Movements in the 21st Century
By Craig Branch
May - June 2007
Today reprinted a story from Outreach magazine last year
titled “Special Report: The American
Church in Crisis.” It began, “Attendance is down.
The picture is bleak. New research reveals startling and
sobering facts. What do they mean for you, your church, and
Christianity in America?” (1)
What research? Gallup
statistics show that American church attendance has grown
from 37% in 1996
to 47% in 2006. This is incredible, if it were true.
But other, more valid
studies demonstrate a significant decline, nowhere near
for church attendance.
The difference is something called the “Halo Effect,” which
is the difference between what people tell pollsters and
what people actually do.
When sociologists Kirk Hadaway and Penny Marler inventoried
the actual hard data on actually recorded church attendance,
the numbers dropped from 47% to about 18%, or 52 million
people (66% Protestant, 32% Catholic, 2% Eastern Orthodox).
Tom Rainer, former professor at the Southern Baptist Theological
Seminary and church growth specialist, found that only 6%
of churches were growing while 94% were losing ground.
Ed Stetzer, missiology director of the Southern Baptist
Convention, found that a significant growing number of people
are finding alternative faith communities outside the traditional
church. He numbers them at 24.5% (see my article on the Emerging
Projections based on current trends show that by 2050, church
attendance will drop from 20.4% in 1990 to 11.7% in 2050
(16.6% in 2010, 15.4% in 2020).
These drops are accounted
on the basis of lack of new growth plus the significant
increase in the U.S. population. The
population has increased from 249 million in 1990 to 301
million in 2006, a 52 million increase.
The Presbyterian Church
USA lost 43.5% from 1965-2003. The American Baptists
lost 6.9%, the Disciples of Christ lost
57.2%. (2) The Episcopal Church lost 36,000
in both 2003 and 2004, and 42,000 in 2005. Their average
is 787,000 compared to 2,205,376 members. (3) The United
Methodist Church has lost 6% of its members between 1995-2005
lost another 1.4% in 2006, over 80,000 people.
In 2000, 17.3 million Catholics attended Mass on any given
weekend. By 2006 that declined to 16.5 million, or from 27.9%
to 25.5% of their membership.
The majority of the decline has been in the liberal Protestant
denominations and the Roman Catholic Church. We evangelicals
point out that they have surrendered the inerrancy of the
Bible and thus the life-giving gospel, so no wonder.
But we need to wipe
the smug looks off our faces. The fastest growing evangelical
denomination is the Assemblies of God
who have been only at about a 1% growth a year since 2003.
The Southern Baptist Church showed a .02% increase in 2005
but a 5 year decline in baptisms (new conversions). They
number (on paper) over 16 million, but only 37% on average
show up for Sunday worship each week. (4)
Even my own denomination,
the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), like the Southern
Baptists, known for its commitment
to the authority of Scripture, sound doctrine, and missions
only had a 2.9% membership increase in 2006. We added only
5,683 new adult professions of faith with 240,027 members
in 2006. (5)
The decline in healthy
growth is especially problematic with teenagers and those
20’s. Many teenagers
disengage from the Church when they leave home for college
or work, exercising their independence. But in the past,
most of them came back to the church within a few years.
But Barna’s study
last year revealed now 61% of “twentysomethings” who
had been churched as teens are now spiritually disengaged
from church, Bible study and prayer. (6)
But it gets worse. A
recent New York Times story titled, “Evangelicals
Fear the Loss of Their Teenagers,” reported that evangelical
leaders, on a tour of 44 cities are warning that even “teenagers
are now abandoning the faith in droves.” (7)
research has shown that teenagers whose beliefs fit the evangelical
category, has declined from 10% in 1995 to 4% in 2002. This
is about one-half the percentage of evangelical adults. (8)
The touring evangelical
leaders and youth pastors are saying “teenagers” cannot
compete against a pervasive culture of cynicism about religion,
and the casual ‘hooking up’ approach to sex so
pervasive on MTV, on websites for teenagers and in hip-hop,
rap and rock music.” (9)
Another cause for alarm
is a recent Barna survey that showed American’s views
on fundamental Christian beliefs have waned. There has
been a significant decline in their view
of God, Jesus, Satan, Salvation, and in the practices of
evangelism and Bible reading. (10)
These facts have prompted
the theme of this issue of Areopagus, “Troublesome
Movements in the Church.” Actually the most troublesome
movement for us should be the decline of the American Church,
but because of this decline there have been several other
movements that the decline has generated. Most of the controversial
movements are in response to the deficits or failures in
the Church, but are in some sense, also a result of the decline.
