About 10 Church of Christ congregations closed in the United States each month, on average (net), during the past 3 years, 2016 – 2019, based on an analysis of data released by 21st Century Christian, a publisher that tracks Churches of Christ demographics.
This rate of closings over the past 3 years is more than double the approximately 4.1 per month that closed from 2000 to 2015, a major acceleration.
The total number of Church of Christ congregations in the United States shrank by approximately 9.6% — over 1260 congregations — in the last 29 years, from 1990 to 2019, and over a quarter of that number came in just the last 3 years, shrinking 2.8% from 2016 to 2019.
As reported in Authentic Theology last month, the Churches of Christ in the United States lost 1 in every 8 members since 1990, greatly accelerating recently to shrinking over 5.6% from just 2016 to 2019, according to an analysis of data from 21st Century Christian. At this rate, the Churches of Christ will lose a quarter of its members over the next 15 years (plus their kids).
And it is not just that many Churches of Christ congregations lost members — though they did — it is also that large numbers of congregations closed for good.
Churches of Christ Stands Out By Shrinking When and Where it Has
It is not true that all denominations are shrinking. Christianity Today, earlier this year, reported “evangelicals in the United States are holding steady” and “a surprising uptick for mainline Protestants” recently.
Fig. 2: Religious Categories as % of U.S. Population (Figure from Ryan P. Burge, “Evangelicals Show No Decline, Despite Trump and Nones,” Christianity Today (March 21, 2019)) (Mainline Uptick arrow inserted).
The Churches of Christ stands out within its branch of Christianity. 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.
Fig. 3: Evangelical Christianity Steady, Data Source: GSS. (Figure from Landon Schnabel & Sean Bock, “The Persistent and Exceptional Intensity of American Religion: A Response to Recent Research,” Sociological Science, Vol. 4, 686-700 (Nov. 2017)).
Some of the Likely Reasons the Churches of Christ Shrank
Why did the Churches of Christ shrink? Some of the reasons likely include:
- A general failure to plant churches, probably influenced by completely prohibiting women and girls from speaking in its worship services and other restrictions on them (e.g., planting such a church seems like a waste of time and effort, and not one that can generate excitement)
- Poorly positioned to take advantage of growth opportunities — e.g., although about 1.5 million departed Southern Baptist (SBC) churches in the last 10 years (<10% of its membership, but more than the Churches of Christ), even though the SBC is in the Churches of Christ back yard, since many departed over the SBC’s refusal to ordain women, it was a lost opportunity for the Churches of Christ
- People leaving the Churches of Christ because of its doctrine on women
- The negative overall influence restrictions on women and girls has on members’ willingness to invite visitors, potential visitors’ interest in the first place, etc.
These are not the only factors, of course.
Something directly impacting half of those in the church at the fundamental level of sex discrimination propagates widely, though, and calls out for attention.
This article discusses these factors briefly and expresses some hope at the end.
A Threshold Issue: Today is Not Like It Was Even 10 Years Ago
There are many factors that caused us to shrink, but if we do not change on this one issue soon then recovery will be impossible.
Things have changed rapidly, with awareness of the harmful impact of sex discrimination, Title IX, #MeToo, discovery of wide-spread sex-abuse in sports and churches, the ascent of women in business and education, etc. It is a different world than even 10 years ago. Awareness has grown and if people who are aware of it and its harmful impact can be done with sex discrimination or never expose themselves or their daughter to it, they are done with it.
The Churches of Christ could implement the best programs and invest enormous time, energy, and money, but if it does not change on this one issue, all that implementation and investment will not work and it will not survive.
Previously, there were enough people coming from Churches of Christ families and colleges who were used to the tradition of such restrictions on women and girls (some would say indoctrinated). The number of them has shrank precipitously in a generation. The Christian Chronicle reports that freshmen in Churches of Christ colleges who identify as part of the Churches of Christ has dropped by more than half since 1990. People within the tradition are leaving it, and people generally are done with sex discrimination, for themselves and their daughters.
There is a trickle who will put up with it or who join unaware for a time, but the faucet of such discrimination-accepting or discrimination-unaware people is slowing.
What is the Opposite of Church Planting?
The Christian Chronicle reported that Heritage 21 compared the Churches of Christ to national benchmarks indicating a denomination should have at least 16% of their congregations as new launches or young congregations (2-10 years) for the denomination to be healthy but that the Churches of Christ has less than 4% in these categories, with a barely registrable number of church plants and new congregations.
It quotes Stan Granberg explaining that for Churches of Christ in the United States, “the new church-planting rate is so low … that it does not register a significant percentage.”
Church planting is almost always in the top 3 of solutions proposed to turn around the descent and demise of the Churches of Christ.
First, Build a Time Machine
A church planting strategy might work for us if we could build a time machine and set it for 1874, a time in which planting churches in which women are barred from speaking might work.
Church plants involve generating excitement and interest. Excited about joining a church in which women are forbidden to speak in the worship service? We know you’ve been waiting for this!
Wouldn’t a complete prohibition on women and girls speaking sap energy and interest, causing the concept of church planting in many places to be a non-starter?
I would expect potentially successful church-plant strategies to involve not barring women from speaking. Some people — many preachers who depend on their income and reputation — are concerned about being perceived as liberal and would likely not suggest it out of fear. But investing in church planting otherwise makes little sense. And thus few church plants to speak of.
Completely Prohibiting Women and Girls from Speaking and Leading Likely Plays a Significant Role
The Churches of Christ practice of completely prohibiting women and girls from speaking, leading, and actively serving in the worship service — which only about 3-4% of Christianity in the United States does, the lions share of which is the Churches of Christ —, combined with its other restrictive treatment of women and girls, likely plays a significant role in the denomination’s decline and now rapidly accelerating decline, as described at Authentic Theology last month.
