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Are the instrumental Christian Churches really experiencing ‘phenomenal’ growth?


As a cappella Churches of Christ face declining membership, the perception among some is that independent Christian Churches and Churches of Christ — those with instrumental music — are experiencing “phenomenal” growth.
In response to a recent Christian Chronicle blog post, one reader commented:

The primitivism historically espoused by the acapella Churches of Christ has simply lost its appeal in this generation. So also, the hermeneutic that equates biblical silence with divine prohibition has demonstrated its impracticality, divisive spirit and inconsistency. However, the appeal to be “Christians Only” and non-denominational is quite alive and well in our present culture, and this explains, in part, the phenomenal growth of the independent Christian Churches and instrumental Churches of Christ.

It is true that some instrumental Christian Churches are enjoying remarkable growth — including megachurches such as the Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Ky., as the Courier-Journal reports. Southeast’s weekend attendance exceeds 21,000, up from 13,000 in 1999, according to the church’s website.
But figures released by the U.S. Religion Census last week show the total number of congregations of instrumental Christian Churches and Churches of Christ has declined over the last 10 years. Meanwhile, the total number of adherents has risen less than 1 percent. The specific figures:

2010: 1,453,160 adherents and 5,293 congregations
2000: 1,439,253 adherents and 5,471 congregations

The comparable numbers for a cappella Churches of Christ:

2010: 1,584,162 adherents and 12,584 congregations
2000: 1,645,645 adherents and 13,032 congregations

Figures for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the third branch of the churches associated with the Stone-Campbell, or Restoration, Movement:

2010: 785,776 adherents and 3,635 congregations
2000: 1,017,784 adherents and 3,339 congregations

Carl Royster, data compiler for Churches of Christ in the United States, a national directory of a cappella congregations published by 21st Century Christian, noted in response to a previous Chronicle report:

I am encouraged by the conversations that I am seeing. Part of the purpose of  Churches of Christ in the United States  is to provide information for discussions and ideas on such things as reaching the lost in the world.
For the sake of better understanding, I feel I should point out that the Churches of Christ are not the only ones experiencing stagnant or declining numbers. This is an issue that many religious bodies in America are dealing with. It was mentioned that the Christian Church/Churches of Christ were experiencing “phenomenal growth.” However, this is not exactly accurate. According to data collected for the Religious Congregations and Membership Study (RCMS) for 2000 and 2010, they actually saw a decline in the number of congregations and a numerical growth rate of less than 1%. In the same studies, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) gained almost 300 congregations, but their adherents declined by almost 23%.
One aspect that should truly be of concern for all Christians in America is the growth in the numbers of those that have no religious affiliation whatsoever. According to a survey conducted in 2007 by The Pew Forum, over 16% reported as having no religious affiliation. What is worse, for the Mosaic generation (ages 18-29), this figure was one in four. If we compare the percentages of the population for the various religious bodies in America, we find that the unaffiliated (if we may call that a religious body) are second only to Catholics (which are about 23%).
This increasing number of “unchurched” really concerns me. I pray the Lord God Almighty will give us more wisdom, guidance, and strength to reach these lost souls for Him and His glory.

See the recent Chronicle news story “Declining numbers, but signs of hope?”

  • Feedback
    The a cappella churches have 12,500 congregations compared to 5,200 for the instrumental churches (with about the same number of members)??? That’s incredible! Why do the a cappella churches have so many more congregations??? Could it have something to do with the tendency to divide over the most trivial matters? Or is it something else? Very curious…
    Jeff
    May, 9 2012

    Jeff,
    I ran your question by a colleague who has studied Restoration history. He does believe that a tendency to divide over doctrinal differences has played a role. The other factor is that the Christian Churches have more larger congregations (such as Southeast mentioned in the post).
    Bobby Ross Jr.
    May, 9 2012

    My speculation would be that a cappella churches of Christ are spread out over rural areas with smaller memberships. Instrumental congregations are probably focused in population centers and have larger memberships. I think It’s probably more about geography than a tendency to divide.
    Gipson
    May, 9 2012

    Thanks, Gipson.
    Your comment reminded me of this line from a <a href=”https://christianchronicle.org/article646~Is_there_a_rural-urban_divide_in_the_church%3F” rel=”nofollow”>story we published</a> a few years ago:
    <blockquote>Historically, a cappella Churches of Christ and instrumental Christian Churches split more than a century ago. The non-instrumental churches tended to be rural and Southern, while the Christian Churches were more likely urban and Northern, said Doug Foster, a church historian at Abilene Christian University in Texas. But that generalization, Foster said, was �by no means universal.�</blockquote>
    Bobby Ross Jr.
    May, 9 2012

