The rate at which people leave the Churches of Christ, already quite high, accelerated to over 2400 people each month (net), on average, during the past 3 years, based on an analysis of data released by 21st Century Christian, a publisher that tracks Churches of Christ demographics.
This is more than triple the already high rate of departures for the Churches of Christ from 2000 to 2015. It is a 15% steeper rate of decline for adherents than reported by Authentic Theology in November 2018 for 2015 to 2018.
The number of Church of Christ members shrank by over 5.6% from 2016 to 2019. Effectively, 1 in every 18 members of the Churches of Christ disappeared from its congregations nationwide in just 3 years. That is more than 66,000 baptized, names-on-the-rolls members. And those who had young kids took those kids with them. This is a significant acceleration.
At this rate, the Churches of Christ will lose a quarter of its membership over the next 15 years, plus their kids.
Churches of Christ Shrinking Rapidly When Evangelical Christianity Did Not
It is not true that all denominations are shrinking.
While the Churches of Christ lost an astounding 1 in every 8 members since 1990, the Assemblies of God added 3 members for every 8.
Christianity Today earlier this year reported “evangelicals in the United States are holding steady” and “a surprising uptick for mainline Protestants.”
The Churches of Christ stands out within evangelical Christianity as a whole in that the Churches of Christ lost members — and then at an astounding rate — while evangelical Christianity as a whole stayed relatively steady and even grew at times and in places over the past 15-30 years at least.
Figure 2: Type of affiliation over time, General Social Survey. Source: General Social Survey, 1989 to 2016. (Figure from Landon Schnabel and Sean Bock, “The Persistent and Exceptional Intensity of American Religion: A Response to Recent Research,” Sociological Science, Vol. 4, 686-700 (November 2017)).
Evangelical Christianity includes what are traditionally thought of as “more conservative” denominations, such as Assemblies of God, Church of God, Churches of Christ, Presbyterian Church in America, Seventh Day Adventist, and Southern Baptist. Southern Baptist and some others shrunk over the past decade while others, like Assemblies of God and the Church of God, grew, but when taking all evangelical denominations and groups as a whole, putting those who grew, stayed steady, and shrunk together, overall, evangelical Christianity as a whole stayed relatively steady.
Evangelical Christianity as a whole has in common a great deal of geographic concentration—southeastern and southwestern, for example—and theology.
Mainline denominations (e.g., United Methodist Church and Disciples of Christ) and the Roman Catholic Church shrank over that time.
The reason mainline denomination shrank was nearly all due to people in those denominations having lower birth rates during the relevant time period, per researchers. Geographic concentrations and average ages were different than the evangelical denominations.
Despite evangelical Christianity as a whole staying steady or growing, the Churches of Christ shrank and continues to do so.
What Differentiates the Churches of Christ in Evangelical Christianity?
Perhaps determining how the Churches of Christ differs from evangelical Christianity as a whole — in particular, ways they differ that are both noticeable to members and potential members and negatively impact a relatively large percentage of people — might reveal why the Churches of Christ is shrinking while evangelical Christianity as a whole did not.
They share far more than differentiates. Truly impacting differences are few. One that differentiates Churches of Christ from 85%+ of evangelical Christianity: treatment of women and girls (complete prohibition of women and girls from speaking, leading, and actively serving in the worship service, for example).
Nearly Alone in Completely Excluding Women and Girls in the Worship Service
The Churches of Christ is nearly alone in completely excluding women and girls from speaking, leading, and actively serving in the worship service. Girls and women are prohibited from leading singing, leading prayer, preaching, helping with communion and offering, etc., in the vast majority of Churches of Christ. They are restricted other ways, too. Girls are barred from praying out loud in front of boys in Sunday School. Women are barred from teaching men and boys over about age 10 and praying out loud with men present. They are barred from serving as an elder or deacon. And more.
Only about 3-4% of U.S. Christianity completely prohibits women and girls in this way in the worship service and the lions share is the Churches of Christ. Islam also does so, but not monolithically, as it is cultural.
Some other Christian denominations, like Southern Baptist, also prohibit women, but typically just from from preaching and ordained roles (e.g., pastor) and allow women to lead (e.g., lead singing), serve, and otherwise speak. But a church where women teach adult and middle school Sunday School, lead singing, play the piano, and make announcements, etc., and where girls stand up in service to read scripture, sing a solo, etc., for example, typically has a much different feel than a Church of Christ. (Different does not mean exemplary. The point is many think other churches are like the Churches of Christ in this regard but they are not.)
And still other Christian denominations, about half of evangelical groups of size, like Assemblies of God, instead ordain women and do not prohibit women from preaching, speaking, leading prayer, teaching, etc.
Many, if Not Most, Female-Ordaining Evangelical Denominations Grew
Many, if not most, evangelical groups that ordain women — Assemblies of God and the Church of God, for example — grew, often significantly at times, in recent years. They have female preachers and women serve in all roles and functions in the worship service.
Most Female-Restricting Evangelical Denominations Shrank
The Churches of Christ is not the only evangelical denomination that shrank. While evangelical Christianity as a whole stayed relatively steady, most, if not nearly all, denominations of size that do not ordain women and who restrict them in the worship service shrank significantly, including Southern Baptist and Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod.
Mainline Churches: Not Shrinking Because of “Liberal Theology,” as Fundamentalists Like to Claim
People favoring exclusion of women often argue that since mainline denominations ordain women and those denominations have shrunk immensely, we ought not ordain women.
It is obvious, however, that ordaining women is not a reason for their decline, as shown, for example, by the evangelical churches, like Assemblies of God, that have women participate fully and have seen tremendous growth.
And researchers showed long ago that the reason for mainline denomination decline in membership was nearly all due to a difference in birth rates during the relevant time period (members started out older, geographic, economic, and other demographics were different, etc.).
Many mainline denominations, such as the Disciples of Christ, which parted from the Churches of Christ over 110 years ago, have their concentration in areas like the mid-west, the farm belt, or rust belt that have not seen the population and economic growth seen by areas in which evangelical denominations are often concentrated (e.g., parts of the southeast).
Moreover, most people are considering old information when thinking about mainline denominations. Things may have changed recently for them, as mainline denominations as a whole saw an uptick recently, as reported by Christianity Today (reporting that as a group they saw an uptick over the past few years, indicating some shrank but others seemed to begin coming back).
The denominations most like the Churches of Christ — in geographical base, theology, etc. — are, of course, the evangelical denominations. The Churches of Christ stand out among them for the extensive nature of its prohibition on women and girls speaking, leading, and actively serving in the worship service and for its decline in times and places that others were not.
Wide Negative Impact of Prohibiting Women and Girls From Speaking
A major mistake often made in considering the negative effect this prohibition has on church membership is to think only of people who were members of a Church of Christ congregation who then leave it because of this issue. It goes way beyond that.
The effect of such prohibitions on women and girls is much wider and is both direct and indirect.
Complete prohibition of women and girls this way impacts not only people’s willingness stay at such a church, but also negatively impacts matters such as potential members’ willingness to consider visiting and joining it in the first place, members’ willingness to invite visitors to church, the church’s reputation and brand, and potential members’ interest in the church once they visit.
A significant reason many recent graduates of Church of Christ colleges, for example, decide not to join Churches of Christ after college is this issue.
Many people searching for a church home for their family consider the reputation and distinctive features of a denomination while considering which churches to visit. There are only a handful of things that prominently distinguish Churches of Christ from most all other denominations and this complete prohibition is one of them, along with a cappella music.
As another example, some Church of Christ members are hesitant to — or will not —- invite their friends to the church because they know that this issue is a deal-breaker or they do not want to expose their female friends or their daughters to such discrimination.
More on Wide Negative Impact of Prohibiting Women and Girls From Speaking
Members’ enthusiasm and attitude towards the church and their interest in volunteering and investing time and energy in the church are negatively impacted by this prohibition, too. This impacts many aspects of the church relative to membership, such as evangelism.
Churches of Christ are near the bottom—fourth lowest—in attendance rate and percentage of members who say religion is very important to them among evangelical denominations / categories of size. In the higher ones, women much more freely take part in public worship.
(Fig. 3: Percentage of members who said they attend services at least once a week, by denomination/category, by Pew Research Center)
Joining the Churches of Christ in the bottom four are other denominations that are most restrictive relative to women’s roles in worship. The two denominations at the top, in terms of attendance and members who say religion is very important, both have female preachers.
A study found that of Churches of Christ loosening this prohibition, 68% saw increased participation by its members (with 28% reporting no change). Only 6% saw a decrease in participation by men and more than twice that (15%) saw an increase in participation by men. Visitors had already increased at 51% of the churches making the change, with 45% seeing no change in visitors at the time they reported and only 4% had seen a decrease at the time.
The prohibition also has a negative effect on membership by impacting such things as the availability of women’s gifts to serve, inspiration for young girls, and many other aspects of the church beyond being able to speak or not in that hour. It promotes a sense of hypocrisy when church leaders speak of love for one another. It impacts the congregation’s ability to grow, connect with young people, connect with girls and women, witness to the world, and speak of justice, mercy, and love.
Harmful to Young Girls
Sex discrimination, done with malice or not, like race discrimination, is harmful.
It seems obvious that having young girls watch themselves and their moms and their female friends be discriminated against every Sunday for years and years would have a long-term, negative impact on many of those girls, harming them spiritually, psychologically, and physically.
And the church displaying an example for boys and for men of sex discrimination against young girls and women would, of course, impact how girls and women are treated in the workforce and in society by many of those boys and men.
A recent study published by Oxford University Press found that adult women who had only male congregational-leaders growing up had, as an effect, (1) lower self-esteem (associated with more depression and anxiety), (2) less education, (3) higher unemployment, and (4) more of an authoritarian and judgmental view of God (associated with negative psychological health), on average, than men and than women who had influential female congregational-leaders growing up. In another recent study, an alarmingly high percentage of women in the Churches of Christ reported symptoms of trauma.