Such other treatment includes prohibiting women from serving as elder or deacon, banning women from teaching men in Sunday School, and, often, prohibiting girls from praying out loud in Sunday School in front of boys. This is in addition to the mentioned practice of complete prohibition in the worship service, including no leading singing, reading scripture, leading prayer, preaching, or helping with communion (this is the practice of the vast majority of the Churches of Christ).
To put it in plainer terms, sex discrimination at such an extreme, public, and highly unusual level likely plays a significant role in the Churches of Christ’s decline and now rapid decline.
What are some other indicators of the significant role and the effect such practice and sex discrimination likely has had and continues to have in the decline?
Women Say They Leave the Churches of Christ Over This
In a non-random survey of people who left the Churches of Christ described by Flavil R. Yeakley, Jr., in Why They Left: Listening to Those Who Have Left Churches of Christ (2012), a meaningful number of women (it appears to be at least around 4%-8%, but this is speculative as the specifics are not revealed) said their “main objection” was the denomination’s “doctrine concerning the role of women.”
The report did not say how many more women said the doctrine was “one of” their main objections. It is reasonable to infer that if it was the “main” objection for at least around 4-8%, it would have played a significant role for five or six times that number, 20% – 48%, at least. The report did not say how many men mentioned it. So these are all just speculative estimates.
Such estimates are in line with the experience of other Christian groups and issues, though. Approximately 4 in 10 former Catholics who are now unaffiliated named “unhappiness with Catholicism’s treatment of women” as a reason they departed the church.
40% of Women and Young People Who Left Their Childhood Religion Selected Negative Treatment of Gay People as “an Important Reason” Why They Left — Suggests Negative Treatment of Women Likely a Significant Factor When Present?
A survey by the Public Religion Research Institute revealed that 29% of people who left their childhood religion said an important reason was its negative religious teachings about or treatment of gay and lesbian people, increasing to 40% of women and 39% of those 29 and younger. The survey did not ask whether treatment of women was an important reason.
If around 40% (!) of women and young people who left their childhood religion consider negative treatment of gay people as an important reason to leave their religion, then what percentage of women and young people who left the Churches of Christ are likely to consider negative treatment of women and girls as an important reason they left?
And would many of those 40% consider joining a church that completely excludes women and girls from speaking in the worship service even if it was not harsh on gay people? We have to ask ourselves these questions, as I know of no scientific survey of those who left Churches of Christ. All this negatively influences our decline.
But Don’t Focus Only on Those Who Left Because …
Indeed, one can readily find women and men who left the Churches of Christ because of its doctrines relative to women and girls, as their “main objection” or one of them. There are even Facebook groups in which related discussions are seen, such as Deconstructing Church of Christ.
And one should avoid focusing solely on those who leave—though it is important—because such focus causes people to miss some other permeating ways this issue negatively influences membership and related, crucial points, up next.
It’s Not Just People Who Left Because of This Issue That Impacts Decline
Complete prohibition of women and girls and related treatment of women and girls also negatively impacts potential visitors’ interest in considering the church in the first place, members’ willingness to invite visitors to church, the church’s reputation and brand, and members’ enthusiasm and attitude towards the church and their interest in volunteering and investing time and energy in it.
It likely influences interest in starting and investment in church plants and the possibilities of people joining a church should it be planted, as mentioned above.
The prohibition also has a negative effect on 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 those hours. It impacts the congregation’s ability to connect with girls and women, witness to the world, and speak of justice, mercy, and love. The prohibition has a negative influence well beyond just members who leave because of it.
What’s That Sound? Cars Driving Past Our Church …
Over 1.5 million members departed Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) churches in the last 10 years (less than 10% of its membership but more than the total Churches of Christ membership).
Even though the two denominations have tremendous overlap geographically and theologically, relatively few of the departing joined the Churches of Christ. Attracting just 20% of that 1.5 million would have put the Churches of Christ membership higher than it has been in 40 years.
The SBC lost many members and potential future members due to its discrimination against women and girls. Indeed, two-thirds of Southern Baptists say women should be allowed to serve as preachers, but Southern Baptist leadership continues to forbid it, a point of enormous contention. Former president Jimmy Carter and his wife Roslyn severed ties with the Southern Baptist Convention due to this issue, and entire congregations departed the SBC over it, moving to other denominations, such as the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
… Another Example of What This Prohibition Does …
But the Churches of Christ discriminates against women and girls to a much greater extent than even SBC churches, completely prohibiting them from speaking, leading, and actively serving in the worship service, for example, while the SBC prohibits women from preaching and serving as pastor there.
Any of those 1.5 million Baptists interested in a less discriminatory place for themselves or their daughter would not have been interested in joining the Churches of Christ.
What’s That Smell? It’s a Practice That Stinks …
And it is much more than that. The practice—complete and total prohibition of girls and women from speaking, leading, and actively serving in the worship service, etc.—is
- sex discrimination on display, in a worship service to a loving God no less
- done despite some people recognizing that sex discrimination can be harmful to girls
- impairing to the witness of the church
- a scourge on the church
- contrary to scripture
- like racial discrimination
- like insisting black people not speak in the assembly or teach when white people are present
It is odoriferous. It stinks. It reeks. The smell gets into the clothing. It gets into the furniture. It’s in our hair. It hangs in the air.
But Churches of Christ Folks Have Gotten Used to the Smell
We’ve just gotten used to the smell.
The good people before us and around us did it and do it, so it has become normalized. It’s simply a tradition, referenced back to a few sentences in the Bible out of context, largely without thought.
It is time to clear our heads, take a deep breath, and see what the air smells like. And then do something about it.
Is it Moral to Attend a Church Where Black People Are Prohibited From Speaking in its Services When White People Are Present Due to Their Race?
Discriminating based on sex is like discriminating based on race.
Imagine participating in a worship service in which black people have been forbidden to speak or teach white people because of their race.
