christian church disciples

August 20, 2019

Disciples of Christ Claim Distinction of Fastest Declining Church

Oldline Protestant denominations make for a competitive peer group, but the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is on track to claim the top spot for fastest declining major U.S.-based church last year.

Total membership declined from 411,140 in 2017 to 382,248 (-7%) while average worship attendance declined from 139,936 to 124,437 (-11%) according to numbers reported for 2018. Baptisms dropped from 4,344 to 3,782 (-13%) while the number of other additions (including transfers in) declined from 7,441 to 6,969 (-6.4%).

At the current rate, the denomination will shrink by another 50 percent within a decade. This annual rate of decline exceeds that of the Presbyterian Church (USA) which reported a nearly 5 percent membership drop for the year 2018 and held the distinction of “fastest declining” for much of the decade.

The dramatic decline doesn’t appear to be registering among top denominational officials.

“I am genuinely hopeful for the future of this Church,” wrote the Rev. Teresa “Terri” Hord Owens, General Minister and President in an August 15 reflection following the denomination’s biannual General Assembly. “I saw signs of life and growth everywhere, of Disciples who are learning to abide whether that means waiting with expectation or tarrying a while in the Presence.”

Owens described the denomination’s members as “primed for growing into what the Lord has in mind for us – to become a healing, helping force for good in this fragmented world.” Addressing sustained decline that has shed 80 percent of members since the denomination crested in 1964 did not appear to be a concern: “We must continue to abide, to remain, to persist.”

Denominational officials strongly embrace social justice causes. At a post-Assembly rally at the Iowa Capitol, Disciples’ public policy groups joined with ecumenical and interfaith partners on the religious left to proclaim support for government directed poverty alleviation programs. The denomination also embraces a sanctuary movement to shield illegal immigrants from law enforcement, supports LGBT causes, and partners with an “Indigenous womxn-led collective” to “shift social and environmental paradigms by dismantling colonial institutions and replacing them with Indigenous practices.”

The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, co-leader of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, spoke at the rally and Assembly closing celebration.

The July 20-24 General Assembly gathering in Des Moines, Iowa included a resolution to receive the gifts of those with “gender-diverse identities”.

“God is further known to us as the male-bodied Jesus embodying God’s feminine Wisdom; and as the non-gendered Spirit,” the resolution reads.

The shrinking denomination has not engaged in public discussion about a potential merger with another church body, but did vote to enter a full-communion ecumenical relationship with the United Church of Canada. The agreement allows for the free movement of clergy between the churches, and recognizes each’s sacraments of Baptism and Communion. Both churches already have a similar agreement with the United Church of Christ (UCC), which also shares a public policy office with the Disciples.

One of several groups that grew out of the Restoration Movement, begun in the early 19th century by Barton Stone and Thomas and Alexander Campbell, the Disciples are the smallest of seven historic oldline Protestant denominations. Prominent members have included Presidents Ronald Reagan, Lyndon Johnson and James Garfield. You can view my coverage of the Disciples’ 2016 membership report here and 2017 report here.

The 2018 numbers were provided by the Office of General Minister and President and appear in the 2019 Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) yearbook. One caveat with these numbers: the denomination changed to an online reporting format this year and experienced a small decline in reporting congregations. The denomination does not estimate for congregations that do not report, unlike some denominations that roll over the previous year’s congregational report if new information is not received.


46 Responses to Disciples of Christ Claim Distinction of Fastest Declining Church

  1. David says:

    There are greater trends in society that might affect membership rather than the recent gay, etc. issues. Fraternal organization have been in decline for decades. The largest, the Freemasons, reached a peak around 1960. The Methodist Church reached its peak a decade after this, though a merger delayed matters. There is the rise of the “Nones,” those that express no affiliation with any denomination and often engage in no observances. These are approaching a quarter of the population and are slightly more numerous than Catholics or Evangelicals. There is also declining birthrates with many Mainline Churches having been below replacement level for decades. It would seem the culture of the 1960s greatly influenced society. We should not fixate on sexual matters as being the only cause of church decline.

