I know that not everyone reading my blog is from the Christian Reformed Church denomination. Still, I hope that my blog will touch a nerve with you. The trends I share from the CRC are similar to many other denominations.
I recently checked out some startling numbers on our denominations website regarding the growth of the CRC since 1963. One document was especially helpful. Click here to get to the website to download the Word document. At first glance, the numbers of congregational growth are encouraging. In 1963, there were 583 CRC churches with 256,000+ members. In 2012, almost 50 years later, the number of congregations has almost doubled to 1,099.
However, this apparent growth changes perspective when one sees that the CRC has actually 4,000 less members today than we did in 1963. Today the CRC has 251,727. Since 2001, the CRC has declined in membership each year. One could spend hours and a few dissertations dissecting all the reasons for this drop in membership. One issue is the number of brothers and sisters who left the CRC in the mid-1990s. Then there are sociological reasons such as parents having fewer children or the rising number of deaths per year. Then there are church plants that ended up in another denomination. Still, the general trend does not look good.
Now, it may be helpful to know that the membership decline the CRC is currently experiencing is one felt by most denominations. That may not be comforting to know, but it is a helpful observation. The decline in membership is occurring although the population in Canada and the United States over the last 50 years has soared. So one questions: How do we reverse this trend?
The answer, I think, is quite simple. We grow by making disciples faster than the rate at which people are dying. That may be putting it too bluntly, but it’s true. The ‘transference of the saints’ (aka ‘church hopping’) will always exist. Christians move and join new churches and different denominations. As the stats show, transfer in and transfer out is relatively the same each year. We could try to grow by having more children, but sociological trends show that this is not a plausible option. So what is? It’s our Missional Mandate. It is our mandate to make disciples so that people who do not know Christ today will know Christ tomorrow!
I’m encouraged to discover that one growing trend in the CRC is that we are growing in the area of evangelism. In 1964, 964 people became new believers through the CRC. Although the numbers fluctuated over the past 50 years, the general trend is that we are growing in this area. Last year, for example, 3,036 people came to faith through evangelism. That, my friends, is a number I hope to see grow exponentially over the next few years.
So the question I leave with you is simple: If you are a believer, regardless of which denomination, how will you allow the Lord to use you to make disciples today?