Imagine participating in a worship service in which black people have been forbidden to serve as an elder or as a preacher because of their race.
Is it moral to participate in such a service? What message does that send? Is it a sin to participate?
There are a few sentences of scripture, Genesis 9:20-27, that some call the Curse of Ham, to which a small percentage of people point (used to be more) to claim that black people are not to have authority over white people. The Curse of Ham was used to justify slavery and other things.
There is probably a small percentage of Christianity that still believes in the Curse of Ham. I wonder if it approaches 1-2%. I hope not.
Is it Moral to Attend a Church Where Females Are Prohibited From Speaking in its Services When Men Are Present Due to Their Sex?
There is a small percentage of Christianity, probably around 2-3%, that still believes in completely excluding women and girls from speaking, leading, and actively serving in the worship service. (The Churches of Christ denomination is virtually alone in doing this among Christian groups of any size, and some of them are changing.)
There are a few sentences of scripture, 1 Cor 14:34-35 and 1 Tim 2:12, also, to which a small percentage of people point (used to be more) to claim that women are not to have authority over men by speaking, leading, or actively serving in the assembly before men.
Now imagine participating in a worship service in which women have been forbidden to serve as an elder or as a preacher because of their sex.
Now imagine participating in a worship service in which women and girls have been forbidden to speak because of their sex.
Is it moral to participate in such a service? What message does that send? Is it a sin to participate?
What is the difference in participating in such a service involving sex discrimination and a service involving race discrimination?
Is it moral to participate in either one? Is it a sin to do so?
Scare Tactic of Citing Mainline Denomination Shrinking After Ordaining Women
People favoring exclusion of women sometimes say that mainline denominations—such as Methodists—ordain women and those denominations shrank immensely, implying that it Churches of Christ open opportunities to women, then Churches of Christ will shrink more.
This is like pointing out that Methodists have electricity and shrank immensely, and reasoning this means Churches of Christ getting electricity will cause greater decline. Mainline denominations, because of their geographic concentrations and economics often had electricity before the Churches of Christ, but that does not tell you anything about cause and effect.
It is obvious that ordaining women is not the reason for decline, as shown by evangelical groups in which women participate fully that have seen tremendous growth. Many, if not most, evangelical denominations that ordain women — Assemblies of God and the Church of God, for example — grew, often significantly at times, in recent years. Women preach and serve in all roles in the worship service.
In contrast, 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, Churches of Christ, and Lutheran — Missouri Synod.
Turn on the Lights
It’s like we are sitting around in the dark, and people keep saying “don’t turn on the lights because because the Methodists turned on the lights and they shrank.”
And researchers showed long ago that the decline of the mainline denominations (e.g., United Methodist) 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.). Among other things, they concluded, evangelical denominations’ recent growth “has little or no ideological content; its source is the greater number of young people raised in their tradition.”
Many mainline denominations, such as the Disciples of Christ, 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 other areas, which has young people moving from those areas to places in which evangelical denominations are often concentrated (e.g., parts of the southeast and Texas) that has seen population and economic growth of late.
But people opposed to women serving still point to mainline denomination’s having ordained women and shrinking — without evidence of causation and when research shows it was not the cause — often as a scare tactic.
Scripture: It’s a Sin to Prohibit Girls and Women
Blocking a woman from actively serving in the worship service is blocking her from loving (worshiping) God with all her heart, mind, and soul and from loving (serving) her neighbor, as Jesus asks, as the Greatest Commandment. (Mark 12:28-31)
And it is blocking her from doing what God asks of women: God asks women over and over again in the Bible to speak to, lead, teach, and exercise authority over men, in service of God, in an assembly and elsewhere (click on this article link for 20+ scripture passages in which women speak to, lead, teach, and exercise authority over men, in an assembly and elsewhere).
Blocking women and girls from what Jesus and God asks is a sin.
People point to only a handful of sentences, as few as 3-4, in the Bible to claim women and girls ought not speak in the assembly and the same article and this one introduces why they do not mean they are not to speak and lead (and articles at the end of the Sources & Notes section below provides more discussion on the scripture).
Conclusion: Now is the Time to Revisit the Scripture in a Meaningful Way
God’s Word, including consideration of some of the passages outlined above, is why a growing number of Churches of Christ congregation, after studying scripture, have changed and lifted prohibitions on women and girls.
Will the fellowship’s rapid decline be enough of a wake-up call, finally, for people to open their Bibles and study scripture on this issue? Of course, membership ups and downs is not the reason for changing. It is, however, a reason to take the time to open up your Bible and study the Word. There are many reasons to do this, including care for girls and women.
It is past time to do this, to ask the elders to engage on the issue and to have the congregation study the issue as a congregation, including engaging with resources and people that look at the issue from all sides, and not just resources designed to affirm what the congregation is already doing. Declining fellowship membership is just one more motivation to finally take the time to spend substantial time, as a congregation, studying the issue together in a deep, real, meaningful way.
So, there is hope, as demonstrated by Churches of Christ congregations that have made changes and become egalitarian or inclusive and continue to seek more inclusiveness.
But the Churches of Christ is running out of time, as a point of no return — a time at which enough people with the interest and energy to study and support and make such a change have given up and departed that such a change becomes impossible — cannot be far off.
It’s way past time to ask elders to reconsider and for churches to get rid of all prohibitions on women and girls.
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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 a discussion regarding Christ’s example, see Steve Gardner, “One of Largest Churches of Christ Opens Preaching Role to Women — And Some Questions,” AuthenticTheology.com (September 17, 2019).
For scriptural discussions from various Churches of Christ, see these three articles: Steve Gardner, “10 Churches of Christ Where Women Speak in the Assembly: List and Links (Part 1),” AuthenticTheology.com (March 26, 2019); Steve Gardner, “Another 10 Churches of Christ Where Women Speak in the Assembly: Their Reasons & a Quiz,” AuthenticTheology.com (April 24, 2019); and Steve Gardner, “4 More Churches of Christ Open Speaking Roles to Women,” AuthenticTheology.com (November 26, 2019).
