The church in America is dead and dying.
That’s one conclusion that can be drawn from the data in the 25th edition of the empty tomb, inc., series, The State of Church Giving through 2013: Crisis or Potential?, according to the book’s coauthors, John and Sylvia Ronsvalle.
They say the data also points to the potential for the church to turn around longstanding downward trends.
The book updates church giving and membership trends through 2013, the latest data year available.
The analyses in the new book found that giving and membership data have been trending downward since at least 1968. Giving as a percent of income to Total Giving, and the subcategory of Congregational Finances, declined from 2012 to 2013, although Benevolences increased slightly.
Also, a set of 35 Protestant communions, and the Roman Catholic Church, represented 45% of the U.S. population in 1968, and 35% in 2013.
Various surveys of Americans’ attitudes toward religion, reviewed in the book, are not inconsistent with the giving and membership data.
The Ronsvalles point to the affluence that has spread through U.S. society since World War II. Yet, church leaders have not mobilized member giving at a scale that could impact, in Jesus’ name, critical global needs – – evidence that the church has been dead, i.e., to the good works God designed beforehand (Ephesians 2:10).
The observation about the church in the U.S. being dead and dying reflects Jesus’ statement in Revelation 3:1-2 to the church in Sardis. Jesus tells that church that although it has a reputation for being alive, it is dead, and it needs to wake up to preserve what is left.
The Ronsvalles state that the data analyzed in the new book also points to great potential for the church in the U.S. to impact global word and deed needs. Church leaders could decide to develop an action plan to mobilize church member giving at a scale, for example, to help reduce the rate of global child deaths, or to engage unreached people groups. Such action, they suggest, could be the needed wake-up call, producing new vitality in the church.
“Church leaders need to stop treating Money the way Mr. Collins treated Lady Catherine de Bourgh in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice,” the Ronsvalles observe.