1. We are a nation of small churches. Over 61 percent of the churches studied average fewer than 100 in worship attendance.
2. The smaller the church, the greater the rate of decline in attendance. This study found that a declining church with an attendance of 200 or more declines at a rate of 4 percent a year. A declining church with less than 100 in attendance declines at a rate of 7.6 percent.
This is one of the greatest areas of concern from this study. Once a church declines below 100 in worship attendance, it is likely to die within just a few years. The life expectancy for many of these churches is 10 years or less.
3. Growing churches are primarily growing through transfer growth. Only 6 percent to 7.5 percent are growing through conversions. The majority of growing churches are simply recirculating the saints.
4. If a church is growing, it is highly likely to be growing faster than the community in which it is located. In fact, 91 percent of the growing churches are outpacing the growth of their respective communities.
5. Churches growing through conversions are intentionally evangelistic. This was an area of particular interest. How many churches are reaching people who are not believers in Christ? And among those that are, how are they doing it?
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Who was George Whitefield?
During his lifetime, Whitefield delivered over 18,000 sermons to ten million people, averaging roughly ten sermons a week. This was truly extraordinary at a time when there was no television or mass communication.
The thing that came to mind immediately is Jesus’ beatitudes. How should Christians react to Christchurch? With mourning, a hunger for justice, and peacemaking. Christians must mourn with their Muslim brothers and sisters, thirst for the perpetrators of this heinous crime to be brought to justice, and put every possible effort into brokering peace in an age of furious tribalism.
I also embrace wholeheartedly the poignant wisdom of Dostoevsky quoted by the Anglican bishop of Wellington, New Zealand: At some ideas you stand perplexed, especially at the sight of human sins, uncertain whether to combat it by force or by humble love. Always decide, “I will combat it with humble love.” If you make up your mind about that once and for all, you can conquer the whole world. Loving humility is a terrible force; it is the strongest of all things and there is nothing like it.
Mark Durie, Anglican pastor from Melbourne, Australia