Sources and 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) and last month’s article, Steve Gardner, “Church of Christ Decline Worsens, 2400 a Month Depart, Treatment of Women & Girls Factor,” AuthenticTheology.com (November 13, 2019).
Mainline Christianity (United Methodist Church, Disciples of Christ, etc.) has shrank tremendously, as has the Roman Catholic Church. Researchers found that the main reason mainline Christianity shrank was low birth-rates (an older population that had fewer babies, etc.). It does not take much of a difference in birth rates to then propagate through a couple of generations (e.g., the group of people in group X are older, in a different geographic and economic state, and have fewer kids than group Y, and then those kids in group X are in same area and have same or slightly fewer, and then due to economics at the time, some more move to the geographic area of group Y than the kids of group Y move to group X, etc.). Mainline Christianity recently saw an uptick, though, seeing its first increase in years over the past two years.
While the Churches of Christ does not share as much in common with mainline denominations or the Roman Catholic Church, geographically or theologically, the Churches of Christ has lots in common with the category of Christianity in which it resides, Evangelical Christianity — geography and theology. Evangelical Christianity is concentrated in the southeast / southwest United States and overlaps a great deal theologically even among its various denominations.
As a whole, Evangelical Christianity (conservative Protestant Christianity, made up of Assemblies of God, Churches of Christ, Church of the Nazarene, Church of God, Lutheran — Missouri Synod, Presbyterian Church in America, Seventh Day Adventist, Southern Baptist, various community and non-denominational churches, and multiple others) stayed relatively steady in size, and even grew in many times and places, over the past 30 years. But the Churches of Christ shrank, and then did so rapidly, over that time. Few impactful things differentiate Churches of Christ from Evangelical Christianity as a whole. One is that nearly all Churches of Christ completely prohibit women and girls from speaking, leading, and actively serving in the worship service, from leading singing, leading prayer, preaching, reading scripture, helping with communion and offering, etc. Only 3-4% of U.S. Christianity does this and the Churches of Christ makes up the lions share of it. In other words, the Churches of Christ is virtually alone in this extreme form of exclusion of women and girls. (See last month’s article)
Note that throughout the article, references to “Christianity” and the like relative to numbers and percentages is normally to Christianity in the United States. For the most part, I believe the percentages indicate (e.g., who does this practice) is reflective of worldwide, based on my discussions and research, but the particular numbers I have been able to find are U.S. numbers.
“… 9.6 each month, on average, during the past 3 years …”: The difference between 12251 congregations for December 2016 and 11926 for October 2019 is 325, which is 9.6 per month.
“double the already high rate of closings for Churches of Christ congregations from 2000 to 2015”: 13032 in 2000 minus 12297 in 2015 leaves 735, which is 4.08 per month.
“total number of Church of Christ congregations shrank by approximately 9.62% — by over 1260 congregations — from 1990 to 2019”: 13174 in 1990 minus estimates 11906.9 in December 2019 (estimated from 11926 in October 2019) is a 9.62% reduction.
“shrinking 2.81% during the 2016 to 2019 time period”: 12251 minus 11906.9 is a 2.81% reduction.
dropped by half, etc.: see Steve Gardner, “The Code Blue Church of Christ: 2018 Report Shows Accelerated Membership Decline,” AuthenticTheology.com (November 14, 2018), and sources cited therein.
“Authentic Theology last month ….”: See Steve Gardner, “Church of Christ Decline Worsens, 2400 a Month Depart, Treatment of Women & Girls Factor,” AuthenticTheology.com (November 13, 2019).
Mainline .. birth-rates: https://repository.upenn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1055&context=sociology_papers
Mainline Christianity recently saw an “uptick” and Fig. 2: 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.”). It is too soon to tell if that uptick is just an anomaly or will hold.
“Relatively steady …” and Fig. 3: Landon Schnabel & Sean Bock, “The Persistent and Exceptional Intensity of American Religion: A Response to Recent Research,” Sociological Science, Vol. 4, 686-700 (Nov. 2017)
“Some of the Likely Reasons …”:
Based on, for example:
- the Churches of Christ is unique within evangelical Christianity in this extreme form of exclusion
- the denomination declined, and then declined rapidly, while evangelical Christianity as a whole stayed relatively steady
- most women do not like sex discrimination
- most parents do not like sex discrimination for their daughters
- sex discrimination and related matters have grown in prominence
- recent rise of women in business, education, government, etc., and likelihood that it impacts their willingness to put up with complete exclusion from speaking, etc.
- sex discrimination has a negative impact on young girls and others
- most evangelical Christian denominations that are shrinking restrict women
- nearly all evangelical Christian denominations that are growing ordain women,
- some people who left the Churches of Christ said they did so due to this issue
- some people have said they would not attend Churches of Christ due to this issue
- some recent graduates of Churches of Christ colleges have picked another type of church because of this issue,
- studies from other denominations (e.g., Catholics) indicate women leave their religious body over treatment of women
- Yeakley’s study in which some women who had departed the Churches of Christ said this was the their “main objection”
- the substantial percentage of people who left their childhood religion who say that teachings/actions relative to gay and lesbians persons was an important reason for their departure suggests that a substantial person would likely say that completely prohibiting women form speaking would be an important reason for their departure or not coming in the first place when present
- the Churches of Christ not gaining a meaningful number of that enormous number of Southern Baptists who departed, many because of the SBC’s decision not to ordain women (e.g., Jimmy Carter et al. and CBF departures), even though the SBC and Churches of Christ overlap a great deal geographically and theologically
- the Churches of Christ general failure to plant churches when it is an obvious solution (but when typical modern church plants would likely not be successful when completely restricting women in such a manner in the worship service)
- the immoral nature of sex discrimination and the general impact of immoral actions
- the general nature of sex discrimination
- the hesitation that some people have with inviting others to view and participate in sex discrimination
- the loss of bringing the full gifts of half of the church to bear
- the loss of some role model viewing and inspiration opportunities for the girls and women
- other factors
“10 Years …”: see Bobby Ross, Jr., “Christian universities feeling the pinch as Churches of Christ shrink,” The Christian Chronicle (December 26, 2017), https://christianchronicle.org/christian-universities-feeling-the-pinch-as-churches-of-christ-shrink/; Steve Gardner, “The Code Blue Church of Christ: 2018 Report Shows Accelerated Membership Decline,” AuthenticTheology.com (November 14, 2018), and sources cited therein.