    • Palamas says:

      No, sexual matters are not the only cause of decline. In the case of the Disciples, it has a lot to do with a more generalized abandonment of anything even remotely resembling orthodox Christianity on the part of many congregations and the denomination as a whole. Sexual heresy is only part of a larger story.

    • Steve says:

      Here comes one of those anecdotal testimonies:
      Sexual issues may not be the only thing, but I can tell you, that in our large Episcopal Church, once Gene Robinson was ordained the up to that point well attended contemporary service immediately stopped being well attended. Lots of people left and the service has not recovered.

    • Steve says:

      To provide something a little less anecdotal, here’s an article containing a chart of Episcopal Church attendance from 1991 to 2010. Gene Robinson’s ordination as bishop was in 2003. As may be seen, attendance was actually slowly increasing until 2000, then suddenly entered a steep decline. Why would people want to bring their kids to a church that is basically grooming their kids to be something other than heterosexual and non-promiscuous? Certainly there are some extreme social justice warriors out there that are always looking for attention, but the average parent would prefer to have grandchildren, great-grandchildren, etc bearing some of their genes. Also, they would prefer that their kids be in an environment less conducive to pedophilia.

        • David says:

          The article does not address the age of members. The graph might even be interpreted to show old folks keeping up attendance, but these eventually died or were unable to make it to church. There is also the question of small numbers affecting the percentage of change. Congregations with few members can show greater decline than larger ones with identical numerical loss of members.

          • Steve says:

            Well, the chart is from the Episcopal Church, if it would have been helpful to break it down by age presumably they would have.
            In my anecdotal experience from my own largeish Episcopal Church, around 2000 the typical congregant was middle aged with kids. There weren’t many of them dying (if any). Fast forward to the present. The average congregant is now retirement age or older. The time from 2000 forward was a time of inability to get more than a few new families with children (preceded by lots of families with children leaving). The church is now poised for a mass extinction event, which should result in a much greater rate of decline in coming years, even worse if clergy drives people out before they die.

          • Steve says:

            I continue to try and find less anecdotal demographic information for you: this is an Episcopal Church report from 2014, so its old, but hopefully instructive:
            https://www.episcopalchurch.org/files/episcopal_congregations_overview_2014.pdf
            As may be seen, as of the time of the report, the Episcopal Church was reporting that 31% of its members were age 65+, compared to only 14% of the population as a whole. That’s not as bad as my prior post indicated; guessing lots of people are not quite 65 yet. They don’t breakdown ages more than that (presumably they would if the news was good).

          • Steve says:

            Actually there is a bar chart in that doc that breaks the ages down into five age segments: its showing 24% of members being between the ages of 50 and 64 (among others). Was able to find the 2005 version of the same doc for comparison purposes:
            https://www.episcopalchurch.org/files/Episcopal_Overview_FACT_2005.pdf

          • Steve says:

            Having looked at both charts, the age distribution in 2005 and 2014 is remarkably similar (those 65+ years old only went up a few percent). The Episcopal Church appears to have lost membership fairly evenly across all age groups during that time period. I haven’t been able to find similar information for the time before Gene Robinson’s installation as bishop, but extrapolation of what we do have suggests the age distribution would be similar.

      • JR says:

        You think parents don’t love their gay kids?

        Maybe they shouldn’t have any gay kids if they feel that way. And the only way that you can be sure of that is to not have any kids at all. Celibacy is advocated by Paul, after all…

        • Steve says:

          Are you ever going to expressly disavow pedophilia? Every time I mention it you change the subject.

          • JR says:

            Huh? I don’t recall that at all. But for the record:

            In the strongest terms, I disavow pedophilia. It’s spoken against quite strongly in the Bible as well, not that I need that particular backup. I claim that pedophilia is about as bad as it gets from my point of view.

            And it’s also not the same thing as being gay. Do you agree with that statement?

          • Steve says:

            JR:
            i don’t know how you couldn’t remember considering the post you were responding to ended with the word “pedophilia”; I suppose you’re just responding to posts you haven’t actually read maybe? And yeah, I agree that gay does not equal pedophilia (although almost I am mindful that almost all of the rampant pedophilia in the Catholic Church has been homosexual in nature). Would you also agree that elementary school age children should be able to have a childhood, meaning free of sexual indoctrination, and pressure to grow up too fast?

          • JR says:

            “Would you also agree that elementary school age children should be able to have a childhood, meaning free of sexual indoctrination, and pressure to grow up too fast?”

            100% agreed. I can’t think of anyone I know who would disagree with that statement.

            You still seem to be leading towards a conflation of pedophilia and homosexuality. I’m not trying to put words in your mouth, but I’m skeptical of your next step after the quote above.

          • Steve says:

            Next step? Just that I think LGBT affirming churches are doing that thing that we agree should not be done, which is to sexualize young children and thereby deprive them of the childhood that I and hopefully you were privileged to have, and that has caused parents to take their kids and flee. I understand that you may think these parents’ efforts to protect their children’s childhood may be misguided (I don’t), but I think it was entirely predictable that overly enthusiasm emphasis on LGBT issues would shrink the church. In that regard, one of the best headlines to an article on this subject: “How to Shrink Your Church in One Easy Step”. (Article isn’t bad either.)

          • JR says:

            And there we go, again conflating homosexuality with pedophilia – which you have already agreed was not the same thing. That’s what I saw coming – back to the old trope that the gays are recruiting children.

            It certainly has happened. It certainly has been an issue for the Catholic church. Pushing that onto other denominations seems to be a pretty big stretch.

            On the other hand, I was skimming through some of your attachments:

            “Predominantly liberal and somewhat liberal
            churches are somewhat more likely to have
            experienced growth during the last five years
            than more conservative congregations.”

            https://www.episcopalchurch.org/files/Episcopal_Overview_FACT_2005.pdf [Last page]
            In the prior page:

            “Churches with greater involvement in
            recruitment activity are more likely to have
            experienced growth in membership and
            worship attendance.”

            So as of 2005, in the Episcopal church, more liberal congregations were more likely to be growing; and those congregations that emphasized growth experienced growth. I think there’s a pretty straightforward formula there. I’d be interested to see if later surveys showed the same outcomes.

            My experience, as a father, is that the stronger the anti-gay bias (I am in the northeast), the less likely to have a young population. A solid pro-LGBTQ message, where there’s no difference between a gay couple or a straight couple, is attracting young families. Even just when the default message is anti-gay (but the church isn’t strongly proclaiming either way) is driving off the families.

          • Steve says:

            Quite to the contrary, I did not conflate gays and pedophilia, but it will hardly be the first time you’ve misrepresented my remarks. All I’m saying that elementary children should not be subjected to gay sexual propaganda or instruction. There recently were Islamic parents in Britain in the news complaining about this regarding the public schools. Their concerns in this department were respected, non-Muslim parents similar concerns were dismissed summarily. The horrifying history of pedophilia in almost all churches combined including coverups and lies don’t inspire much trust that the same institutions will bring an appropriate level of sensitivity regarding the instruction of young children.

          • Steve says:

            In any case, if your church is LGBT affirming and it’s actually bringing people into your church (or your think it does), I certainly understand the vociferous opining you do here but I can’t help thinking its counterintuitive generally. I can only hope you and everybody else at your church are respectful of the need for children to have a childhood and the common sense and discipline to ensure that is the case.

          • Steve says:

            Oh, besides being counterintuitive, all the data I’ve ever seen seems to the contrary to me. I am aware that in some urban areas that the LGBT affirmation can be a draw in some churches, but I tend to assume that they will be more popular with the childless, which you also see more of in the liberal urban areas you mention.

