This week's "thought" comes to you from a man named W. W. McEad. I know nothing of him, nor have I ever read anything else by him. I simply came across this portion of an article he wrote in a journal for independent churches. I found it an interesting perspective, and one that should (as always) prompt us to re-evaluate our priorities and why we in the church do what we do in the way we do it! The article is entitled, "An Old Paradigm for Reaching America."
I offer it to you for your prayerful consideration. Enjoy! (And if you get a minute let me know what you think of what he says)!
"A paradigm, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, is: 'A set of assumptions, concepts, values and practices that constitutes a way of viewing reality for the community that shares them, especially in an intellectual discipline.'
One of the reasons why by Bible-believing churches in America has fallen so far behind the burgeoning population growth is because of a paradigm shift that took place in the early part of the 20th Century.
Most of us have probably heard, at one time or another, the assertion that Colonial America was a vibrant Christian nation. However, among the four million people in this country in 1790, those who were professing believers and who attended any kind of a church comprised only 5% of the total population.
By 1820, a remarkable change had taken place. Due primarily to the aggressiveness of the and the Baptists in the ministry of church planting, the country had nearly 11,000 congregations for its 9.6 million people. This means there was a church for every 875 people. Just 40 years later, the number of churches had grown to 54,000, with a population of 31.5 million people... The growth rate of the church planting movement exceeded the growth rate of the population.
That was only the beginning. Between 1860 and the beginning of World War I, the number of churches quadrupled to 212,000, while the nation's population grew to 85.4 million. The multiplication of churches far outstripped the growth of the population and at that time provided one church for every 430 citizens.
The Protestant was multiplying at such a rate because its leadership was very deliberate in following the evangelistic stategy of reaching more people for Christ by establishing multiplied thousands of churches. When they considered the , given to the church by the Lord Jesus, the paradigm with which they approached the task included church planting values and practices of the early church in the Book of Acts.
But (then) something changed. Something sinister happened during the first eighty years of the 20th Century. The Prostestant Church in America, that great church planting juggernaut, changed its paradigm. In what appears on the pages of history as an about-face, they began to focus on increasing the size of the churches that already existed instead of planting new ones. Most church groups made severe cuts in their church planting activity and redirected those resources to build up established works. At that point in time, church planting in America began to fall off pace in its ability to stay ahead of the population growth. In 1906, for every net increase of the population in increments of 280 people, there was one church planted. In 1989, the ratio was one church for every 685 people. If that trend continues, the Christian church in America is soon to be an endangered species."
It also helps to remember that since 85% of the growth of large mega-churches comes from transfer growth (that is, people who are already Christian simply switching the pasture they feed in) it really can't be called "." Church growth, in the biblical sense of the word, would signify non-believers being added to the ranks of the church by conversion to Christ, not simply Christians changing church affiliations.
Add to all that the fact that over 150,000 Protestant churches have dissolved or closed their doors in the last 80 years (nearly 2000 per year for the last 80 years) and you'll understand why his words are good food for thought!
McEad does document the source of his figures on early American population and church affliliation using footnotes I have not included, most coming from Paulus Scharpff's, History of , Eerdmans, 1966.
They are similar to the figures found in other credible works such as Eerdmans Handbook to Christianity in America / Sidney Ahlstrom's, A Religious History of the American People (Yale Press) / or America's God by Mark Noll (Oxford).
With prayers for your growth in Christ, and the growth of His church in America and throughout the world, Pastor Jeff
Dr. Jeffrey F. Evans