“Heritage 21 compared the Churches of Christ to national benchmarks …”: Erik Tryggestad, “Can Churches of Christ be saved?,” The Christian Chronicle (Aug. 29, 2018); see Steve Gardner, “The Code Blue Church of Christ: 2018 Report Shows Accelerated Membership Decline,” AuthenticTheology.com (November 14, 2018), and sources cited therein.
Stan Grenberg quote: Erik Tryggestad, “Can Churches of Christ be saved?,” The Christian Chronicle (Aug. 29, 2018).
Church planting: Edward Stetzer and Warren Bird, “The State of Church Planting in the United States: Research Overview and Qualitative Study of Primary Church Planting Entities”
“The Church of Christ practice … 3-4 % … “: See Steve Gardner, “Church of Christ Decline Worsens, 2400 a Month Depart, Treatment of Women & Girls Factor,” AuthenticTheology.com (November 13, 2019).
“Why They Left …” is by by Flavil R. Yeakley, Jr. and was published in 2012. 325 responded to an online survey. It was not a random sample. The report did not say how many of the 325 were men and how many women. The report say 7 described women’s roles as their “main objection.” Assuming about half of the 325 were women, then 7 is about 5%. Given the way the online survey was marketed (advertised via an article in the Christian Chronicle, word of mouth through Church of Christ and Harding University sources, etc.), I suspect it was a male-oriented response. So, it could be much higher than 5% that said their main objection is women’s roles. If 5-10% said their “main” objection is women’s roles, given that the response was in essay form, in which the vast majority of responses probably would have expressed more than one reason for leaving in an essay, then odds are probably good that a substantial number of additional people mentioned the issue, too. Again, this is not a random sample, so we can’t infer it reflects the full group of those who departed (or those who did join the Churches of Christ in the first place). The book would have more useful and interesting if he would have given a full report on the responses, rather than spending space on giving his views on why they were wrong to feel they way they feel, spending so much space giving a defense of Churches of Christ practice, etc. Hearing more about what those who left had to say and less from Yeakley, even though I respect his experience, would have made for a better book. The opportunity to hear from such people is valuable. It would be valuable to publish all responses online, in fact. So, my percentage estimates is a best guess best on the information provided in the book. Given that the survey was done several years ago, I suspect that the percentage pointing to this issue would increase if done today.
“4 in 10 former Catholics …”: https://www.pewforum.org/2009/04/27/faith-in-flux/ (“In response to the yes-or-no questions about why they left the Catholic Church, nearly six-in-ten former Catholics who are now unaffiliated say … roughly four-in-ten name unhappiness with Catholicism’s treatment of women.”).
Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) Survey: Jones, Robert P., Daniel Cox, Betsy Cooper, and Rachel Lienesch. “Exodus: Why Americans Are Leaving Religion – and Why They’re Unlikely to Come Back.” PRRI. 2016. https://www.prri.org/research/prri-rns-poll-nones-atheist-leaving-religion/ (“Among the reasons Americans identified as important motivations in leaving their childhood religion are: they stopped believing in the religion’s teachings (60%), their family was never that religious when they were growing up (32%), and their experience of negative religious teachings about or treatment of gay and lesbian people (29%). … Among those who left their childhood religion, women are twice as likely as men to say negative religious teachings about or treatment of gay and lesbian individuals was a major reason they chose to leave their religion (40% vs. 20%, respectively). Women are also about twice as likely as men to cite the clergy sexual-abuse scandal as an important reason they left their childhood faith (26% vs. 13%, respectively).”).
A comment on the above: Since the Churches of Christ is nearly alone in its extreme form of prohibitions on women’s roles (no speaking/leading/actively serving at all in the worship service, etc.) — only about 2-4% of Christianity does it, most of which is the Churches of Christ — “our issues” often do not show up in the polls. We are not big enough to bother with, essentially. But I will comment that if a person’s major leaving for leaving their religion is treatment of gay and lesbian people is a major reason for leaving, then odds are decent that treatment of women would also be high on their list. And with women being twice as likely (40%), this suggests it is a likely significant factor.
Many women and quite a few men have commented to me and on articles written by me that they left the Churches of Christ because of this issue, and I have seen them say the same elsewhere (e.g., in forums and on writings by others).
