There is no shortage of opinions on why the Church of the Nazarene (and most other churches) in the USA/Canada is in decline. The downward trajectory has been at work for a while. I wrote about the disturbing trend nearly a year ago and submitted my own two cents into the debate that we need to get back to good old fashioned evangelism (you can read it here). I still think that is true.
Too many have read this opinion and concluded: If the clergy were more evangelistic then the church would be growing again. Preachers need to preach more evangelistically. Pastors need to spearhead new and better evangelistic efforts. Send our ministers to conferences on reaching the millennials, train them what to do and all will be well. But is that the answer?
Here are a few interesting statistics:
Over the last decade, the Church of the Nazarene grew in five of the six regions. Only the USA/Canada region saw a decline. The most impressive growth came in these three regions:
South America 55.98%
And just so you know, the USA/Canada region dropped 4.57% over the same period.
Now check out this statistic that compares Organized churches and Not Yet Organized churches with the number of elders and the number of churches per elder on the region:
Region Org Not yet Elders Elders per church
Africa 4656 3973 1569 5.53
Eurasia 3973 1728 858 9.93
South Am 2419 372 1645 1.7
USA/Can 4602 734 11,104 .48
The fastest growing areas of the church have more churches than elders. In the case of Eurasia there are nearly 10 churches per elder. But in the USA/Canada, the numbers are reversed with over 2 elders per church.
What does this mean?
The short answer: We have too many preachers.
The long answer: When the churches did their best in the USA there were fewer ordained elders. Lay people took on leading children and youth ministries. Lay people were involved in evangelism (anyone remember Evangelism Explosionor The Master’s Plan of Evangelism?). The ministries of the church were driven by the members of the church. People had more time and they used their time for the work of the Lord. Churches also had less money and needed the free labor of the ministry volunteers to carry on the mission.
Then the church became more affluent. Paid clergy replaced free lay people. People became busy with their lives. So much so, that we now count ourselves happy if “regular attenders” show up 1.7 timers a month for a one hour worship service. When people are less involved, they have less ownership, less commitment and tend to be more critical of the work that is being done.
Maybe the answer to our lack of growth and lack of commitment is less preachers, not more. The key to growth is discovering how to involve our people and get them to take more ownership in the ministries of the church. Fulfilling the Great Commission to make disciples is not simply the task of clergy but of all believers. We Protestants need to reclaim the belief in the Priesthood of all believers and re-engage the laity in the work of the church.
Seminaries and church leaders see the writing on the wall that in 15 years we will have a clergy crisis in the USA/Canada. Today’s clergy are old and getting older. In 15 years, they will retire or die off. Moreover, many of the baby boomer members, who are paying much of today’s church bills, will be retired, on fixed incomes or have passed on. In other words, in a decade and a half the church will have less preachers and less money to spend.
This soon-to-be-here storm may not be the end of the church as feared, but could actually be good news. With less money and less available clergy, lay people will be forced to take on more leadership and more of a role in the ministries of the church once more. Will they? Well, that’s the big question, but the health, life and future of the church in USA/Canada will depend on an engaged laity making disciples and reclaiming their role in the Church of Jesus Christ.