          • Steve says:

            Inasmuch as you think no other denominations have issues with pedophilia:
            https://virtueonline.org/ecusa-history-sexual-abuse-clergy
            Or this:
            https://virtueonline.org/clergy-sexual-abuse-roman-catholic-church-just-rampant-church-england
            You do know that the archbishop of canterbury was just forced to testify as to the Church of England’s coverups of pedophilia? He wasn’t a great witness IMHO.
            I could go on and on.

          • Steve says:

            You mentioned that you would like to see a later chart and see if the findings are the same; please note that I did provide a link for a later chart, from 2014; unfortunately that is the most recent one I could find; here’s also another one from 2010; it also suggests a greater likelihood of growth for highly liberal churches. https://www.episcopalchurch.org/files/Episcopal_Overview_FACT_2010.pdf
            Mind you, they don’t say how many churches experienced growth nor how much they grew; despite the large percentage for highly liberal churches, the actual number of churches and the amount of growth isn’t specified, nor what highly liberal means in practice. I see the 2014 version makes a similar claim at the end.
            I don’t necessarily place a lot of weight on the odd statistical segments in these studies that often appear crafted to advocate for a preordained outcome while obscuring the original data. The different music type segments are particularly crude. My anecdotal experience is that the things these studies suggest will work, don’t, possibly because slavish adherence to the outcome of these studies doesn’t take into account local differences, possibly because the studies’ premises are simply invalid.
            I’ll try and find more like these at some point.

          • JR says:

            Okay, we’re talking in circles:

            “All I’m saying that elementary children should not be subjected to gay sexual propaganda or instruction.”

            Please define “gay sexual propaganda or instruction.”

            Once we have that baseline, we can honestly move forward.

          • JR says:

            Side note:
            the pedophilia issue in general with clergy is wholly despicable (even more so that with non-clergy).

            The Catholic church has certainly been bashed pretty hard on that point. I didn’t claim that no other denominations have had similar issues; I am of the opinion that those are fewer (proportionally) and less likely to be covered up. I’m certainly willing to have my opinion changed on that point, but a list of offenses (some of which go back more than 50 years) doesn’t give me enough evidence to change my mind on that point right now.

          • Steve says:

            “Moreover, the group has expansive aims. ‘We are going to groom the next generation,’ one participating drag queen stated. Events involve drag queens asking children, ‘Who wants to be a drag queen when they grow up?’…Tausz goes on, “Videos of past story hours reveal pornographic adult entertainment, provocative outfits, sexual dancing.” I’m not going to read the rest of that sentence. I’m also not going to mention some of the explicit sexual messaging that comes later in this article. “It’s hard to interpret this adult entertainment as sweet, especially when the librarians hosting these events sometimes fail to do proper background checks. Two of the queens featured in story hours in Houston where later exposed as convicted sex offenders and pedophiles.”…If you think it’s no big deal that there is now drag queen story time in the public libraries for young children not only in the coastal liberal communities but also in red state cities as well, if you think it’s no big deal that sexual perversion is now being celebrated for young children dressed up in a direct rejection of the so called gender binary, if that doesn’t represent a cultural crisis to you, then I simply have to press the question even harder. Answer it honestly. What then would it take for you to recognize a cultural crisis?”
            https://virtueonline.org/drag-queen-story-hour-cultural-crisis-or-not-massive-restructuring-entire-moral-universe-america

          • JR says:

            Well, for perspective, I’d prefer that LGBTQ+ children get to see that people who are ‘different’ can be accepted in society. Because one of the alternates directly leads to the high rates of suicide among that population.

            Now, I agree that a) the libraries having these story hours should have a solid handle on what’s allowed and not allowed, and b) should apply a solid standard with respect to background checks (i.e. if you want to have proof of a recent background check, that’s got to apply to anyone doing a story hour).

            I do find it interesting that you ignored the conservative backlash in Houston. Here’s the whole quote, including the note about the background check:

            “In Houston, organizers disbanded a drag event unaffiliated with the nonprofit after a series of unnerving events that included death threats, the removal of an armed protestor from a reading, and the revelation that a past performer was a registered sex offender.” In parenthesis, then the paper says, “The organizer said background checks not been conducted on its earliest performers.”