See generally https://www.patheos.com/blogs/tonyjones/2013/11/22/its-time-for-a-schism-regarding-women-in-the-church/ (Comment by JTB, 6 years ago — “hi Tony, I appreciate your passion on this. As a woman, a theologian, and life long CofCer (that’s Churcha-Christer, verbalized) I want to affirm your anger and the need for justice. And, also to defend why I “stay” within a church denomination that (typically) refuses not only to allow women into leadership and (paid) ministry positions, but to allow women’s voices to be heard and women’s bodies to occupy space “up front” during corporate worship. First I want to say that I don’t counsel other people to do what I’m attempting to do. The “stay or go” question is vexing and complicated and there’s no one size fits all answer, I think. But I don’t encourage people to stay in a church environment that has become toxic to them (my husband left years ago and is now happy being an Episcopal priest). So, since I don’t counsel other people to stay put as a more righteous or effective response to this injustice, why do I? Because I can, and because at the moment I think I can do more good by staying rather than leaving. It’s a unique possibility given my location and resources and education and network, and so I’m doing my best to utilize these things well. But I engage the work, not because I want to reform the institution or change the Church of Christ, per se. I engage in this work because I care deeply about the women sitting in the pews for whom leaving is still an unimaginable possibility, and the little girls who grow up hearing things that make them feel like, and I quote, “Jesus only died for the boys.” There are so many of them. And for those who find the courage to leave, hallelujah: be free in Christ to serve and glorify God with all that you are. For those who are still stuck, I’ll stick around. For anyone who’s connected with the CofC and is interested in working toward gender justice in the CofC, gal328.org is still around and thriving. :)) (Comment by Robyn, 6 years ago — “I admire what you are doing. I refuse to attend services at CoC with my in-laws, and I don’t want my children growing up thinking that it’s not even acceptable for a woman to simply exist if it is at the front of the room. May God use you to change hearts and minds.”) (Comment by Paige, 6 years ago — “I’m a C of Cer. I’ve never seen it written Churcha-Christer. I’m going to have to remember that one! Made me laugh. I appreciate your words. I have 2 daughters and a son and I struggle with the same thing, stay or go. I want to go, but I think there’s value in staying and serving. There’s value in going also. But I stay for the people who are greatly loved by God even while I don’t get my way. I’m hoping that God will work on my hard heart by teaching me how to remain with people with whom I disagree. Staying or going is a tough choice each person has to make on their own, there’s not just one right answer. I’m totally excited to know that Gal328.org is a church of Christ group! I did not know that! Now, off to search their site!”).
“As a whole, though, Evangelical Christianity … stayed relatively steady, and even grew in many times and places, over the past 30 years.”: 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 https://www.sociologicalscience.com/download/vol-4/november/SocSci_v4_686to700.pdf?fbclid=IwAR3pizmPvmPSseQAU2i2K04lyGc01Cto3PzeC5t7k4-drZKoJxzKNn2OgOk (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.”).
“Churches of Christ shrank … Few impactful things … Only 3-4% of U.S. Christianity … last week’s article …”: See Steve Gardner, “Church of Christ Decline Worsens, 2400 a Month Depart, Treatment of Women & Girls Factor,” AuthenticTheology.com (November 13, 2019).
What’s That Sound? Cars Not Stopping at Our Church …
Over 1.5 million members departed Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) churches in the last 10 years (less than 10% of its membership). Relatively few joined Churches of Christ even though one was probably just around the corner. That many, 1.5 million, is more than the total Churches of Christ membership. Attracting just 20% of that 1.5 million would have put the Churches of Christ membership higher than it has been in 40 years. In the abstract, it is surprising Churches of Christ congregations failed to see a substantial portion of those 1.5 million SBC members join them, as the two closely overlap geographically—a southeast/southwest base—and, in many ways, theologically. In reality, though, it is likely that many of the reasons the SBC lost members are attributes associated with the Churches of Christ. For example, the SBC lost many members and potential future members due to its discrimination against women and girls. Indeed, two-thirds of Southern Baptists say women should be allowed to serve as preachers, but Southern Baptist leadership continues to forbid it. It is a point of enormous contention within the Southern Baptist denomination. Former president Jimmy Carter and his wife Roslyn severed ties with the Southern Baptist Convention due to its policy of refusing to ordain women as pastors, deacons, or chaplains in the military (women lead singing and otherwise speak in SBC worship services). Many other people also severed ties with the SBC over its refusal to ordain women. Entire congregations departed the SBC over the issue, moving to other denominations, such as the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, over the issue, too. The Churches of Christ discriminates against women and girls to a much greater extent than even SBC churches, completely prohibiting them from speaking, leading, and actively serving in the worship service, for example, while the SBC prohibits women from preaching and serving as pastor there. Any of those 1.5 million Baptists interested in a less discriminatory place for themselves or their daughter would not have been interested in joining the Churches of Christ. But had the Churches of Christ been a place where women and girls were not discriminated against or at least not at such a high level, it could have led to tens if not hundreds of thousands of people joining the Churches of Christ. This is just one more example of how the treatment of girls and women by the Churches of Christ plays a significant role in its decline and continues to do so.
“Over 1.5 million members departed Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) churches in the last 10 years (less than 10% of its membership).”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southern_Baptist_Convention
“the SBC lost many members and potential future members due to its discrimination against women and girls … Roman Catholic …”: See, e.g., https://www.adherents.com/largecom/baptist_SBC_Carter.html; https://www.theage.com.au/politics/federal/losing-my-religion-for-equality-20090714-dk0v.html; http://www.baptist2baptist.net/b2barticle.asp?ID=228; https://www.cbeinternational.org/blogs/it-well-churches-ordain-women (“I made a deliberate decision to only attend churches that believe in and practice the ordination of women.”); https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cooperative_Baptist_Fellowship;
“two-thirds of Southern Baptists say women should be allowed to serve as preachers”: https://religionnews.com/2019/06/11/most-southern-baptist-women-would-welcome-a-woman-pastor-its-unlikely-to-happen/
“Former president Jimmy Carter and his wife Roslyn severed ties”: https://www.theage.com.au/politics/federal/losing-my-religion-for-equality-20090714-dk0v.html
“churches departed the SBC over the issue …”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cooperative_Baptist_Fellowship
“several million people left the Roman Catholic church in the last 10 years …”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_Church_in_the_United_States
“Approximately 4 in 10 former Catholics who are now unaffiliated named “unhappiness with Catholicism’s treatment of women” as a reason they departed”: https://www.pewforum.org/2009/04/27/faith-in-flux/ Catholicism’s treatment of women and girls in the worship service and the classroom is better than the Churches of Christ. Catholicism does not restrict women as extensively as the Churches of Christ in either place. (Of course, “treatment of women” can encompass other matters, such as teachings on divorce. But the Churches of Christ generally do not have a good reputation relative to teachings on divorce either.)
