Barna published a recent study about Vacation Bible School (VBS). The research compares VBS numbers from 1997 and 2012. In general, VBS numbers are down from 81% to 68%.
About half of the reasons congregational ministries gave for not having a VBS was either lack of volunteers or lack of time. Anyone with insight of how congregations operate know that these are nearly one in the same reason.
It’s easy for a boss to feel busier when his company is going out of business. Once volunteers get low, the administration feels busier, even though it’s an indication that numbers are dropping. Congregations don’t have VBS because they don’t have time because they don’t have volunteers because their numbers are dwindling.
And the numbers are dropping across the board. That’s been the consistent message from Barna.org, as well as a whole lot of other sources, including those not related to research. Pastors don’t complain about people departing if the numbers are going up.
What’s really happening here?
If we consider an “active Christian” someone who keeps Sunday or weekend attendance and other involvement with professional-led congregational ministries… Well, by that standard, the number of Christians is dropping.
But wait… That can’t happen. Christianity can’t diminish. It’s the city on a hill. The Church is the lamp that no one lights to put under a basket. And, especially with the ongoing efforts of evangelism, the number of Christians on the planet is always growing in some form or another. We don’t need statistics to tell us this. We only need a good foundation in Biblical truth.
I’ll take you back to other research published by Barna in 2005. His book was called Revlution, where George Barna showed a trend by the millions: Christians were leaving organized “church” (or ‘Churchianity’ as I like to call it) for something more organic and less formal. But it wasn’t a cut-and-dry departure. Christians were doing this because they wanted to grow closer to Jesus and, somehow, they figured the organized church wasn’t all Jesus had for them. Some Christians left the organized assemblies altogether while others “supplemented” their organized Church time with something more unorganized.
…This does not indicate an exodus from Christianity… It indicates an exodus from Churchianity. And, now, the VBS numbers, comparing a 15 year span, say the same thing. The Church is in transition from organized to underground; and that transition shows no indication of reversal. It’s gaining momentum. But that’s not all…
More than likely, Christians are evangelizing at home.
The Church is a Body—the Body of Christ. Bodies are organic. And Christians were meant to function organically. Contrary to popular, but diminishing, belief, the structure of Christian Church administration is not akin to any large geometric structure one might find in Egypt, with a guy titled “pastor” at the top—the actual structure of the Church is more like the network of friends we might see illustrated if one were to draw out the “friend of a friend” connections on Facebook or Linkedin. In other words, the Church is organic, not hierarchical. Its true administrative structure sprawls along informal lines, rather than forming simple geometric shapes that an MBA might recommend.
As Christians stepped away from organized “church” to grow closer to Christ, those Christians probably succeeded. They probably grew closer to Christ. That’s just, plain Biblical: You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. (Jer 29:13) Not having staff and volunteers “seeking Christ for us”, those Christians were more likely to find Him more often.
If the Church grows closer to Christ, evangelism will be inevitable. But, if the evangelism is done by unorganized Christians, who grew closer to Jesus by departing from organized structures, then the new Christians are less likely to get involved in organized Churchianity. The new Christians will be forced to take more initiative in their growth in Christ, and Jeremiah 29:13 tells us that, likewise, they are more likely to be stronger in the Lord. Because it’s all unofficial, it’s difficult to measure.
Watch: In ten years, someone will publish numbers that indicate that the underground Church has exploded, not only in China, but also in America. For now, what is underground just can’t be seen.
I only hope that, if you’re employed by Churchianity, you dust off your resume in advance. Soon, the people will dust off their sandals. Leaders should stay ahead of the curve, right?