Well known Christian pollster George Barna recently published
a very controversial book, Revolution, which served to help
focus on and reinforce two of the controversial movements
we are covering in this issue. These two movements are the
Emerging Church Movement, and the New Apostolic Reformation
Movement. Barna went beyond reporting and began to analyze
and to champion movements beyond his expertise.
Barna begins with quite
a claim regarding Revolution, “It
is a book about a single trend that is already redefining
faith and the Church in our country. It is about an explosion
of spiritual energy and activity we are calling the Revolution – an
unprecedented reengineering of America’s faith dimension
that is likely to be the most significant transition in the
religious landscape that you will ever experience…the
Revolution is designed to advance the Church and to redefine
the Church.” (11) So does the Church need a revolutionary
redefinement? Obviously something different, some corrective
needs to occur.
The four movements covered in this journal are The Church
Growth Movement (largely identified with seeker-sensitive
approaches of the Saddleback and Willow Creek churches),
The Emerging Church Movement, The New Apostolic Reformation
Movement, and Federal Vision (often called Auburn Ave. theology).
All four of these movements
see themselves as needed reformation movements in the Church.
It is important that we understand
them and to determine to discern in order to separate the “wheat
from the chaff,” for the sake of the Church’s
New movements are usually motivated and characterized by
(1) a dissatisfaction with an existing movement or culture;
(2) a shared commitment to change the existing structure
and replace it with something new; and (3) adherence to and
guided by a foundational theological worldview.
Status quo is not acceptable.
Instead, one of the principles of the original Reformation
is semper refomanda, “always
reforming.” But this concept should not be misapplied
to mean that nothing is ever true or final. The Reformers
believed that the Church had become so corrupt that a radical
change must occur for the restoration and preservation of
more authentic faith and life – a church reformed and
always being reformed according to the truth revealed in
the Word of God.
So these challenging
movements provide important opportunities to reflect and
necessary our understanding our
own calling and collectively the Church’s calling.
What do we need to do to become the vibrant, contagious,
and fruitful congregation of Acts 2:42-48?
But we also must recognize
error and even heresy when it appears and clearly call
to it. We are to “test
everything and hold fast what is good,” and “By
the Holy Spirit who indwells you, guard the good deposit
entrusted to you” (1 Thess. 5:21; 2 Tim. 1:14).
Our first article, “Emerging
Error? An Evaluation of the Emerging Church Movement,” written
by me was a difficult task as I agreed with much of what
they are saying
to the Church , but strongly disagree with the some of their
Barna writes of the
Emergents, “Millions of devout
followers of Jesus Christ are repudiating tepid systems
and practices of the Christian faith and introducing a
shift in how faith is understood, integrated and influencing
the world…They have no use for churches that play
religious games, whether those games are worship services
on without the presence of God, or ministry programs that
bear no spiritual fruit.” (12)
There are some radical and positive challenges and directives
to be learned from the Emergents, but there are also
some significant errors embedded that must be discerned
corrected as well.
Next is an article, “The Package Matters: Problems
with the Church Growth Movement” by Phil Newton, who
was a product of Peter Wagner and Donald McGavran’s
church growth program at Fuller Seminary.