Suggests a Significant Reason for Decline: Treatment of Women and Girls
A major point: The factors outlined here, including that evangelical Christianity as a whole stayed approximately steady while the Churches of Christ shrank rapidly, suggests that the Churches of Christ treatment of women and girls — one of its few differentiating factors — plays a significant role in its decline. Anecdotal evidence (e.g., comments from potential, former, and current members) suggests it does so, too.
The Churches of Christ treatment of women and girls departs from nearly all the rest of Christianity by completely excluding them from speaking, teaching, and actively serving in the worship service. It is a very public exclusion. And then it often goes on to exclude them outside of the worship service in many other ways that have a material impact on girls and women (e.g., keeping girls from praying out loud in Sunday School as boys are normally present, prohibiting women from serving as deacon and elder, prohibiting women from teaching combined girls and boys classes once the boys reach a certain age).
That sex-discrimination on display and in effect at this level might cause people never to step foot in the building or cause college-age women in the 21st century to decline to identify with the Churches of Christ should not be surprising.
And it should not come as a surprise that sex-discrimination might cause grown women and men to decide that they have had enough, for themselves and for their daughters.
As the practice is normalized within the denomination, most people simply do not think about it. It is not that harm is intended. It is just that, for most, it has not come to their attention. It is what the good people that came before did and what the good people around them do. And for a long time.
A real question is what happens when the issue comes to their attention.
Largely ignore it and neglect girls? Silence? Intentionally continue doing it? Continue to have young girls bear this out of fear some members will leave for another congregation or out of fear of losing a position?
Those options have serious moral import, an adult having little girls — the daughters and granddaughters, the daughters of friends — bear the negative consequences in order to keep adults comfortable.
Examine it carefully as a congregation, and not just with resources designed to defend and affirm the prohibition of women and girls, engaging instead in deep study with resources and people that have different views?
“It is not THE reason, so I can do nothing”
One common response in attempting to downplay the discrimination against girls and women is something along the lines of “it is not THE reason the Churches of Christ is in decline.” This is an attempt to deflect, as the claim above is not that it is THE reason.
Essentially, they are attempting to use other perceived problems within the church as an excuse from doing anything about this one, one that is hurtful to a lot of people and significant.
The claim above is not that it is “THE reason” has declined. Instead, it is that it “plays a significant role” in the decline — there can be other things that also play a role. But folks who want to deflect or who are in denial will set up a scarecrow by declaring it is not THE reason and by then trying not to take any action relative to their own continued contributions to the oppression of girls and women.
Is it that the discrimination is not significant relative to membership? Ask your friends with daughters who aren’t members of a Church of Christ whether it would be significant or not that their church would completely prohibit little girls and all females from praying out loud, speaking, reading scripture, etc., to their interest in joining the congregation.
Is it that the discrimination is neutral or positive relative to membership? You think potential members do not care one way or another or would consider it a positive?
If it is not insignificant and it is not positive or neutral, then it is significant and negative.
It is straightforward to see that it is significant and negative.
Not Going to Change = Not Going to Survive
My view is it will be impossible for the Churches of Christ to recover if it does not change its practice regarding women and girls very soon.
It is difficult to pinpoint the precise magnitude of its contribution to the decline so far, but things have changed rapidly, with awareness of the harmful impact of sex discrimination, Title IX, #MeToo, sex abuse in sports, sex abuse in churches, the ascent of women in business and education, and other factors. It is a different world than even 10 years ago.
Awareness has grown and if people can be done with sex discrimination or never expose themselves or their daughter to it, they are done with it.
That is, the Churches of Christ could now implement the best programs, the best evangelism, etc., but if the Churches of Christ does not change on this one issue, it will not be able to recover and it will not survive.
Previously, there were enough people coming from Church of Christ families and colleges who were indoctrinated into the tradition of discrimination. The number of such families has shrunk, the number of Church of Christ college graduates who identify as Church of Christ has dropped by half, the number of people going to church generally has decreased, people within the tradition are leaving it, and people generally are done with sex discrimination.
Limited Churches of Christ Experience
Some Churches of Christ have removed all or many of their restrictions on women. A study found that about half who make this change stay the same or gain members and about half lose members. And of those that lose members, the average is about 20%.
Keep in mind that the congregations who lose members lose them to another Churches of Christ if that is the issue —- virtually no one else does this.
And the study’s report regarding loss of members does not take into account such matters as the average decline rate of Churches of Christ, e.g., since Churches of Christ are, on average, losing members at a significant rate without changing, the Churches of Christ congregations that changed and showed a loss of 10%, for example, after making this change might be a better result or the same result for those congregations as if they had not changed.
Given that the Churches of Christ brand has such practices associated with it, the concept that one congregation changing and not showing a massive inflow of people does allow much of an inference. Most congregations cannot overcome that association in a short time frame. It will take a large number of Churches of Christ making this change for it to impact the brand known to the public.
But one church has an impact on the girls and women and boys and men in its congregation and on its witness.
It’s a Sin to Prohibit Girls and Women From Speaking
Blocking a woman from actively serving in the worship service is blocking her from worshiping God with all her heart, mind, and soul and from serving her neighbor. Jesus asks women and men to love (worship) God with all their heart, mind, and soul and to love (serve) their neighbor. This is the Greatest Commandment. (Mark 12:28-31) Blocking her from doing what Jesus asks is a sin.
And blocking a woman from doing what God asks is a sin.
God asks women over and over again in the Bible to speak to, lead, teach, and exercise authority over men, in an assembly and elsewhere (click on this article link for 20+ scripture passages).
Only 3-4 Sentences Used to Completely Exclude, Apparent Don’t Mean That
There are only 3-4 sentences to which people point to claim women and girls must be completely barred from speaking and leading in the worship assembly. Reading them for 2 minutes confirms the practice of exclusion.
Reading them for 3 minutes causes questions to arise that allows one to see that they do not mean what their plain reading and quick read means. For example:
- What?! “Let your women keep silence in the churches”?! But women sing, so the plain meaning can’t be it.
- What?! If women want to “learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home”?! But they ask questions in Sunday School and in the hall, so the plain meaning can’t be it.
- What?! I permit “not a woman to teach”?! But women teach by singing, they teach high school, they teach by their presence and actions, … so the plain meaning can’t be it.
Yet, some people just quote two passages out of context and say “that’s that,” ignoring that no one credible argues for their “plain meaning” and that much scripture contradicts the interpretation that women and girls are not to speak and lead.
Studying the 3-4 sentences a bit longer and in context with resources besides just those designed to confirm the practice shows they do not preclude women and girls from speaking, leading, or actively serving. The same article introduces why (and articles linked at the end of the Sources section below provides more discussion on the scripture).
This is why a growing number of Churches of Christ, after studying scripture, have changed and lifted their prohibition.
Conclusion — Christ’s Example to Follow
Christ is the Word, sent into the world. (John 1) Christ asks us to follow his example.
The first people to which the Word revealed the good news of the resurrection were women, Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary.” (John 20:16-17; Matt 28:9)
On that first Easter morning, the Word revealed the resurrection to them, spoke Mary’s name, said “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father,” and told them “Do not be afraid.” (John 20:16-17; Matthew 28:10).
Christ, the Word, said to the women: “’Go … to my brothers and tell them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”‘ (John 20:17) “Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee ….” (Matt 28:10)
Mary Magdalene went to the assembled disciples and proclaimed to them and taught them: ‘I have seen the Lord!’ … she told them that he had said these things to her.” (John 20:17-18; see also Luke 24:9, 33; John 20:10, 19))
Christ thus tells women to go tell assembled men what the Word revealed to the women and to go tell assembled men what the Word wants the men to do.
But the Churches of Christ says the opposite — telling women not to go tell assembled men what the Word revealed to them and not to go tell assembled men what the Word wants the men to do.
It is way past time for the practice of precluding women and girls end.
Time is running out, for the young girls around us and for the Churches of Christ as a whole.
As Christians, we have heightened duties of care and action to both, given to us by Christ. (See, e.g., John 13:15, 34-35; Galatians 6:2; Mark 12:28-34). Not to act now is negligence, towards those girls and the whole body, and a failure to meet those duties.
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See the second article in this series: Steve Gardner, “10 Churches of Christ Closing Monthly, Doubling Rate, Treatment of Girls and Women Factor,” Authentic Theology (December 11, 2019).
Sources & Notes
Base data analyzed for this article was obtained from 21st Century Christian, a publisher of Christian books and curriculum since 1938: www.21stcc.com.
21st Century Christian publishes “Churches of Christ in the United States” reporting membership, adherent, and other information periodically. It publishes data sheets online. The most recent data sheet is here.
For other data sources from which data for this article was obtained and other sources and notes on which this article is based, see Sources & Notes cited in last year’s article, see Steve Gardner, “The Code Blue Church of Christ: 2018 Report Shows Accelerated Membership Decline,” AuthenticTheology.com (November 14, 2018).
Churches of Christ saw 1 in 8 members depart since 1990, and the rate of departures greatly accelerated recently, losing 5.6% of its members in the last 3 years (plus their kids), with over 2400 people departing each month, on average.
Evangelical Christianity as a whole stayed steady and many denominations grew. Yet, the Churches of Christ decline accelerated. Mainline denominations and the Roman Catholic church shrunk, but mainline denominations showed a recent uptick.
Differentiating Churches of Christ is its practice of completely prohibiting women and girls from speaking, leading, and actively serving in the worship assembly. Only 3-4% of U.S. Christianity does so. This has serious effects.
And most evangelical denominations ordaining women have grown, but nearly all of those prohibiting women from worship-service roles shrunk.
“to over 2400 people each month …: 21st Century reports 1511500 adherents for 2016, with a report build date of 12-2016, and 1429092 adherents for 2019, with a report build date of 10-2019. 1511500 – 1429092 = 82408 adherents departing over a 34 month period. 82408 / 34 = 2423.8 per month.
Note the numbers are “net” numbers, meaning, for example, if the churches gained 200 “new” adherents, 2600 “old” adherents departed in a month.
“more than triple the already high rate of departures … from 2000 to 2015”: 21st Century Christian reported 1645645 adherents in 2000 and 1519251 in 2015. Subtracting the two and dividing by (15 x 12) yields 702.2 adherents per month.
“15% steeper rate of decline for adherents than reported by Authentic Theology … for the 2015 to 2018 period”: I reported 2097.6 departing a month for 2015-2018, and 2423.8 is more than 15% more.
It appears to me that, given the self-reporting of the data by churches and the publication schedule of 21st Century, that one can draw inferences from 3-year looks, but not from 1-year looks, at least for most years. The data-collection and forming times likely has an impact such that looking only at one year might be misleading, but looking at a 3-year range appears likely to yield information from which inferences can be drawn. Consideration of this question may be worthwhile.
“number of Church of Christ members shrank by over 5% from 2016 to 2019. … 1 in every 18 members … disappeared … more than 64,000 …”: 21st Century reports 1178976 members in 2016 (with a build date of 12-2016) and 1116216 for 2019 (with a build date of 10-2019). To obtain an estimated 36 months number, I subtracted the two to yield 62760 and divided that number by 34 months, yielding 1845.8. I subtracted 1845.8 x 2 from the 10-2016 number of 1116216 to come up with an estimated number for 12-2019 of 1112524. 1178976 minus 1112524 = 66451 fewer members at the 3 year mark. 66451 is 5.63% of 1178976. 1/18 is 5.56%.
“At this rate, the Churches of Christ will lose a quarter of its membership over the next 15 years (plus their kids).” At a 5.6% decline rate, it will be down to 74.9% in 15 years.
“Since 1990, more than 1 in every 8 members of the Churches of Christ disappeared from its congregations nationwide. … That is more than 170,000 members and more than 260,000 total adherents gone.”: 21st Century reported 1284056 members in 1990, 171531 more than the 12-2019 estimated membership above; thus 13.36% less, more than 1 in every 8 (12.5%). The difference in adherence is 260627.
“Assemblies of God added 3 new members for every 8 and kept the 8”: It reported 2181502 adherents in 1990 and 3233385 in 2018 for a growth of 48.2%. See https://ag.org/About/Statistics
“evangelical Christianity as a whole stayed approximately steady or grew”: See, e.g.,Christianity Today reports that evangelical church numbers are, on average, have stayed steady. Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra, “Pew: Evangelicals Stay Strong as Christianity Crumbles in America,” Christianity Today (May 11, 2015). See also Landon Schnabel and Sean Bock, “The Persistent and Exceptional Intensity of American Religion: A Response to Recent Research,” Sociological Science, Vol. 4, 686-700 (November 2017), https://www.sociologicalscience.com/download/vol-4/november/SocSci_v4_686to700.pdf (see Fig. 5 showing evangelical numbers staying steady); Ryan P. Burge, “Evangelicals Show No Decline, Despite Trump and Nones,” Christianity Today (March 21, 2019) (“The 2018 General Social Survey reports American evangelicals holding steady amid growth of the unaffiliated—and a surprising uptick for mainline Protestants.”).
Figure 2 is from Landon Schnabel and Sean Bock, “The Persistent and Exceptional Intensity of American Religion: A Response to Recent Research,” Sociological Science, Vol. 4, 686-700 (November 2017)). Burge’s article includes a figure showing similarly, with greater granularity and bringing it forward a few years, but the figure is too busy to include and is not as clear on the main point as what I included in Figure 2.
Another such differentiating element may be prohibition of instrumental music (piano, organ, guitar, or other instruments prohibited in the worship service, at least). I am unsure if it is under 15% of evangelical Christianity that does so, but I am relatively confident that it is. It is likely a factor—particularly among people who instrumental musical talent and possibly among younger people and others—but I am unsure if it negatively impacts a relatively high percentage of people. I suspect it does not, and that the vast majority of people are fine with a cappella music and with no piano or organ in the worship service, but I am not sure.
Arguably extreme legalism is another such differentiating element, but there seems to be plenty of legalism and relatively narrow interpretation present in other evangelical denominations, so I suspect that much more than 15% of evangelical Christianity share such an attribute. In any event, the complete exclusion of women and girls from speaking, etc., in the worship service is arguably a form or symptom of such legalism, and a finer grain of precision than an extreme legalism category is probably needed for meaningful analysis. This all bears further consideration.
“mainline denomination decline was nearly all due to birth rates”: https://repository.upenn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1055&context=sociology_papers
Attributes nearly all of the difference to birth rates / fertility. It says that there is an apostasy (switching to no religion) difference between mainline and evangelical. Page 21 of the paper shows the difference is tiny, appears to be in the 2-4% range (see graph D).
“3-4% of U.S. Christianity does so”: Most Amish and Primitive Baptist, some conservative Mennonite, a part of Independent Fundamentalist Baptist, and Plymouth Brethren do the same as the Churches of Christ, is my understanding, but they are tiny groups. A much larger portion of the IFB comes close but generally allows women to lead singing by singing solos or in small groups up front. The only religious group of size besides Churches of Christ that completely excludes women from speaking and leading in the worship service that I could find is Islam, and it is not a monolithic practice for Islam — it’s cultural. My understanding is that most of the Orthodox faith traditions allow women to read scripture in their worship service, for example. This understanding came through me conducting online research, asking questions of people familiar with these and other denominations, and other research. Essentially, I sought out any denomination or group that has a practice like the Churches of Christ. If you know of anything different or any to add or take away from this list, or have any comments on it, I would appreciate hearing from you. Please contact me via the Contact page.
Most Amish (est 300,000) and Primitive Baptist (est 150,000), some conservative Mennonite (est 15,000), a part of Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (est 100,000 for that part), and Plymouth Brethren (est 40,000) do the same as the Churches of Christ (use 1,429,092), is my understanding, but they are tiny groups. This is a total of about 2,000,000 adherents. Evangelicals make up 25.4% of the United States, per Pew Research, which would be approximately 83 million people. Thus, 2 million adherents would be approximately 2.4% of the 83 million.
(Added– Using this approach, Churches of Christ make up about 1.4 million of the total of about 2 million or almost 3/4 of the group that completely excludes.)
Pew Research says that the Churches of Christ make up 1.5% of the 25.4%. This seems high. Using that number and giving the other denominations approximate proportionate percentages (Amish 0.3%, Primitive Baptist 0.15%, conservative Mennonite 0.015%, part of IFB (est. 0.1%), and Plymouth Brethren 0.04%) results in a total of approximately 2.1% of the 25.4%. Christianity makes up 70.6% of the population, per Pew. 2.1% of the 70.6% is approximately 3% of U.S. Christianity.
(Added–Using this approach, Churches of Christ make up about 1.5% of the 2.1% that completely excludes or a bit less than 3/4.)
Given that this analysis found that denominations that completely prohibit women and girls in the manner described is 2.4% of U.S. Christianity using one method and 3% of U.S. Christianity using the other, it seems likely that the total is 2-4%.
(Added: It is fair to say that Churches of Christ make up the lion’s share, about 3/4 by number of adherents.)
(Added January 27, 2020: Per these sources, there are about 210 million adults in the U.S (18 or older). 65% of adults identify as Christian. So that is about 136.5 million adults. There are about 1.1 million Churches of Christ members. Quite a few of those are under 18. For sake of this argument, I am going to say they are all over 18. So, 1.1 out of 136.5 is percentage of Christianity in the U.S. that is Churches of Christ if you go by adults (adult members of CoC / adults in the US identifying as Christian). So that number is about 0.81%. Churches of Christ members make up 0.81% of U.S. Christianity if you calculate it that way.
If you go by adherents, and use, say, 1.5 million as the adherent number of Churches of Christ (that is high). Assume they are all adults (that is high). Then Churches of Christ makes up 1.5 / 136.5 = 1.1%. So using that number, Churches of Christ members make up 1.1% of U.S. Christianity. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christianity_in_the_United_States. So, the 3-4% number I’ve been using may be high. The actual number may be much closer to 1%. So, maybe it’s 1-3% is the right number to use?)
The IFB is close, as described. Using the second method (the one resulting in the higher number), Pew Research puts IFB at 2.5%. Adding 2.5% to the 2.1% in the first method yields 4.6%. 4.6% of the 70.6% is approximately 6.5% of U.S. Christianity. So including the IFB in the restricted category with the Churches of Christ would put the number at 6.5% of U.S. Christianity.
Added — Note the significant issues raised relative to the abuse issues associated with the Amish and noting the patriarchical society: https://www.cosmopolitan.com/lifestyle/a30284631/amish-sexual-abuse-incest-me-too/
“Assemblies of God and Church of God … grown … They have female preachers and women serve in all roles and functions in the worship service.”: The US Assemblies of God (Evangelical) “has experienced 27 consecutive years of growth in adherents” as of 2016. https://ag.org/About/Statistics. Church of God (Cleveland, TN) —http://www.ncccusa.org/news/110210yearbook2011.html (“Other churches that continued to post membership gains in 2010 are Jehovah’s Witnesses, up 4.37 percent to 1,162,686 members, and Church of God (Cleveland, Tenn.), up .38 percent to 1,076,254 members.”); Church of God Statistical Summary; Church of God 2012 Statistical Summary; 2016 Church of God Statistical Summary. Assemblies of God — https://ag.org/Beliefs/Topics-Index/The-Role-of-Women-in-Ministry (full participation — “After examining the various translations and interpretations of biblical passages relating to the role of women in the first-century church, and desiring to apply biblical principles to contemporary church practice, we conclude that we cannot find convincing evidence that the ministry of women is restricted according to some sacred or immutable principle.”) Church of God (Cleveland, TN) — http://www.beliefnet.com/columnists/news/2010/08/church-of-god-ays-women-can-be.php and https://www.charismamag.com/site-archives/570-news/featured-news/11656-church-of-god-debates-role-of-women (women serve as pastors, in the worship service, preachers, on local congregational boards, but not as bishops).
Cf. Church of the Nazarene, which ordains women and has seen growth, but shrank by about 4.6% from 2008 to 2018 in the “U.S./Canada.” It has apparently seen growth at times and shrinkage at times in recent years in the United States and is growing worldwide. https://transformtheglobe.com/2018/03/09/ten-observations-on-the-church-of-the-nazarenes-2017-global-statistics/ (“The denomination is growing and has steadily grown during the past 10 years. In 2007, 20,958 churches were reported, and in 2017, 30,875 were reported. Total membership has risen from around 1.73 million to more than 2.55 million in that same time. Plus, in no year did we see a decline in membership worldwide in the last decade. This is encouraging growth – nearly 50% growth in only 10 years!”); Nazarene Statistical Report 2018; Church of the Nazarene (full participation — “The Church of the Nazarene supports the right of women to use their God-given spiritual gifts within the church and affirms the historic right of women to be elected and appointed to places of leadership within the Church of the Nazarene, including the offices of both elder and deacon.”) http://nazarene.org/theology-women-ministry.
“About half”: In the U.S., Assemblies of God, Church of God, Church of the Nazarene, Seventh Day Adventist, and many non-denominational churches ordain women. Churches of Christ, Southern Baptist, IFB, Presbyterian Church in America, and Lutheran–Missouri Synod. See, e.g., Notes and Sources at Steve Gardner, “David Lipscomb, Church of Christ Foundational Leader: ‘All the Teaching of the Bible is Against Women Speaking in Public’ (It Gets Worse),” AuthenticTheology.com (April 12, 2018).
Southern Baptist and Lutheran — Missouri Synod shrank: See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lutheran_Church%E2%80%93Missouri_Synod ; https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2019/may/southern-baptists-acp-membership-baptism-decline-2018.html.
The Pew data is from this 2014 study from Pew Research: http://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/religious-denomination/churches-of-christ/. Also see Steve Gardner, “David Lipscomb, Church of Christ Foundational Leader: ‘All the Teaching of the Bible is Against Women Speaking in Public’ (It Gets Worse),”.
“A study found that of Churches of Christ loosening this prohibition, 68% saw …”: Matt Dabbs, “Women’s Roles in Churches of Christ Survey 2016,” Wineskins.org (May 24, 2016).
The data reported suggests removing or loosening this prohibition on women and girls would lead to turn around, renewal, and growth, as, of the congregations making such a change,
+ 51% reporting increased visitors (45% no change),
+ increased contributions, average 16% gain
+ 53% reporting more supportive (39% same),
+ 90% saying 10 years later they would do it again (!)
+ 68% saying they saw increased participation (28% no change),
+ 15% increased participation by men (only 6% reporting decreased) ….
It is also apparent that this report discusses the “first batch” of Churches of Christ making this change, from which everyone hopefully learns. I am sure it was difficult for each of them. They did not have a lot to go by. Particularly considering this, the numbers they reported are amazingly good.
My understanding is that the announcement and implementation and other data was reported over a number of years. If the percentage decline numbers, however, are “walk out the door” numbers, then one cannot infer whether or not making a change in this regard will lead to actual growth or not. In other words, it reports that half grow or stay even at the time of announcement / implementation and half have people walk out the door at that time.
That does not tell us anything one way or another about leading to actual growth. It tells us something about “day 1,” essentially. It tells us half go down some on “day 1” and half do not (some go up), but it **** does not tell us if the decision leads to actual growth on “day 2” or after ****.
I suppose, for the half that have people walk out the door, it depends in part on * who * walks out the door. If those who walk out the door are the type of people who bring others down, who do little work, who depress, etc., then it might actually improve the chances of growth and renewal. As noted above, the other things reported indicate that the change should lead to actual growth after the change.
Some cite data that half of the Churches of Christ congregations that make this change initially lose members as proof that this is not a growth strategy. But one important item missed is that if people leave over this issue they are almost certainly going to another Church of Christ, so they are not leaving the denomination. The Churches of Christ are about the only ones who completely prohibit women from speaking. That is, it has no impact whatsoever on the denomination’s numbers. The denomination’s numbers are the same. Indeed, pruning the one congregation of people who object to the more-open strategy of the one congregation while leaving the pair with the same number of people gives more possibility for growth than before, as now there is at least an option in the geographic area for people who want a more open opportunity. Thus, it is certainly a growth strategy for the denomination.
“Recent study published by Oxford University Press …”: See, e.g., Steve Gardner, “Church of Christ Practice Harms Girls Long-Term, Suggests 2018 Study,” AuthenticTheology.com (November 28, 2018).
“number of Church of College graduates who identify as Church of Christ has dropped by half …”: see Steve Gardner, “The Code Blue Church of Christ: 2018 Report Shows Accelerated Membership Decline,” AuthenticTheology.com (November 14, 2018).
“growing number …”: A list of gender-inclusive Churches of Christ is maintained by Wiley Clarkson at Where the Spirit Leads.
Limited Churches of Christ Experience: Study—– Matt Dabbs, “Women’s Roles in Churches of Christ Survey 2016,” Wineskins.org (May 24, 2016).