            Death threats? Armed protestor at a children’s story hour? I find those more disturbing to a ‘normal childhood’ than a drag queen reading a book.

          • JR says:

            I think that’s awesome, but doesn’t fit your parameters.

            “”I think that we should say that everybody’s different and we should accept people for their differences and that we should treat them as we would treat anybody else with just different tastes….Some people like pizza. Some people don’t like pizza. Some people dress up like women. Some people dress up like men.”

            1) I don’t see any problem with that, and
            2) as both cases cited (Boston and Virginia Beach) were wholly voluntary, I don’t see how you can honestly complain about it being propaganda forced on the kids.

            Your only argument there could be ‘those are horrid parents for subjecting their kids to that’.

            As long as the story hours in question are properly advertised as such (Story Hour this week: Drag queen Shesa Mann; Story Hour next week: Baptist minister Rev. J. W. McKnight), where’s the issue?

            I wouldn’t want to have a drag queen going into a public school to advocate for kids to become drag queens without specific oversight, much like I’m leery of ROTC in public schools (and I was in ROTC in college). But having drag queens (or military personnel) in public schools to discuss particular challenges, diversity, etc doesn’t bother me in the slightest. It’s all about the context.

          • Steve says:

            Recently came across this article: it goes to my general thought that we are headed towards the legalization of some activities currently considered pedophilia:
            “Exploiting Minors Is the Real Problem
            There are deep issues in the gay male community about this type of relationship. In 2017, the top gay porn search word, for example, was “daddy.” The Advocate titled a guide for younger men, “29 Things You Should Look for in a Daddy: It takes a lot more than bedroom prowess to make a happy and healthy daddy-son relationship.”
            In Queerty, the same author referring to the former youth pastor as “perverted” wrote an article titled, “PHOTOS: Gay Daddies And Their Sexy Sons Together On Father’s Day.” Yet another Queerty article is titled, “Six Pro Tips For Being The Best Daddy For Your Boy.” The language, the culture, the fetishized sub-culture, and so on fixate on the specific idea of adult men and teenage boys engaging sexually.
            While most of the criticism is dismissed as discomfort with “age-gaps” within relationships, the issue is the cultural celebration of the exploitation of teenage boys who are incapable of making adult decisions. ”
            https://thefederalist.com/2019/08/23/lgbt-activists-vilify-pastor-arrested-enacting-plot-celebrated-gay-movie/

          • Steve says:

            And here’s another:
            Why is LGBT media normalizing quasi-pedophilia?
            by Brad Polumbo
            August 15, 2019 02:37 PM
            https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/why-is-lgbt-media-normalizing-quasi-pedophilia

          • JR says:

            What’s a Sugar Daddy?

            [I’m uncomfortable with the language you note above as being quasi-pedophilia, but it’s not unique now/ever to gay subculture.]

            I don’t see any way that pedophilia is going to become actually legal in the US. Certainly there can be arguments about age of consent; certainly there are going to be issues across the board (Jeffrey Epstein, cough cough).

            It seems you are pressing a homophobic point, trying to make pieces fit an argument.

    • “It would seem the culture of the 1960s greatly influenced society.”
       
      Indeed it did, but the Mainline Protestant Churches failed to recognize what it meant.  First, there had been hitherto a positive cultural pressure to at least present oneself as a Christian and to attend church services at least occasionally (especially on the two big Sundays of the year—Easter and the Sunday preceding Christmas).  Second, there had been for nearly a century a rising criticism in the academy—first in the secular universities and colleges, and later in the seminaries and other institutions of higher learning of the Church—against the Scriptures and the supernatural doctrines taught therein.  Reason, science, and progress were on the rise, as were the secular philosophies that undergirded them, and the Mainline Protestant Church failed to rise to the challenge to confront them and refute their spurious claims.  Instead, the seminaries of the Mainline increasingly filled their professorships with men (and later women also) well-versed in alternative “interpretations” that intentionally downplayed the supernatural in Scripture—especially the Inerrancy of Scripture, the Virgin Birth, the Substitutionary Atonement, the Bodily Resurrection, and Miracles of any sort.  The notion that man in his sin was separated from God apart from faith in self-sacrifice of the sinless Son of God made flesh was increasingly appalling to Mainline Protestant clergy, who subsequently stopped preaching it from their pulpits.  Yet because there was a positive cultural pressure to attend church, and because so many of the Mainline pulpits offered the increasingly secular public an alternative to the supernaturalism of Christianity, the increasingly unbelieving pastors did not want for a congregation.
       