    For more historical context, the independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ had 1,213,188 adherents in 1990 (http://www.adherents.com/Na/Na_152.html), meaning they grew 19% from 1990 to 2000 — which is indeed a phenomenal growth rate. During the same time, the a cappella Churches of Christ were plateaued.
    Oddly enough, the number of congregation in 1990 was 5228, meaning they added 3% more congregations while growing 19% in adherents. Then from 2000 to 2010 they declined about 4% in congregations while growing 1% in adherents. Their congregations are, on average, getting larger (average of 229 in 1990 to an average of 278 in 2010).
    I don’t know why the rate of growth declined from 2000 to 2010, but if we’re going to compare the two denominations, we need to include both the 1990 to 2000 figures and the 2000 to 2010 figures — as the 1990 to 2000 figures demonstrate that growth was possible during those years even though we in the Churches of Christ failed to achieve it.
    We shouldn’t use the slow growth of the independent Christian Churches from 2000 to 2010 as some sort of excuse for the poor harvest we are producing for our Lord.
    Jay Guin
    May, 9 2012

    For more historical context, here’s where the groups stood in 1906:
    <blockquote>Churches of Christ (a cappella): 159,123 members
    Disciples of Christ (includes the group known today as independent Christian Churches as well as the DOC): 1,330,379 members
    </blockquote>
    By that standard, which group is growing? 🙂
    Seriously, Jay, now that you mention it, I recall <a href=”https://christianchronicle.org/article177~A_cappella_membership_drops_as_churches_fail_to_keep_pace_with_population_growth” rel=”nofollow”>reporting on that</a> 19 percent growth rate in 2006, and that may be part of the reason for the perception that the Christian Churches are growing rapidly.
    My understanding (and I could be wrong) is that much of that growth can be attributed to a dozen or two dozen pastor-centric, evangelical-style megachurches since the independent Christian Churches have more of those than the a cappella Churches of Christ. If that’s the case, then in the main, both fellowships are facing the same cultural and societal forces that are perplexing other groups (such as the Southern Baptists) and causing numbers to stagnate or decline.
    Bobby Ross Jr.
    May, 10 2012

    It seems to me that a large number of my friends who have left the Church of Christ are attending independent, nondenominational churches. There is something they are finding there that they aren’t finding in our churches.
    Scott
    May, 10 2012

    It seems to me that the reason for instrumental churches having fewer but larger congregations is not over a “tendency to divide” among acapella churches, but rather for a tendency among instrumentalists to prefer bigger assemblies. There is a spirit of consumerism that is appealed to by congregations who can provide shinier auditoreums, more programs, and “stuff.” Acapella congregations seem satisfied with a smaller, more intimate “family.”
    Rob Lester
    May, 10 2012

    I know of several Churches of Christ who are growing. The Fishers of Men’s class is one way we are teaching others how to have bible studies. I know everwhere I go and teach this class we grow.
    Also I never look to denominations for the answer as to how to grow. Gods word is all we need to stand on and I pray for those who change that and add all of these new innovations. I understand that true Churches of Christ will always be small. It can’t be because of our teaching because all we have to do is look at the mormons or JW’s and we know they are teaching false things, yet they are growing.
    I know to grow a church it takes the church being active and having Bible stidies on a regular bases. So to those reading this message, please keep on teaching truth. Lead by example and get as many in the church involved as you can. when this happens your church will grow as well. and as always, God receives all the glory!
    Because He Lives
    Roger
    Roger
    May, 10 2012

    Let’s learn to spell a cappella. It is not acapella. Thanks.
    Mel
    May, 10 2012

    “The Lord knows those who are His” (2 Tim. 2:19). Does anyone else?
    But in this attempt to count those sitting in pews, has anyone collected similar comparative information world-wide? Even more difficult to obtain of course, but it might be interesting. The Lord’s church is spreading in Africa, India and South America.
    Roy Davison
    May, 10 2012

    I think you have touched on some of the issues here. Many COC and ICC churches of the post-WWII era (1945-1965) have not adapted to changes in culture and language in today’s society. They don’t know how to engage the secular post-modern culture because they lack the training and skillsets to do so. There are some churches that have made some changes and are being successful in reaching their communities by being more creative and innovative. The ICC has essentially been more successful in this arena because this culture is very musically oriented. The Mosaics, for the most part, are not buying the COC arguments about music as well as the old hermeneutic. The older churches that don’t adapt are getting smaller, dying off and closing their doors because, in many ways, they are not equipped to change. Their demographics are top-heavy with seniors (they are not attracting the young families).
    Tim
    May, 10 2012