In my view, the practice—complete and total prohibition of girls and women from speaking, leading, and actively serving in the worship service—is …
- sex discrimination (See, e.g., https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/discrimination)
- harmful [see, e.g. https://authentictheology.com/2018/11/28/church-of-christ-practice-harms-girls-long-term-suggests-2018-study/ ; https://authentictheology.com/2019/01/30/part-2-church-of-christ-practice-harms-girls-long-term-suggests-2018-study-negative-reactions/ ]
- a sin
- contrary to scripture
- contrary to what God asks
- contrary to what Jesus asks [see, e.g., https://authentictheology.com/2018/09/03/20-scripture-passages-telling-women-to-speak-teach-lead-and-have-authority-over-men-in-the-assembly-and-elsewhere/ ; https://authentictheology.com/2019/10/20/beth-moore-called-narcissist-told-go-home-churches-of-christ-reflections/]
- impairing to the witness of the church
- significant in the church’s decline
- done by virtually no one else in Christianity [see, e.g., https://authentictheology.com/2019/11/13/church-of-christ-decline-worsens-2400-a-month-depart-treatment-of-women-girls-factor/]
“Many, if not most, evangelical groups that ordain women — Assemblies of God and the Church of God, for example — grew,… In contrast, most, if not nearly all, denominations of size that do not ordain women and who restrict them in the worship service shrank significantly,….” See Steve Gardner, “Church of Christ Decline Worsens, 2400 a Month Depart, Treatment of Women & Girls Factor,” AuthenticTheology.com (November 13, 2019) and sources cited therein.
See Steve Gardner, “Church of Christ Decline Worsens, 2400 a Month Depart, Treatment of Women & Girls Factor,” AuthenticTheology.com (November 13, 2019).
“There is a small percentage of Christianity, probably around 2-3%, that still believes in completely excluding women and girls from speaking, leading, and actively serving in the worship service.”: Only the Churches of Christ and a few other very small denominations practice it, do it. It’s probably about 3% of Christianity, maybe less. The Churches of Christ is the largest. Not everyone in the denominations believes in doing it. “Believes in” is probably too strong of a term, as I think the vast majority are simply doing what the good people who came before them did and who are around them are doing. So 2% is a bit of a guess. It’s probably around that number, probably much less than that if one takes a more stringent view of “believes in.” See article cited immediately above (Sources & Notes section for calculation and sources).
1 Cor 14:34-35 and 1 Tim 2:12: See articles cited at top.
Scare Tactic: See Steve Gardner, “Church of Christ Decline Worsens, 2400 a Month Depart, Treatment of Women & Girls Factor,” AuthenticTheology.com (November 13, 2019).
Conclusion: See Steve Gardner, “One of Largest Churches of Christ Opens Preaching Role to Women — And Some Questions,” AuthenticTheology.com (September 17, 2019).
Wiley Clarkson, Where The Spirit Leads.
Elders and preachers have a heightened duty to determine sound doctrine. Biblically, they cannot rest on what was done before. (Hebrews 13:17)
See also Bob Turner, “Smith Hopkins on Churches of Christ in Decline” (February 2019) (misses the cloud of extensive sex discrimination nearly completely, dismisses a form of it by noting that some other denominations that are more free in that regard have shrank without considering the causes of decline of those denominations (researchers showed it was because of birth rates — age of the members, etc, see ; cites failure to keep pace with growth in Hispanic communities, failure to plant churches as significant factors; Smith Hopkins seems very thoughtful). My reaction to part of this: Here’s a prerequisite to successful planting: the church that one plants needs to be one that other human beings want to join. People don’t want to join a church that discriminates based on race or sex. Planting a church in which women are forbidden to speak, lead, etc.? Maybe if we build a time machine and plant the church in 1870 or 1950. And people say that our prohibition on women has no impact on our decline? Ridiculous. Doing a church plant is not even going to enter the mind as a viable possibility because one cannot imagine people that you want to attract to a church plant wanting to attend a new church in which sex discrimination is the rule.
See generally re church planting:
See Bob Turner,“Footnotes Audio: Stan Granberg on Churches of Christ in Decline,” Footnotes Audio (February 2019) (references the typical lifespan of congregations and the percentage of Churches of Christ that are over that age; (9:15 on …) let gifting rise to the top, enthusiasm model; (17:00) open hermeneutic; restore apostolic leaders;….)
Tim Woodroof & Stan Greenberg, “Churches of Christ: Losing Our Hope Seeking Our Future: New Study Reveals Drastic Decline,” Interim Ministry Partners (2019)
Stanley Greenberg, “Three Bold Challenges for Churches of Christ,” Wineskins.org (July 17, 2019)
Michael Hout, Andrew Greeley, and Melissa J. Wilde, “The Demographic Imperative in Religious Change in the United States,” American Journal of Sociology, AJS, Volume 107 Number 2 (September 2001).
2017 annual report? 2016 annual report?
https://www.kairoschurchplanting.org/uploads/2/7/3/9/27399795/2015-annual-report.pdf (reports 35 churches planted since 2005)
Note Stan Granberg is retiring, seeing new executive director: https://www.kairoschurchplanting.org/kairossuccession2019.html
Where are the successful church plants in the last 3-5 years in which women and girls are completely prohibited from speaking / leading / actively serving?
If women being restricted is not a significant factor in membership, then why do church plants not restrict them …. ? If it were a insignificant factor, there would be no change.
And why do church plants not refer to themselves as a Church of Christ …? If not that there is something about the brand that repels potential members. What could it be? There are a handful of options. Is it the a cappella singing that is going to repel them? Is it … that women and little girls are completely prohibited from speaking and are discriminated against in multiple areas? What could it be?