      Then in the 1960s, four things began to happen.  First, beginning in areas dominated by secular thought, the pressure to present oneself as a Christian began to ebb, and marginal churchgoers dropped out of going to church altogether.  Second, the sexual revolution happened: The same paradigm shift that relieved the pressure to present oneself as a Christian also loosened the cultural taboos on sexual intercourse outside of marriage.  A decade later, the divorce rate, which had been rising steadily since the turn of the century, plateaued, and a decade after that, the marriage rate (as in the numbers of marriages per 1000 people) began to fall.  Then a decade after that, the Internet began making pornography, which had been culturally discouraged, even during the early years of the sexual revolution, available to every home in America, and one could view it without the public embarrassment of purchasing a salacious magazine from a convenience store.  And not coincidentally, a decade after that, homosexuality began to become a culturally acceptable lifestyle.  Thirdly, the Conservative/Liberal tensions that had persisted in the Mainline Protestant denominations since Theological Liberalism began subverting the American Church during Reconstruction reached a critical breaking point.  Weary from incessant infighting with those with whom they did not see eye-to-eye on essential doctrines of the Christian faith, Traditional, Orthodox, and Evangelical Christians of every Mainline Protestant denomination began leaving Progressive parishes and dioceses, both corporately and individually, either for more churches in more Traditional, Orthodox, or Evangelical Protestant denominations, or for the (more conservative) Roman Catholic Church, or for the rapidly exploding nondenominational megachurches that began appearing on the American landscape.  Fourthly, Modernism and its confidence in science and human progress gave way to Postmodernism and its deep skepticism in authoritative institutions—especially organized religion.  As a result of these four factors, membership in the Mainline Protestant denominations began an unmitigated decline.
       
      And yet, the formerly Mainline Church failed to recognize that judgment had been passed on her.  With the same gusto that Theologically Liberal clergy embraced the scorn of the supernatural during the last century of the Modern Age, Progressive clergy have embraced the sexual immorality that has characterized the Postmodern Age—often without losing the scorn of the supernatural in the Bible that they inherited from their Theologically Liberal forebears.  Essentially, they have continued doing the same old things that Liberal Protestants did in the late Modern Age, but to diminishing results and empty pews.  They have tried every tactic they could think of to reverse this dismal course, except humbly repenting of their whoring after the spirit of the age and returning to God’s call to believe the Bible and preach the Gospel of repentance and forgiveness through exclusive faith in the atoning work of Christ on the Cross.
       
      A century ago, William Ralph Inge, an Anglican priest, professor of divinity at Cambridge University, and Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral, famously remarked, “Whoever marries the spirit of this age will find himself a widower in the next.”  The formerly Mainline Protestant denominations are bound and determined to prove him right.

      • JR says:

        I’m not convinced that the availability of pornography via the internet is a causational factor in homosexual lifestyle gaining acceptability.

        Various legal challenges to laws that were highly restrictive were successful in the 80’s and 90’s; similarly the “known gay culture” changed dramatically in that same period due to the AIDS epidemic.

        Those factors, along with media exposure (Will & Grace, et al) normalized gay persons within American culture. I don’t think internet porn has any noticeable effect here.

        Not sure I agree with your overall conclusion, but this particular item jumped out at me as being incorrect, while the rest seemed to be at least reasonable.

  2. Daniel says:

    The reason officials with Disciples of Christ are not concerned with the major decline is just what you pointed out in the article…they want the more conservative congregants who have hung on to keep leaving, while they await the merge with more extreme progressive churches. It’s about keeping the money and the positions, which they most certainly will if they merge with larger denominations who will be happy to have them.

  3. If it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck and has feathers like a duck it must be turkey. That’s what these leaders are doing ignoring the obvious.

  4. Eric J LeFevre says:

    On minor correction, the Reformed Church in America is the smallest of the seven sisters of Mainline protestantism. It has 196,000 members. Of the seven, it is probably the most orthodox (competing with the American Baptist Churches for that title) with pockets of extreme progressivism.

    • TexasLeigh says:

      The Seven Sisters of Mainline Protestantism are: the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Episcopal Church, the American Baptist Churches, the United Church of Christ, and the Disciples of Christ.

    • Jeffrey Walton says:

      Eric, thanks for your comment. Yes, sometimes the RCA is included as the 8th Mainline protestant church. The seven we typically refer to are the ones that Leigh mentioned.

  5. TexasBill says:

    My Great great grandfather was a school teacher and Disciples of Christ preacher in Oklahoma. I’ve read some of his handwritten sermons. There is no doubt that the Gospel was at the heart of his ministry. He would not recognize the denomination in which he gave his life to Christ. Part of the legacy he once labored to establish is being betrayed today by those who have the form of religion but lack its power.

  6. Susan says:

    Third generation cradle Disciple, now UCC. Disciple congregations are autonomous and much of what happens at its general assemblies never filters down to local congregations. Many of its rural congregations have dwindled in membership. Because Disciples emphasize ecumenism and individual thought, many of its young people either leave the church as adults or find a local church when no Disciples’ church is close by. Disciples started on American soil, moving westward with a distinctive American individualism and independence. When it re-structured in the late 1960s, many of its churches, fond of being part of a loose knit “brotherhood”, became independent Christian churches, embracing the same worship practices as Disciples congregations (open communion each Lord’s Day with no requirement that clergy preside). “We agree to disagree” is the Disciples’ mantra, so most congregations shy away from taking positions on anything controversial, including sexuality issues. That can be frustrating for those who want their congregation to take a stand, conservative or progressive, so those members move away. Disciples are not a dogmatic church, are similar in structure to Baptists. The general assembly resolutions (and regional assemblies) have no power over local churches. Churches are free to covenant with other church bodies – or not. Churches do not have to call clergy from among those registered with the regional office. Regional ministers have no power over local congregations. Very loose knit communion known more for being moderate than progressive. Libertarians (not used politically) enjoy Disciples because there’s no requirement for membership other than public confession of Jesus as one’s personal savior. Baptism is by immersion, though those transferring their membership from other communions where they were infant baptized is not an issue. Emphasis on each person growing in their faith journey alongside others who may have an entirely different biblical or faith perspective.

  7. Donald says:

    Aw shucks! Here I thought the PC(USA) was going to win the race to the bottom! Dag-nab-it!! I guess Presby’s are just predestined to always be the bridesmaid and never a bride!

  8. John Smith says:

    Of course something should be said about using size as the main or only metric for evaluating the value of a denomination or church.

  9. Gerald L Hastings says:

    After reading your article and all the comments I still wonder why this is important or relevant. Does it make any difference whether religion flourishes or flounders? What influence does religion have on whether there is mutual toleration and civil respect for difference? Does modern religion impact how people use their influence and power with care not to damage others? Will a growing church increase America’s generosiity, its diversity, its welcoming spirit toward strangers, its respect for its constitution and laws? Is religion even remotely effective in reducing the hate and violence that pervades our American culture? Is the size of any denomination of any importance?

    • Sir,
       
      I cannot speak for generic “religion”, as if one religion is no better or worse than another, except for its utility to a humanist agenda, but I only speak for the Christian religion, which, together with Judaism, are the only two revealed religions, that is, God sovereignly revealing Himself to man, all others being man’s futile attempts to find God.
       
