While attending a convention a Humanist rather smugly announced that church attendance in the UK is in decline, to which I asked what the attendance at Humanist meetings across the UK was every week, was it higher? Although I confess a certain pleasure at watching his cocky grin disseminate into an awkward grimace he did have a point, but was it accurate?
Many times I have heard the decline of the church denied in a desperate bid to build a positive front, but ultimately even well-meaning denial is self-destructive. The typical spin went along the lines of how this only applies to older denominations such as the Anglicans and the Presbyterians, while the Pentecostals and Charismatics are growing, but nothing could be further from the truth. There are Church of England services that are packed out and Salvation Army meetings growing while Pentecostal buildings go up for sale. Of course there are pentecostal churches experiencing growth, but this is down to the people rather than the label! Churches made up of immigrants are obviously growing, but it simply cannot be denied that the formal UK church overall is in decline.
Having said all that there is a fundamental flaw in these statistics and that is the complete misunderstanding as to what a biblical church is. A biblical church and a constituted church are not necessarily the same. Last year I addressed reasons why people don’t go to church, but ‘go to church’ was just a catch phrase, in truth you can not go to church you can only be church! The UK’s constituted churches are in decline and that is old hat, but what is new are the new statistics that identify a huge group of people as ‘de-churched.’ These are Christians who were actively involved in church life, but have stopped going. What is extraordinary is that the number of openly ‘de-churched’ people is higher than all of the regular church attenders and irregular attenders put together. Historically these people were simply written off as backsliders or rebels, how convenient, but when there are more Christians outside constituted churches than inside perhaps a bit of humility is called for.
When more self professing Christians don’t go to formal UK churches than do go, we had best ask the question, what is church? In the bible the only people who treasured denominations, institutions and constitutions were the Pharisees and Sadducees! Jesus hated and exposed the hypocrisy of putting these things over and above God’s Word, God’s people and all God expects. He was all for being properly organised and proved this when feeding the thousands, but Jesus was seriously non diplomatic with those who put their religious organisations and positions first.
Without doubt some people leave constituted churches for the wrong reasons, but it would be pretty arrogant to suggest they all do! Is it even possible that God is behind this shift and trying to tell us something? The New Testament pattern wasn’t based on extra biblical constitutions, albeit well-meaning ones, but rather relationships, evangelism, study and the Holy Spirit. These people did not go to church, they were the church! They preached the gospel, cast out demons, often saw the sick healed and even spoke in tongues. In other words, there is nothing biblical the church can do that the ‘de-churched’ can’t do! Add the de-churched who walk with God to your sums and it could be God’s UK church is not in decline at all!
Excellent short video by Matt Chandler on what makes the De-churched