So how has the church responded to the decline in church attendance in America? Rev. Terry Forke has just released an excellent article titled, “A Famine of the Word.” CLICK HERE to read the article in its entirety.
In his article he expounds on three movements within American Christianity to combat the problem of declining church attendance. He shares that the first response happened in the 1960’s with Dr. James Kennedy’s Evangelism Explosion.
Following the efforts of Evangelism Explosion, Forke identifies the Church Growth Movement as emerging in the 70’s and continuing up to the 90’s. As most of us know, the Church Growth Movement brought us all sorts of sociological and scientific methodological principles in order to help the church increase in attendance. The movement brought forth books like, “Purpose Driven Church,” by Rick Warren and “Becoming a Contagious Christian,” by Bill Hybels.
Following the Church Growth Movement, Forke identifies another movement called the Emergent Church. He shares that the Emergent Church Movement was in response to the failures of the Church Growth Movement to turn around declining numbers. The Emergent Church Movement shifted from trying to attract people to come to the church to getting the church to go to the people. It was a shift from an attractional model to a missional model.
So the question arises for us now in 2012, after 50-60 years of trying to turn around declining numbers, has all of this worked? Forke comments on this in his article in respect to his own church denomination saying,
“Has the work of these three efforts on behalf of the Church caused a mass movement of the people of this nation to return to the Lord? The statistics previously quoted demonstrate that the Christian Church in the United States of America continues to decline in membership and attendance to this day. The cold hard truth is that, statistically speaking, the Evangelistic, Church Growth, and Emerging Missional movements have had little impact on the attendance and membership numbers of the Church.”
Forke is not the only one that has addressed the failure of these evangelism/growth efforts. Bill Hybel himself responded to a qualitative survey done of his seeker-sensitive church, Willow Creek, saying,
“Some of the stuff that we have put millions of dollars into thinking it would really help our people grow and develop spiritually, when the data actually came back, it wasn’t helping people that much.”
Hybel goes on to say,
“We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become ‘self feeders.’ We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their bible between services, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.”
While the church has been ambitiously trying to turn the trends of declining church attendance something more disturbing has subtly emerged. Christian Smith and Melinda Denton state,
“We have come with some confidence to believe that a significant part of Christianity in the United States is actually only tenuously Christian in any sense that it is seriously connected to the actual historical tradition… It is not so much that U.S. Christianity is being secularized. Rather, more subtly, Christianity is either degenerating into a pathetic version of itself or, more significantly, Christianity is actively being colonized and displaced by quite a different religious faith.” 
For myself, I have actually drank the Kool Aid of the Church Growth Movement and the Emergent Church Movement. I was a part of a church that embraced Rick Warren’s book as a map for evangelism success. I have flirted extensively with the quote-unquote, “hip and supposedly historically authentic emergent church models.” My experiences with both of these movements ended working me up in a frenzy and frankly distracted me from the Gospel. Furthermore, I was so fixated on reversing the tide of church decline and church growth that I failed to think about the quality of Christianity that I was promoting. I regrettably placed quantity ahead of quality. Douglas John Hall comments on this saying,
“I am personally not very much worried about the reduction in numbers where Christianity…[is] concerned. I am far more concerned about the qualitative factor: what kind of Christianity… are we talking about?” 
My friends, while we should be certainly concerned about the decline of numbers in the American Church, we can never forget the Word. Regrettably, I believe that the American Church has embraced quantity at the expense of quality, which has led to a famine of the Word.
I believe the words of the Apostle Paul to the Pastor Timothy are most appropriate for us to heed to and receive,
“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:1-5)
Brothers and sister one thing is for sure, the Church cannot truly grow where the Word of God is not present. Furthermore, the quality and content of the Church is dependent upon the Word. Therefore, proclaim the Word in season and out of season. Whether the church grows or declines, we preach the Word. Whether it is received or rejected, we proclaim the Word. Whether it is popular or politically incorrect, we proclaim the Word. We proclaim the Word for the sake of quality and quantity.
1. Quoted in Kenda Creasy Dean’s book, “Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church.” (Oxford Press, 2010), 3.
Originally Posted on Pastor Matt’s blog, PM Notes