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Author Biography: Thomas E. Trask is general superintendent of the Assemblies of God and chairman of the Pentacostal World Conference. A graduate of North Central Bible College, Minneapolis, MN, he served 25 years as a pastor and was superintendent of the Michigan district and general treasurer of the Assemblies of God before election to lead the fellowship in 1993. He came into office calling for a fresh Pentecostal revival in the Assemblies of God.
Wayde I. Goodall is the pastor of a congregation of several thousand in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He frequently speaks at conferences, ministers' seminars, and retreats. He has authored and co-authored nine books.
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Why isn't the church in the United States growing? In many places around the world, we see Christianity growing in unprecedented numbers; however, in America we are at a standstill. Church attendance has suffered a five-year decline, sinking to its lowest level in two decades. In a recent survey, only 37 percent of Americans reported going to church on a given Sunday. Attendance peaked in 1991 at 49 percent, dropping to 47 percent in 1992, 45 percent in 1993, 42 percent in 1995, and is now at 37 percent. W. Charles Arn, president of Church Growth, Inc., reports that not one county in the United States has a higher percentage of churched persons than it did ten years ago. According to pollster George Barna, "We are seeing Christian churches lose entire segments of population: men, singles, empty nesters . . . and people who were raised in mainline Protestant churches.
In the periodical Monday Morning Reality Check, Justin Long reported that Christianity "is losing its share of the total population." Long did add, however, that some of the different religious traditions within Christianity do have a higher growth rate. Independent and nonwhite indigenous churches have an annual growth rate of 1.6 percent; evangelical churches, 1.12 percent; Pentecostal churches, 1.3 percent. Great Commission churches, which focus on evangelism and missions, enjoy a 1.06 percent growth rate. Unfortunately, this group only represents 25 percent of the total number of Christians in North America.
Even the highest growth rates within the Christian traditions do not come close to matching the growth rates various non-Christian religions and philosophies are experiencing. In the U.S., Buddhism is growing at an annual rate of 2.75 percent, while Hinduism is winning converts even faster, expanding at 3.38 percent. Nonreligious people have a growth rate of 1.1 percent, and atheists have a stable 2 percent rate of growth. The Christian Science Monitor reported that "in just the last 10 years, the number of English-language Buddhist teaching centers has grown from 429 to 1, 166. There may be as many as three to five times that many informal Buddhist study groups. Sociologists also estimate that between half a million and one million Americans of Jewish or Christian background (excluding Asian immigrants) utilize Buddhist practices." Newsweek reported that "the estimated Muslim population in the U.S. is 6 million and growing. . . . By 2110, the number of Muslims will surpass the number of Jews in the country, making it America's second-largest faith after Christianity." Mary Rourk of the Los Angeles Times stated, "With almost no fanfare, the United States is experiencing its most dramatic religious transformation in this century. What had been a nation steeped in the Judeo-Christian tradition is fast becoming the most spiritually diverse country in the world. 'More religions are being practiced in the United States than any place else,' says Paul Griffiths, a professor of philosophy of religions at the University of Chicago.' "
Why is the Christian church as a whole declining in America while other philosophies or religions seem to be more attractive? Could it be that non-Christians watch the lives of Christians and are not convinced that Christians are any different than followers of any other religion or of the popular New Age movement, and thus Christianity cannot fulfill their emptiness and search for the living God? Christian statistician George Barna thinks this is a distinct possibility. He recently wrote:
American society is attributable to the fact that relatively few committed Christians model authentic, biblical Christianity for others to observe and experience. However, this lack of influence through example is not an intentional rejection of the opportunity to be a role model or representative of faith. Christians do not influence the lives of other people, and consequently have little impact on the national culture, primarily because they have failed to integrate their spiritual beliefs and their behavior. In the end, Christianity is perceived by most Americans to be a benign religious form that is largely irrelevant to their struggles in life. This perspective is facilitated by the behavior of Christians.
This knowledge might not set well with you; it didn't with us. However, we must wake up to the possibility that when our life does not demonstrate the reality of Jesus, then our verbal witness will have little or no effect. When people observe that our behavior demonstrates little or no difference from the non-Christian's, they likely will ask why they should become a part of Christianity or choose Christianity over another fast-growing religion, such as Mormonism, Islam, or the New Age movement, when they see stronger commitments, great sincerity, and lifestyle differences within these other groups. Barna comes to this conclusion: "Christianity is not losing influence in America because it is overmatched by the challenges of the day; it is losing its impact because believers have been unsuccessful at merging faith and lifestyle outside the walls of the church. Non-believers expect us to have different religious beliefs and practices; those differences fail to impress them. Only when those beliefs and practices shape our every other walk of life do they sit up and take notice."
In America we have tried to Christianize all people. I have heard numbers that say as many as 80 percent of the people in America claim to be "born again." This is wrong. People might feel they are Christians because they are good, their parents are Christians, or they were baptized when they were a baby or a young child. But they have never made an unswerving commitment to Christ, had a life change, and borne fruit that gives evidence that they are followers of Jesus Christ.
Table of ContentsContents
Part One -- Tough Questions
1. What Do You Value Most?
2. Whose Kingdom Are You Building?
3. Who Sets Your Agenda?
Part Two -- Embracing God's Vision
4. The Beginning of the End
5. The Look of Love
6. Paradise Lost
7. God's Strategic Plan
Part Three -- What You Can Do
8. Show and Tell
9. Improving the Odds
Part Four -- Living in Transition
10. The Devil's Last Days Strategy
11. The Millennial Mandate