    This discussion can be misleading in terms of identifying the cause. The implied cause by some in the discussion is that Churches of Christ are declining because of divisiveness and lack of music. However another variable has been overlooked and is more significant: Christian Churches have been extremely diligent and focused in recent years with their church planting efforts in a program called STADIA. Christian Churches involved with STADIA share a common variable with the two religious groups which are growing rapidly rather than declining: Jehovah Witnesses and Latter Day Saints. The variable is a focus on evangelism.
    The variable which ought to strike us is that we have abandoned our purpose. The church has forgotten its mission to make disciples. Almost all religious groups other than Jehovah Witnesses and LDS are declining (see the recent Pew Research findings). What ought to be remarkable is that even with the STADIA efforts, Independent Christian Churches are nearly stagnate. It’s not about the music or divisiveness its about the mission.
    Ron
    May, 10 2012

    Roy: You’re right about the difficulty of counting believers in places such as Africa or India. I presented a class with Dyron Daughrity on this very subject at Pepperdine, and the best estimate we saw was about 3.5 million members of Churches of Christ worldwide (that includes the 1.2-1.3 million here in the U.S.)
    Personally, I think that number is very conservative. We’re pretty sure that Africa outnumbers the U.S. in terms of both congregations and adherents now, and I’ve heard some incredible estimates from India (the joke I tell people is that India has between 200,000 and 2 million church members. Ha!)
    Growth in Africa has plateaued, partly because the number of new churches has far outpaced our fellowship’s ability to produce preachers and shepherds. Africa is in a “age of infrastructure,” with attention shifting toward the establishment of Christian colleges and preacher training schools.
    The numbers in South America that I hear are encouraging, but the numbers from Central America (Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua) are nothing short of amazing. Guatemala itself likely has more church members than most of South America, though it’s hard to quantify. I visited an Iglesia de Cristo that was several miles off a paved road � and another mile or so off a dirt road � and found a huge auditorium. The church’s six elders told me they have 300-plus members, and host a regional conference for 2,000-4,000 Christians. Wow!
    And don’t even get me started on Southeast Asia … and China!
    I could go on and on, but I won’t. Thanks for bringing this up.
    Erik Tryggestad
    May, 10 2012

    I have said and say it again, we can grow as big a church as we want to. all you have to do is give people hat they want. when they get tired of one thing give them something else. The problem is, if we are just believing and doing what we like then it makes no difference what we do. this is not to say there are not somethings that could be done different, but, why do it different? Is it because it is more pleasing to God, or, is it, “That’s the way I like it.”
    The way we have taught some things may very well could be improved upon. Then do it. But do it for the sake of truth, not because, O’ that sounds so much better to me.
    Don’t get me wrong, I am not against change. Change whether it methods or even doctrine is not about me, its about God.
    Ray
    May, 10 2012

    My perception (I’m 63 and raised in the churches of Christ) is that our fellwoship has emphasized the RATIONAL response of man to God (thank you to John Locke?) and what it means to “worship in truth”. This was (in my opinion) in response to the emotional excesses of the Great Awakening and the Calvinistic mourner’s bench. This emphasis on truth (while largely ignoring what it means to “worship in spirit) led to regrettable divisions over many areas in which the Bible was silent (music not being one of those areas of silence). Perhaps we need to spend an equal amount of study on what it means to worship in spirit (not emotion). May I humbly suggest the following
    1) PROSCIPTIONS: Precepts of �THOU SHALT�; this I believe also includes the prescribed teachings of the apostles. Paul tells Timothy to �Prescribe and teach these things�, I Tm. 4: 11; 1John 2: 4; 5: 3
    2) PROHIBITION: Precepts of �THOU SHALT NOT�
    3) PRINCIPLES: Biblical examples throughout history (male spiritual leadership, among others)
    4) PRECEDENT: (Apostolic authority, cf. 2Thess. 3:6 Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep aloof from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us. NAS ) Phil 3: 17; 1John 2: 8
    5) PERMISSION: a) expediency (I Cor. 6: 12; I Cor. 10; Rom. 14); b) self-control (1Cor. 6: 12b) [applies to drugs or any addiction]
    6) PRESERVATION (1Cor. 6: 19, moral purity)
    7) PRESENTATION: Rom. 12: 1 �spiritual service�; 1Cor. 6: 20
    John Fewkes
    May, 10 2012

