, these are good rallying themes. However, there seems to be an absence of conversation about “making disciples” which is the heart of the Great Commission. A few thoughts…
First, let’s disciple the ones the Lord has already sent us. They will be in the pew or chairs this Sunday. What are we doing to help them grow spiritually? Where is the discipleship challenge coming from and what discipleship process is your church utilizing? We need to grow the body of Christ up, mature them, and after that (or while they are in this process of growing up), let’s send them out (“as you go make disciples”). They are already out there…schools, grocery stores, ball fields, work places. The more we make New Testament disciples the more evangelism and witness your church will have as these disciples witness, share, and minister.
So we grow them up, send them out, and those that are won are brought in and we repeat the process. Having healthy disciples produces other healthy disciples. Healthy churches are all about making healthy disciples. Discipleship is not a program, although programs using small groups may facilitate the process. Discipleship is all about relationships, intentional, disciple-making relationships.
Who is working on improving your church’s strategy to grow people up? Are you using Sunday School, small groups, mentoring, home groups or all and more? Someone must lift high the banner of discipleship.
Maybe the Lord wants you to be that person. It starts with one person who disciples one, and then the two disciple two more, and then the four disciple four more and…!!!