It appears that Churches of Christ are investing resources in planting churches outside of the Churches of Christ. There isn’t anything wrong with that. But this, too, will not reverse the decline in the Churches of Christ.
http://agapecoc.com/about-us/what-do-we-believe/ (refers to itself as a Church of Christ; does not appear to completely prohibit; tries to be positive while maintaining some discrimination; explanation is rambling and does not quite cohere)
https://compassjonesboro.com/about (I don’t see the Church of Christ name anywhere)
https://missiochurchseattle.org (don’t see Church of Christ name anywhere; “Direction Team” overseeing includes women and men; launched April 2018, per Kairos 2018 annual report)
http://www.pacificcrestchurch.org/ (don’t see Church of Christ name anywhere; minister referred to as pastor)
https://luminouscitysd.org/about/ (“preview” in 2018 kairos annual report; impressive web-site; Gina is main speaker in opening video; don’t see Church of Christ name anywhere in the web site)
https://www.thevine.church/ (launched mention in 2015 Kairos annual report; web site lists husband and wife as “lead pastors”; don’t see church of christ name anywhere; “We operate as an egalitarian church”)
http://kainoschurch.org/ (does say Church of Christ on web site; uses videos of sermons from non-CoC churches (?);
http://www.thefeastprovidence.org/church-beliefs (looks like a fun group; does not appear to refer to itself as a Church of Christ on its web site; Church of Christ name does appear a few times with reference to sponsoring congregations and the like)
https://www.renovatus.com/our-history/ (Vancouver, WA; est. 2002 (?); does refer to itself as a Church of Christ on its web site; see below, too)
https://www.renovatus.com/hp_wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/ByLaws-Revised-1-2017_web.pdf (Renovatus by-laws; includes “The qualifications for elders of this congregation shall be in accordance with those listed in Chapter 3 of the first book of Timothy and Chapter 1 of the book of Titus.” (similar for ministers); many people insist that one of the qualifications of those two chapters it that elders be men (“husband of one wife”); some view it differently; Renovatus by-laws refer to elders and ministers with masculine pronoun (his) while referring to some other positions with “his or her”; and “This organization is and shall always be an autonomous nondenominational Church of Christ.”)
Is the above the standard Kairos by-law form suggested by Kairos?
Love First Church of Sarnia (assisted by Mission Alive, does not appear to refer to itself as a Church of Christ)
http://www.jeremyhooverministry.com/love-first-sarnia.html (supported by North Atlanta Church of Christ, which opened speaking roles to women)
https://commonthread.church/what-we-believe/ (assisted by Mission Alive, does not appear to refer to itself as a Church of Christ)
https://www.facebook.com/GentleRoadChurchOfChrist/ (looks like a neat and active church; assisted by Mission Alive, refers to itself as a Church of Christ; a picture of a woman at the front thanking the church)
Reclaimed Church of Orlando (assisted by Mission Alive, does not appear to refer to itself as a Church of Christ)
Storyline Christian Community (assisted by Mission Alive, assisted by The Hills Church (itself has downplayed or set aside the Church of Christ name); does not appear to refer to itself as a Church of Christ, picture of woman speaking)
https://www.impacttemple.com/ (started as kairos plant (?), currently non-denominational)
Courtyard Church of Christ (Fayetteville, NC)
All Saints Church of Christ (Nashville, TN)
Ethos Church (Nashville, TN)
New Vintage Church (Escondido, CA) (may be a Kairos church plant?)
Aloha Church of Christ (Maui, HI)
https://wineskins.podbean.com/e/moving-churches-of-christ-into-the-21st-century-with-stan-granberg/ (indicates need to plant churches)
https://www.kairoschurchplanting.org/cofcreportppt.html (slide show with data)
See also: (Churches of Christ families involved in at least some of these church plants, including the New Life Odessa congregation)—
Also added: https://churchzip.com/
One of the bizarre aspects of this practice is that many Church of Christ folks who do it will assert, usually without thinking beyond present-day political rhetoric, something along the lines of “we should not conform to the ways of the world.” This is when “the ways of the world” has been sex discrimination, male dominance, and oppression of women for centuries and it continues to be so.
It is like a situation with a patient with a severe immunity disorder. Lots of things might be causing the patient’s symptoms and weight loss — infections, pneumonia, flu, gastrointestinal problems, etc. Those things need treatment and lots of effort can and should be put into such treatment. But a failure to fix the immunity disorder will make recovery impossible and will make the effort on those other things unfruitful. There’s a better analogy than this one, though, as the effect of this prohibition has grown recently. In other words, it has been a contributor to our decline for some time, but the magnitude of its contribution was not as great previously (e.g., say through the 90s), as it is now, and its contribution has grown significantly recently and awareness of and repulsion towards sex discrimination and the rise of women in business, education, government , etc., has grown substantially, e.g., in the 2000s, such it has become a bar to recovery, such that turn-around is impossible without fixing it.
Updated: syntax; grammar; transitions; look for places to shorten; and clarity, e.g., made into two sentences and separated into two paragraphs so “…. not only factors …” more prominent, replaced “throughout” with “widely, though.”; better headers; changed “The number of them …, The Christian Chronicle reports that freshmen … has dropped by more than half since 1990, people within the tradition are leaving it, and people …” to “The number of them has shrank precipitously in a generation. The Christian Chronicle reports … by more than half since 1990. People within the tradition are leaving it, and people ….” to make it clearer that The Christian Chronicle isn’t reporting the balance of the sentence (“People …”). Changed “Women leaving …” to “People leaving the Churches of Christ because of its doctrine on women.”; added note regarding not taking away attention from its impact on potential visitors, etc.; and added “over a quarter …”; Deconstructing CoC (15); PRRI paragraph, adjusted accordingly.
Top picture is by Dale Forbes from pixabay.com