Why is The Church Trending Downward?

Featured / Life / June 11, 2014

This morning, over a cup of coffee, I stumbled on to Google’s Trends to see what the world has been thinking lately. Among the hot topics of the day: NHL, Tracy Morgan’s death and the Dumb & Dumber 2 trailer release.

I decided to dig a little deeper with a custom search. So, I keyed in two specific terms: “church” and “Jesus.” The graph below was the result.

Do you notice the steady drop in the church’s interest over time?

I’ll admit, it’s encouraging to see that Jesus is on the rise and will soon be more popular than the church, but I still have to ask the question, “Why is the church trending downward?

Today, I’m not going to spin answers to this challenging riddle. I have my theories, but I’m seriously asking your opinion…”why is the church trending downward?”

The comment box is open!

[cjtoolbox name=’Google Trend of Church vs Jesus’ ] [/cjtoolbox]

Note About Numbers: The numbers on the graph reflect how many searches have been done for a particular term, relative to the total number of searches done on Google over time. They don’t represent absolute search volume numbers, because the data is normalized and presented on a scale from 0-100. Each point on the graph is divided by the highest point, or 100. When we don’t have enough data, 0 is shown.

Dave Milam
Dave Milam is a pastor, communicator and the founder of One Life Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. As a a gifted communicator Dave's right brained style of delivery helps his listener connect and remember God's truth in a uniquely visual way. Connect with Dave on Google+

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on June 11, 2014


My theory on the decline of the church is because the church has declined in being what it should be. We gather on Sunday for some lame worship and a “fluff” message. We don’t enter into a time of authentic worship and God forbid we actually get real and discuss real-life issues. We, the church, are so busy holding up our “everything is fine” facades that we don’t dare be transparent with each other, acknowledging our sins and shortcomings, confessing to each other, holding each other accountable, and loving each other rather than killing our wounded.

If I sound like I’m on a rant I am. Our own church has been led to focus on all the wrong numbers. It is thought that we are a successful church because attendance is no longer dropping and giving is up. Seriously? That is no way to measure the “success” of a church. A church has done its job if lives are transformed and people become true Christians worshiping, serving and sharing their faith with others.

People today desire a true authentic worship service, a message that will meet them where they are and encourage them to begin or grow in a relationship with Jesus. People aren’t anti-Jesus, as your graph shows, they are anti-Church because the church is not what it should be.

Thanks for letting me share!

on June 11, 2014

2 words…small groups. aka life groups, home groups, etc. In a traditional sunday school environment you were automatically accepted into the group of your peers just by showing up. Relationships developed over those Sundays being in the same room. While you may form closer relationships with a few of the others, you still knew everyone else, talked to them, knew when they weren’t there and what was going on in their lives, and still cared. The modern small groups are nothing but small cliques that a low percentage of the congregation actually participate in. It is an awkward experience to even join one, the members only focus on each other and don’t feel obligated to show care towards those outside of their group, and there is an unspoken/and even at times spoken barrier/exclusion because they are “full” or you need to stay with your own neighborhood group, etc., not to mention the logistics of attending one around work, kids, school and homework, and infant schedules. And, because churches are so large you don’t even see the members of the group on Sundays, so you are still disconnected with the people you are physically worshipping with.

Sadly, church leadership also use it as an excuse to make up for their disconnectedness from and unwillingness to connect with the congregation. They don’t have to connect because that’s what small groups are for so it is no longer their “responsibility.”. They connect only with the members of the small group they attend-which is just another clique. And, they now use it as an excuse to let themselves off the hook and not examine why members leave because they feel disconnected and no one cares or would notice if they wren’t there (which is why the vast majority leave). The leadership Just blames it on the person leaving, not the clique culture that has created by the church’s reliance on small groups. Now churches are using your attendance/lack of attendance in one to guage how “spiritual” you are as well.

I would be curious to see the actual numbers of the churches who strongly support small groups to see just what percentage actually attend, how many attend small group but skip Sunday Services, what their congregation turnover is, etc. I have a feeling it is just an illusion and their congrgation is just as less connected as the others than churches 20 years ago were who used the traditional Sunday School system. At our last church that heavily promoted it, only about 120 people attended small groups out of 1000. I guess the other 880 didn’t “count” as far as worrying whether they are connected or not and aren’t real Christians. Not coincidently, it appears that the church has lost at least a 1/3 of its members as well in the last year, guaging by the empty seats and parking lot.

on June 11, 2014

This is great stuff. I think you are on to something here Dave. I plan to reference your blog in my next Concept Church update. Great to see the trend picking up for those searching about Jesus. Church encompasses some outliers like “architecture” but still wouldn’t explain the decline. It is all about relationship and I think people are so disenfranchised with the Church as an institution they are going direct to the source and researching about Jesus for themselves. Abroad Church structure isn’t as neat and clean as in the States so they may be searching for the person of Christ before community based on a lack of structure. This is big and something I am going to research more. Thanks for sharing!

on June 12, 2014

I suspect the chart would look differently if it included the period following the 911 tragedy. At that time, as you will remember, people (Americans) were coming back to the church to help them cope with the harsh realities of life on this planet. I wonder if prior to that time the chart would be very low, then an upswing, and now it is back to the declining status.

When we deal with reality we learn what is really important.

When we follow the disguises of the world – we can’t see clearly.

Just a thought in a brief passing moment of time this morning. Thanks for challenging our thoughts Dave!

on June 12, 2014

BOB and JAMIE – I think you may be on to something. In my experience, most people want their lives to mean something and be meaningful. Time has become our most valuable commodity and our culture will not stand for inauthenticity or spend time on activities that don’t directly improve life’s meaning.

SANDRA – Great thought. Tragedy always reorders priorities.

On a passing thought…I wonder if the downward trend in google searches has anything to do with the content available to the internet audience. Church websites tend to look and offer the same thing.

on June 23, 2014

Your last statement may have something to say for the casual church goer. I often wonder if the lack of deepness over the last 20-30-40 years has anything to do with it. When I first became a Christian about 39 years ago at age 18, it seemed like everyone in the chuech could have named the 12 Apostles, knew the outline of the Gospels, could almost quote a lot of the parables. Almost every one of them could have given me a basic synopsis of Genesis and surely wouldn’t have confused Rachel for Rebekah. They could have easily found Hosea on a dare. And in addition to that, a lot of them could tell you about guys like Martin Luther or the Campbells or old Racoon John Smith.

Today, we knaw about the Kardashians. And when Dave preaches on Hosea, they don’t jave to know where to find it, they just scroll to it on their Bible App. Old codgers like me who know the difference between Joshua and Jethro or between Charismatics and Cesationists are laughed at, at least a little.

But I think depth is important.

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