The most notable promoters
of the seeker-sensitive market-driven pragmatic focused
growthers are Willow Creek’s
Bill Hybels and Saddleback’s Rick Warren. Valid issues
are raised regarding the difference between a healthy church
and a numerically growing church. The question is what are
The third article is
written by ARC staffer Keith Gibson. Keith has been ministering
in Kansas City and has seen first
hand the development and effect of a growing pernicious movement
called the New Apostolic Reformation. This group emerged
out of the Prophetic Movement, especially the now infamous
Kansas City Prophets. Peter Wagner who helped develop the
Church Growth Movement at Fuller Seminary, and then John
Wimber’s 3rd Wave Movement, has now digressed to claim
that in order for the Church to recover and prosper, we must
identify and submit to God’s appointed Apostles and
Prophets. This movement is largely predicated on a faulty
understanding of Ephesians 4:11. Referred to as the Five-fold
ministry, they believe that God’s original foundation
of Apostles and Prophets is an ongoing requirement for the
Keith exposes the errors
of some popular leaders (“prophets”)
such as Rick Joyner, Mike Bickle, Bill Hamon, and Dutch Sheets
in his piece, “Speaking for God? A Response to the
Apostolic and Prophetic Movement.” Keith and I are
writing a book on this issue as it has a harmful effect on
the charismatic and non-charismatic communities.
The last article is
written by ARC staffer Brandon Robbins, “Seeing
is Believing: Federal Vision and ‘Objective’ View
of the Christian Faith.” Brandon wrote the article
on the New Perspective on Paul in our last issue of Areopagus
which has some foundational moorings with Federal Vision
Federal Vision has been
somewhat of a issue in the Presbyterian Church of American
and in the Reformed tradition circles.
The PCA and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church just approved
position papers rejecting the FV, but the FV leaders still
claim to be misunderstood and right. Brandon attempts to
correctly understand them and still separate “the wheat
from the chaff.”
There has always been diversity in the Body of Christ. But
we must determine what the Scripture gives as the essential
boundary lines. False teaching can range from fairly insignificant
to fatal heresy.
The leaders of the Church
are given repeated warnings and exhortations to protect
Body from false teachers (and
prophets). We are called to “reprove, rebuke, and exhort
with great patience and instruction” (2Tim. 4:1-5;
3:1-9; 1Tim. 6:3; 4:6-7; Titus 1:11-13; 2:15; 3:9-11).
Heresies provide both a great danger to the health of the
Church, and can also provide a great service to the Church.
They force the Church to seriously reflect on and define
what the Bible actually teaches (2Tim. 3:16-17).
Read carefully and prayerfully
the contents of this journal. But then, do not be the “man who looks intently at
his natural face in the mirror [the conviction from the Word]
and then goes away forgetting” (James 1:23-24).
We are called to a radical, missional lifestyle, seeking
first His kingdom, and to count all things as loss in view
of the surpassing value of knowing Christ and making Him
Branch is director
of the Apologetics Resource Center, Birmingham, Alabama.
Magazine, "Lost Sheep, Bad Shepherds, and Weak
3 The Christian Century Magazine, "Episcopal Membership LosaPrecipitous," John
4 Christian Century, 5/16/06, http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1058/is_10_123/ai_n16462508/print
5 2007 Yearbook of the PCA, Lawrenceville, GA, 2007, p 641.
6 www.barna.org, "Most Twentysomethings Put Christianity on the Shelf Following
Spiritually Active Teen Years."
7 New York Times, Oct. 6, 2006, Laurie Goodson.
8 www.barna.org, "Teens Change Their Tune Regarding Self and Church."
9 Ibid, New York Times, "Evangelicals Fear the Loss of Their Teenagers."
10 www.barna.org, "Barna's Annual Tracking Study Shows Americans Stay Spiritually
Active, But Biblical Views Wane," May 21, 2007.
11 Revolution, George Barna, Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton, IL, 2005, p.
12 Ibid, Revolution, p. 11,13.