Some Churches of Christ that have grown after making a switch to be more inclusive include Camarillo Church of Christ, The Church at 1548 Heights (Houston), Minter Lane Church of Christ. (I am told these have grown.) These appear likely to have grown as well, but I have not yet confirmed: Culver Palms Church of Christ, Conejo Valley Church of Christ, University Church of Christ, Northlake Church of Christ, Overland Park Church of Christ, … Note: Should be able to look at the data from the 21st Century books — from 2006, 2012, 2018 — and determine if the various congregations grew.
These factors indicate the Churches of Christ practice relative to women and girls played a significant role in its decline. It is difficult to pinpoint the precise magnitude of its contribution to the decline so far and other factors likely also played a significant role. Relative to the future, it is important to note that things have changed rapidly recently and it is a different world now relative to peoples’ views on sex discrimination. People’s awareness of the harmful impact of sex discrimination, Title IX, #MeToo, sex abuse in sports, sex abuse in churches, the ascent of women in business and education, and other factors make it a different world than even 10 years ago. In light of this, it will be impossible for the Churches of Christ to recover if it does not change its practice regarding women and girls very soon. That is, its practice relative to women and girls played a significant role of unknown magnitude in its decline in the past, and the current and foreseeable future situation is such that a failure to change on this issue will make it impossible for the Churches of Christ to recover.
1. The group we are in, evangelical Christianity — the group with which we share tons in common, geographically, theologically, etc. — is staying relatively steady and even growing over a time period.
2. The CoC is declining rapidly, and our decline is accelerating, in that time period.
3. So we are likely doing something different from the group that is causing us to be so different.
4. So let’s identify what we are doing different that might have a significant impact on membership.
5. Those things are likely candidates for significant factors in our decline.
6. It shows the issue plays “a significant role” in our decline.
Professor Ryan P. Burge projects the Churches of Christ CoC is in —- Evangelicals —- as a whole to stay roughly steady or increase slightly between now and 2030 (22.5% to 22.6%). Meanwhile, at the rate we shrank over the last 3 years, we would lose almost a quarter of our membership over that time period. And Interim Ministry Partners and Kairos Church Planting seem to predict a larger decline than that for the CoC, apparently based just on the large % of older people (dying) and not replacing them with a sufficient number of younger people. How are we different from most of those other evangelical groups in ways that would have a significant, negative impact on our ability to attract people — young people in particular — to the CoC? How are we different from most of the other evangelical groups in ways that keeps us from attracting new people while they are able to do so?
Discussion by Kelly Edmiston, woman who left the Churches of Christ over this issue:
Updated: made clarifying edits to “Some other Christian denominations …” paragraph (specifying Southern Baptist, adding last sentence) and “And still other …” paragraph (adding still other, adding preaching, etc., to make clearer) at 4:07 pm 11/20; expanded Wide Negative section and edited Mainline section to add Disciples of Christ note 7:22 am 11/14; added sentence about mainline birthrates and cite and added Mainline Denomination Section and Churches of Christ section at 10:25 am 11/13; added Figure 2, 12/10; 2/5 added “THE.”
Top picture by Gerd Altmann from pixabay.com.
It is baffling that anyone would see something that less than 3-4% of Christianity does —- engage in billboard-level sex-discrimination in the worship service with the complete prohibition of women and girls from any speaking, leading, or active service at all, the suppressing of the gifts of half of the church in the assembly, on stage for everyone to see, for members and potential visitors to consider whether they want to participate in that with their daughters — is a neutral factor for impact on the Church of Christ’s membership rolls when our membership rolls are on fire, and instead want more evidence beyond having heard from the people that have spoken before about the issue and beyond what is in the article, all just for proof that the issue plays a significant role in our decline.
For more on the scripture relating to this issue, see:
Start here for a discussion regarding scripture on this issue: Steve Gardner, “20 Passages Asking Women to Speak, Teach, Lead, and Have Authority Over Men, In the Assembly and Elsewhere,” AuthenticTheology.com (September 3, 2018).
For a discussion regarding 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, see Steve Gardner, “Most Church of Christ Colleges No Longer Exclude Women From Leading in Worship Services: … 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 …,” AuthenticTheology.com (May 22, 2018).
For a discussion regarding 1 Timothy 2:12, see Steve Gardner, “10 Churches of Christ Where Women Speak in the Assembly: 1 Timothy 2:12, “Teach or Usurp Authority” (Part 3),” AuthenticTheology.com (April 9, 2019).
For a discussion regarding 1 Timothy 2:11-15, see Steve Gardner, “Most Church of Christ Colleges No Longer Exclude Women From Leading in Worship Services: … 1 Timothy 2:12 …,” AuthenticTheology.com (May 30, 2018).
For a discussion regarding female elders, see Steve Gardner, “10 Churches of Christ Where Women Speak in the Assembly: Female Elders (Part 2),” AuthenticTheology.com (April 3, 2019).
For scriptural discussions from various Churches of Christ, see these two articles: see Steve Gardner, “10 Churches of Christ Where Women Speak in the Assembly: List and Links (Part 1),” AuthenticTheology.com (March 26, 2019); and Steve Gardner, “Another 10 Churches of Christ Where Women Speak in the Assembly: Their Reasons & a Quiz,” AuthenticTheology.com (April 24, 2019).