Church membership down—Why?


First published in CMI-USA Prayer News, April 2023.

As CMI-USA speakers resumed speaking in churches after the pandemic shutdowns, many of us noticed smaller congregations. Pastors had also lamented the same. One told me it wasn’t just the move to online services and people staying online even after churches re-opened. Rather, some of their social media show these former congregants partaking in secular activities rather than following their church services. This actually continued a pre-pandemic trend.

© CMIChurches Biblical vesus Not

Biblical vs. non-biblical churches

However, a trend of the aggregate doesn’t provide the whole picture. For decades, there has been a stark difference between theologically ‘liberal’ churches that deny biblical authority—and sometimes even the physical Resurrection of Jesus—and Evangelical churches that affirm the authority and inerrancy of Scripture.

In the USA, ‘mainline’ denominations used to outnumber Evangelicals heavily. But after decades of theological liberalism, their numbers plummeted. Why bother wasting a Sunday morning if they offer nothing more than the secular world? By about 1983, Evangelicals overtook the mainliners.

However, between 2000 and 2018, numbers of Evangelicals dropped, which is not good, even though mainliners dropped three times faster. Even today, twice as many mainliners become Evangelicals as vice-versa.1

Why did Evangelical memberships decline?

Like many church leaders, CMI also wanted to find out why. So CMI interviewed many university students who had been raised in a church. Some representatives are featured in CMI’s short documentary, Fallout.2 A common pattern is that those who never received answers to the secular evolutionary view were no longer attending church. Those whose churches and homes taught them how to defend biblical faith were often still attending.

Creation and Flood connection

Some say, “preach the Gospel, and don’t worry about side issues like Genesis, Creation, and Adam.” However, when the Apostle Paul preached the Gospel and Resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15, this was part of his message:

For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. … The last enemy to be destroyed is death. … Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit (21–22, 26, 45).

For Paul, Creation and Adam were not side issues but foundational for the Gospel! Paul even quoted from Genesis 2 and 3 and Genesis 1.3

Even if many in the Church miss the Genesis connection to the Gospel, our opponents do not. For example, leading atheistic evolutionist Richard Dawkins said:

‘Oh but of course the story of Adam and Eve was only ever symbolic, wasn’t it? Symbolic?! So Jesus had himself tortured and executed for a symbolic sin by a non-existent individual? Nobody not brought up in the faith could reach any verdict other than barking mad!’4

Many are intimidated into believing in biological evolution because they have already surrendered on geological evolution, i.e. billions of years. That is, if slow changes over eons could explain the rocks and fossils, then why not also the living creatures? However, geological evolution required undermining the Genesis Flood, which Jesus affirmed (Luke 17:26–27). But the reverse is true: if a worldwide Flood really occurred, then we don’t need millions of years to explain the rocks. In many physical processes, we can often trade intensity for time.

Once again, sometimes enemies of Christianity understand better than many in the Church. E.g., ‘Darwin’s bulldog’, Thomas Huxley wrote:

When Jesus spoke, as of a matter of fact, that “the Flood came and destroyed them all”, did he believe that the Deluge really took place, or not? … Moreover, I venture to ask what sort of value, as an illustration of God’s methods of dealing with sin, has an account of an event that never happened? If no Flood swept the careless people away, how is the warning of more worth than the cry of “Wolf” when there is no wolf?5

What happens if young people think that we don’t trust the Bible on earthly things like a literal Adam and global Flood? Maybe they ask, why trust the Bible on heavenly things like Jesus as our savior (cf. John 3:12)?

The need for answers

Sometimes pastors and parents see no need for CMI ministry in their churches: “We believe all this; why would we need your ministry?” Yes, you may believe it, but can you defend it? And do your children believe it?

Others claim that the real reason people leave the church is not a lack of creation teaching but sinful hearts. But this is like blaming a plane crash on gravity. Yes, a plane would not crash without it. However, gravity is universal, and most planes avoid crashing despite it. So blaming a particular plane crash on gravity, rather than say pilot or equipment failure, gets nowhere.

Similarly, blaming the universally sinful human heart for the defection of particular young people gets nowhere.

Creation teaching really helps

Pastor Nathan H. wrote to CMI:

The talks given by Gary Bates were outstanding and were a great blessing to our people. Thank you so much for all that CMI does. Your resources are outstanding, and I frequently reference several of your books and articles on the website. I especially appreciate how Scripture and the Gospel are never lost, even in very in-depth and technical discussions. Also, the process of hosting a speaker was extremely well thought out and professional.

Published: 9 May 2024

References and notes

  1. Burge, R., Mainline Protestants are still declining, but that’s not good news for Evangelicals, christianitytoday.com, 13 Jul 2021. Return to text.
  2. See creation.com/fallout. Return to text.
  3. Sarfati, J., ‘Just preach the Gospel!’ Creation 35(3):15–17, July 2013. Return to text.
  4. The root of all evil? Channel 4, 16 Jan 2006; cited in creation.com/dawk-on-comp. Return to text.
  5. Huxley, T.H., Science and Hebrew Tradition, Vol. 4 of Huxley’s Collected Essays, pp. 232–233, 1890; cited in creation.com/huxley. Return to text.

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