Two and a half months ago, David Kinnaman predicted that upwards of 20% of U.S. churches could close as a result of the lockdowns being imposed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Kinnaman is president of the Barna Group, a Christian research and survey organization.
Recently in an interview with NPR, Kinnaman not only repeated that prediction but added that he is more convinced now it will happen than he was nearly three months ago.
He told NPR:
“If anything, I think that prediction was based on data about two, two-and-a-half months ago, and I think we’re even more likely to see that to be the case today.”
He pointed to a recent Barna survey of pastors that revealed increasing concerns about church survival. Early during the lockdown 70% of pastors said they were extremely confident that their church would survive. However, a more recent Barna survey revealed that number of those extremely confident of survival had dropped to 58%.
This is due in part to drops in church attendance. As churches are reopening, they are finding attendance is lower than prior to the pandemic. Kinnaman also noted that giving is substantially down as well.
Now to be fair, these numbers include liberal churches, many of which were struggling before the pandemic hit.
But there may also be a message in this. I think modern churches have relied too much on a professional laity. People are not coming back because they are not personally invested in the church. They are coming on Sundays, perhaps donating financially, but are doing little more than filling a seat in the pew.
But there is one church that has not only survived the pandemic, but actually thrived. The number of people attending services has actually increased.
How did they do that?
Before the pandemic hit, Cincinnati’s The Summit Church had 12,000 people attending services in 12 different locations. But somehow through the pandemic they saw their congregation grow to 15,000.
Of course, every one is wondering how those numbers could increase during a lockdown?
This happened because church leaders turned to house churches that meet on Sunday morning and now have 2,400 house churches in place.
These are not just another mid-week meeting in addition to the main Sunday service. Their responsibility and purpose has dramatically increased.
These house churches are the church.
They are similar to the church meeting in the home of Nympha that the Apostle Paul referred to in (Colossians 4:15).
This means they now have 2,400 families/singles who are holding church in their homes. These people are empowered. They are invested. They have an important leadership role. They have a purpose other than filling a spot in a pew.
When the Apostle Paul said that Christ gave gifts to the church including Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers (Ephesians 4:11), he did not mean that each church only got one professional pastor or teacher.
No, I suspect that God gave multiple pastors and as we see in The Summit Church, they now have 2,400 people taking on important pastoral responsibilities in the church.
Now there is nothing wrong with a professional paid laity, but God has a purpose and calling for everyone and many churches have failed to mobilize the army God has given them in a substantive way.
I did a podcast on this a few months back: