New groundbreaking research based on a database of over 300,000 churches across America indicated that overall the population is growing faster than the church.
The director of the American Church Research Project, Dave Olson, spoke to nearly 170 national church, ministry, and lay leaders on the closing day of the Mission America Coalition (MAC) conference last Thursday. Olson, who has been working for years to record actual attendance of churches across the country, said that overall church attendance is virtually unchanged from 15 years ago despite the fact the U.S. population has grown by 52 million people.
According to his research, the northeastern part of the country is the only region where the church is growing faster than the population while no state has seen a net increase in the percentage of church attendance in the last five years, according to a MAC report on Friday. Even in the southern states, nicknamed by some the “Bible Belt,” has seen a greater population growth than the church.
“We live in a world today that is post-Christian, post-modern and multi-ethnic, whether we realize it or not,” Olson said. He told the leaders present that in order to reach this “new world” with the Gospel, the Church must change.
"The Church needs to have an attitude of brokenness, humility, and repentance," he said as he warned that an attitude that “we are right” and “the world should live like us” will prevent Christians from reaching the lost for Christ.
Olson emphasized that the world simply acts the way it is supposed to – as unbelievers.
"This is the way it's always been, this is the way it's described in the Bible. The problem is that the church has not been acting like the church," he noted.
Olson's research revealed several unexpected statistics including that the evangelical church is growing fastest among the higher income, college-educated, suburban population, while declining fastest among the least educated and in areas with the highest poverty rates.
"The evangelical church is becoming suburban, affluent, and educated," Olson said.
He concluded: "The Christian community needs a restoration of its understanding of the message and mission of Jesus. It needs to be less self-righteous, individualistic, and materialistic. It needs to be more biblical, Christo-centric, and holistic."