      The Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God made flesh and the fulfillment of the Old Testament dispensation of the Covenant of Grace, identified as the Second Great Commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mt. 22.39, Mk. 12.31; quoted from Lev. 19.18; see also Rom. 12.8-10, Gal. 5.13-15, Jas. 2.8-13)  Further, He clarified and emphasized this elsewhere, saying, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.  For he makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.  For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?  Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others?  Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” (Mt. 5.43-47; see also Lk. 6.27-36)  And again, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (Jn. 13.34-35)
       
      Again He said, “When the Son of Man (referring to Himself) comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.  Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on his left.  Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’  Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?  And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’  And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
      “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked and or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’  And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Mt. 25.31-46)
       
      Likewise, His brother James wrote, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their afflictions, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (Jas. 1.27)  And again, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?  Can that faith save him?  If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?  So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (Jas. 2.14-17)
       
      And with regard to showing respect toward legitimate government, when challenged by the Pharisees and the Herodians regarding whether it was “lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not”, the Lord Jesus answered, “Show me the coin for the tax. … Whose likeness and inscription is this?”  And when they said, “Caesar’s”, he answered, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Mt. 22.15-21, Mk. 12.13-17, Lk. 20.19-25)  Likewise, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.  For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.  Therefore, whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.  For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad.  Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority?  Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good.  But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain.  For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.  Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.  For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing.  Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.” (Rom. 13.1-7)  And also the Apostle Peter, “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.  For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.  Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.  Honor everyone.  Love the brotherhood.  Fear God.  Honor the emperor.” (I Pet. 2.13-17)
       
      These are commandments of the Lord God, and any church that would name Jesus Christ as Lord must follow them.  As He Himself said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’  And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Mt. 7.21-23)
       
      However, it must be borne in mind that the commandment to love one’s neighbor as oneself is only the Second Great Commandment, not the First.  The First, as the Lord Jesus tells us, is, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Mt. 22.37, Mk. 12.29-30; quoted from Dt. 6.4-5)  And all of Scripture is His inspired, trustworthy, and authoritative Word (II Tim. 3.16-17, I Pet. 1.19-21).  Thus, to submit to the authority of Scripture, rightly interpreted by the Scriptures themselves, is to submit to the authority of God, and thus to show love and respect to Him.  To be sure, it is possible to hold to the truth of Scripture without love for God and one’s neighbor, but the hearts of such are far from Him and cannot please Him (Mt. 15.1-9).  But it is a fallacy to believe that the First Great Commandment can be fulfilled solely by keeping the Second, as if God’s revelation of Himself, the authority of His Word, and His commandments regarding marriage and human sexuality could be legitimately set aside in order to show love to one’s neighbor, as if such was pleasing to God.  It most certainly is not.  Nevertheless, many Christian churches and denominations have followed this course, including the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ, the American Baptist Churches USA, and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  Failing to faithfully proclaim the Gospel of salvation from sin and death found solely in faith in the atoning work of the Lord Jesus alone in His Crucifixion and Resurrection, the work of these denominations has devolved into a “justice” motif aimed at making life a little more comfortable in this world, but which is utterly incapable of making anyone in the kingdoms of this world fit for the Kingdom of Heaven.  And so, these denominations have been hemorrhaging members for the past fifty years and more.  And the more they make themselves like the world, the more they prove themselves utterly incapable of influencing the world positively for God—or, for that matter, in any way that you, sir, would regard as “important or relevant”.

      • Thanks for your response whick is essentiality in agreement with my point. If what is called the Christian religion (Jesus said “follow me”) really followed Jesus it would indeed become leaven that influences and salt that adds savor. But I have not observed any of the denominations you mentioned or others that you did not that qualify. Those communities that focus on escaping some future misery through correct belief generally ignore the present misery caused by a corrupt political/religious affiliation. Of course, I am expressing only my opinion informed by 91 years of observation.

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