Denominations are Dying: What Should We Do?


Explore the reasons behind the significant decline in church memberships and the urgent need to focus on the next generation.

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Thursday, June 20, 2024, at 2:00 PM EST

Diving Headfirst into the Deep End

So, here’s the deal. We’re diving headfirst into a topic that’s deep. It’s complex and messy, but we need to talk about it. 

The Big Church Exodus

Have you noticed that a lot of folks are leaving churches? I mean, a LOT. Ryan Burge, a guy who knows his stuff when it comes to data, recently tweeted some pretty shocking members numbers:

  • United Church of Christ: Down 29K
  • American Baptist Churches USA: Down 10K
  • Presbyterian Church (USA): Down 53K
  • United Methodist Church: Down 553K
  • The Episcopal Church: Down 56K
  • Evangelical Lutheran Church in America: Down 110K
  • Southern Baptist Convention: Down 457K

If you’re doing the math, that’s 1.27M people who’ve said “bye-bye” to these churches.

Why Are People Leaving?

So, why are people packing their bags? There are a bunch of theories:

  • People just aren’t into joining churches anymore.
  • Some are swapping traditional denominations for non-denominational churches.
  • Whole congregations are jumping ship.
  • And let’s not forget about fundamentalism scaring away the moderates.

Taking a Closer Look

But these theories don’t tell the whole story. Let’s put on our detective hats and dig a little deeper.

Each of these denominations is unique, from the United Church of Christ’s focus on social justice and inclusivity to the Southern Baptist Convention’s conservative theology. So, it’s not about theology, service style, community focus, or social justice.

Are Churches Just Dying Off?

So, what’s the deal? Are these churches just fading away?

I once heard a Coca-Cola exec say something that blew my mind: they’re always one generation away from becoming extinct. They have to figure out what the next generation wants to drink, or they’re toast. And I’m thinking, isn’t that the same for churches?

The Next Gen Matters

While the older folks are arguing about theology, the next generation is being overlooked. And that’s causing the church to take a hit. For example, the Southern Baptist Convention lost 457,000 members last year. And their recent convention? More about stopping women from leading than reaching the next generation.

If churches miss just ONE generation, they’re in trouble.

The Future of Churches

Sure, the Church as a whole will never die, but individual churches and denominations? They’re not immune. If you lead a church, it’s past time to focus on the next generation.

Here are some questions to chew on: 

  • What are you holding on to that’s pushing the next generation away?
  • What should you give up to make sure the next generation isn’t left behind?
  • How can you give the next generation more power to lead?
  • What are you prioritizing over the next generation?
  • How are you investing in the future of the church?
  • How are you allocating resources to children and students?
  • If you’re a lead pastor, how much time are you spending with the next generation?
  • How often are you meeting with your next-gen staff and volunteers?

Wrapping Up: It’s All About the Next Gen

The future of our churches depends on the next generation. Like Coca-Cola, our churches are just one generation away from disappearing. Let’s not allow that to happen!

If you don’t want to prioritize the next gen, here are two other options: 2 Solutions For a Declining or Dying Church