next1000

Australia closes 1,000 churches

Istock 000002406681SmallA friend of mine received a flyer in his letterbox last year from the church across the road.

It was an invitation to church. No, it was a plea for help. The letter came from concerned members of the congregation pleading the community to “please attend their church” or they would face closure.

Twelve months later the bulldozers moved in and demolished the church building.

In 2001 there were 10,447 Protestant congregations in Australia, Between 1991 and 2001 there was a 6% decline in number of congregations resulting in a 3% decline in overall weekly attendance. If my maths are right that's a loss of 627 churches in ten years. In fact, we lost more when you factor in the number of new starts during that period.

According to the NCLS, one denomination lost a staggering 22% of it's congregations in this ten year period. That's not decline, that's disaster.

If the overall decline has continued, the number of congregations today is probably just over 10,000, with a corresponding drop in weekly attendance. That means in the last fifteen years we have lost over 1,000 churches throughout Australia. We'll know for sure when the National Church Life Survey 2006 is released.

In 2005, there were 1363 Catholic parishes in Australia. I'm not sure if that number is increasing or declining but the number of priests and membership in the Catholic orders are is serious decline: Where have all the Priests gone? My guess is the Catholic church will be reluctant to close parishes but numbers of active Catholics are in decline.

The Protestant mainline is shutting churches down and declining in regular attendance. That trend will not go away. The evangelical-pentecostal-charismatic churches are planting churches and growing but not at a fast enough rate to stem overall decline of the church in Australia.

The Emerging church is a relatively new phenomena in Australia and I'm not aware of accurate research on it's impact. We don't really know how many Emerging churches there are or how many people are actively involved. We do know that Emerging Christians love to blog.

Ruth Powell from the NCLS is currently researching the Emerging church in Australia: NCLS Seeks All Things New: new project maps fresh expressions of church

My impression so far is that most of the Emerging growth has come from migrations out of existing churches and the movement is not yet seeing significant evangelistic growth.

What's the best way to turn this reality around? Plant healthy missional churches. One thousand would be a good start. Who wants in?

But what kind of churches?

Hands With Plant Ed

Whenever I share the vision for the next1000 Aussie churches I get asked, “But what kind of churches?”
To answer I’ll use an analogy from science.

According to Austrian astrophysicist Erich Jantsch, every living thing is both constantly changing and constantly remaining the same. If an organism doesn’t do both it will cease to exist. A living organism is ‘a never resting structure’ that constantly seeks its own self-renewal. He uses the Greek word autopoiesis to describe this principle of self-organization.

There are two implications for the church. First, the body of Christ is a living organism that must retain its essential identity or cease to exist as the church. Second, the body of Christ is a living organism that must be constantly changing and renewing itself or it will cease to exist. That’s why we need 1000 “autopoietic” new churches.

1. Churches that remain the same

There are some things about the church that we must never change. John Wimber called them “the main and the plain”—belief in the Trinity, the Incarnation, Atonement, and the Resurrection, Salvation through faith in Christ, the work of the Holy Spirit and the authority of the Scriptures, Christ’s Return, the Final Judgment.

In addition there is the call to follow Christ in costly obedience; the Great Commandment to love God with all our heart, mind and soul, and to love our neighbour as ourselves; and there is obedience to the Great Commission to take the Gospel to the world.

The Lausanne Covenant expresses both the need to adhere to biblical orthodoxy and the need to live out our faith in loving obedience.

These are non-negotiables. But don’t worry, there are plenty of other issues we can disagree on!

Autopoietic churches are united by their commitment to biblical orthodoxy and loving obedience to Christ. That’s the first half of the autopoiesis equation. These churches remain the same in the midst of a world that seeks to squeeze them into its mould.

2. Churches that are constantly changing

The church needs to constantly change primarily because it must live out its mission in a changing world. The church must also constantly change because it is forever drifting or even running from the authority of the Word and the power of the Holy Spirit.

The dynamic of constant change is manifested in the variety and diversity of ministry models and expressions of Church.

This is why Australia (and the rest of the world) needs more house churches, mega-churches, contemporary churches, emerging churches, evangelical churches, Pentecostal churches, charismatic churches, traditional churches, multi-site churches, campus churches, workplace churches and forms of the church we haven’t even discovered yet.

We are all called to love the church we’re in, but we must not confuse what we are called to, with the totality of what God is doing in the body of Christ. Unity is not uniformity. It is partnership in mission.

Autopoietic churches: they know what unites them and they affirm the diversity of what God is doing in the whole body of Christ. They affirm their unique expression of biblical orthodoxy and they work in partnership with the whole body of Christ to reach this generation.

But what kind of churches?

Hands With Plant Ed

Whenever I share the vision for the next1000 Aussie churches I get asked, “But what kind of churches?”
To answer I’ll use an analogy from science.

According to Austrian astrophysicist Erich Jantsch, every living thing is both constantly changing and constantly remaining the same. If an organism doesn’t do both it will cease to exist. A living organism is ‘a never resting structure’ that constantly seeks its own self-renewal. He uses the Greek word autopoiesis to describe this principle of self-organization.

There are two implications for the church. First, the body of Christ is a living organism that must retain its essential identity or cease to exist as the church. Second, the body of Christ is a living organism that must be constantly changing and renewing itself or it will cease to exist. That’s why we need 1000 “autopoietic” new churches.

1. Churches that remain the same

There are some things about the church that we must never change. John Wimber called them “the main and the plain”—belief in the Trinity, the Incarnation, Atonement, and the Resurrection, Salvation through faith in Christ, the work of the Holy Spirit and the authority of the Scriptures, Christ’s Return, the Final Judgment.

In addition there is the call to follow Christ in costly obedience; the Great Commandment to love God with all our heart, mind and soul, and to love our neighbour as ourselves; and there is obedience to the Great Commission to take the Gospel to the world.

The Lausanne Covenant expresses both the need to adhere to biblical orthodoxy and the need to live out our faith in loving obedience.

These are non-negotiables. But don’t worry, there are plenty of other issues we can disagree on!

Autopoietic churches are united by their commitment to biblical orthodoxy and loving obedience to Christ. That’s the first half of the autopoiesis equation. These churches remain the same in the midst of a world that seeks to squeeze them into its mould.

2. Churches that are constantly changing

The church needs to constantly change primarily because it must live out its mission in a changing world. The church must also constantly change because it is forever drifting or even running from the authority of the Word and the power of the Holy Spirit.

The dynamic of constant change is manifested in the variety and diversity of ministry models and expressions of Church.

This is why Australia (and the rest of the world) needs more house churches, mega-churches, contemporary churches, emerging churches, evangelical churches, Pentecostal churches, charismatic churches, traditional churches, multi-site churches, campus churches, workplace churches and forms of the church we haven’t even discovered yet.

We are all called to love the church we’re in, but we must not confuse what we are called to, with the totality of what God is doing in the body of Christ. Unity is not uniformity. It is partnership in mission.

Autopoietic churches: they know what unites them and they affirm the diversity of what God is doing in the whole body of Christ. They affirm their unique expression of biblical orthodoxy and they work in partnership with the whole body of Christ to reach this generation.