    The number of congregations among churches of Christ which have recently begun to use instruments in their services is small, probably less than 50 out of more than 12,000. In many cases, they have not grown in attendance, but have fallen off markedly.
    Stafford North
    May, 10 2012

    I suspect there are more in the world today that we’ve overlooked. Perhaps we get so hung up on names “church of Christ” or “Christian Church” on the signs on our church buildings, that we’ve forgotten that there are those who share our doctrinal beliefs that does not have a “church of Christ” sign on their buildings.
    My take is this: If someone has been baptized for remission of sins, is that person my brother or sister in Christ? I say yes, but there are those who will disagree because they haven’t been baptized in the “church of Christ.”
    I don’t care if my fellow Christians have instrumental music in their worship services or not, the important thing to me is that if they have been baptized for remission of sins, God has added them to the body of Christ, and they are his heirs, and since God alone is the one who adds to the body of Christ — it stands to reason that they are my brothers and sisters in Christ. Everything else that we bicker about is irrelevant.
    Has there been any study to see how many baptized believers there are out there, outside the “churches of Christ” and the “Christian churches”?
    We talk about “doctrine” but do we ever sit down and clarify what we mean by doctrine? How much of our doctrine is scriptural and how much is man-made tradition? What about cultural influences impacting our perception of doctrine? Or will this just bring about more conflict and strife in the brotherhood?
    So, let’s all just focus on saving souls and making disciples of Christ, and leave the rest of “doctrinal differences” in God’s hands, for I am sure His grace is much more than we could ever comprehend.
    Stephen
    May, 10 2012

    I apologize for sounding simplistic here. There are, in fact, many complex forces at work that we don’t have the time or space to deal with adequately in this forum. The dynamics of church growth, missions, and evangelism are much different, in many ways, overseas than here in America. Groups that study church growth and religious trends like Barna, Gallup, and the Billy Graham School of Evangelism have done some great work in this area to primarily help American churches become more effective in reaching their communities and making disciples for Jesus.
    Tim
    May, 10 2012

    You said, “This increasing number of �unchurched� really concerns me. I pray the Lord God Almighty will give us more wisdom, guidance, and strength to reach these lost souls for Him and His glory.”
    As a hospital chaplain, I regularly meet people who are “saved” but remain “unaffiliated” for whatever reason. I think it is important to recognize the difference between those that are lost and those that attend or do not attend a church.
    If we believe that the “church” is all those who believe and follow Christ, not just those who attend a church building, we would get different results in our surveys I think. Don’t get me wrong, I am pro-church in the institutional sense too, but rethinking what Christianity means is lacking from the overall survey discussions.
    We simply read sensationalized headlines about how terrible things are because the church is in decline and how lost people are. For a lot of Christians, the church building has become irrelevant and that is tragic, but many of those people are striving hard to find their way and follow Jesus in their lives. I just don’t believe they are lost in the salvation sense.
    Kevin Bridges
    May, 10 2012

    I still believe with hard work in preaching the truth of God’s word is still the key of growth. If we as church leaders care more about our members we wouldn’t be a need to worry about church growth, that has been my experience. Let us show care for one another.
    Oscar York
    May, 10 2012

    Of course, doctrine is critical. But the question looms:
    Is God saving us on our PERFECT understaznding of every doctrine (including those that have caused the loss of fellowship) or on the basis of our perfect SUBMISSION to our understanding of His will for our relationship with Him? I know the answer for me. But when we CHOOSE to ignore doctrine for our personal preferences or reasons,we place ourselves in peril, for we are no longer submissive to His will, but our own.
    John Fewkes
    May, 10 2012

    Several years ago, I was serving as Education Minister at a Church of Christ and I found myself at the crossroads of instrumental music.
    I knew the arguments against instruments. I had never really studied it or considered it. It just wasn’t even on my radar.
    I had the experience of going to a church growth workshop where the host church has a praise band. And after my initial culture shock, I prayed that God would help me see what was going on and to help me see sin. I couldn’t see any.
    This caused me great personal stress. I was torn between the traditions of my faith heritage and what I had witnessed, which was clearly and convincingly praise and worship.
    Just a few days later, Rev 15: 1-3 crossed my study, particularly, “… seven angels…. They held harps given them by God.” At that point, the issue was settled.
    If God is passing out harps in Heaven, it’s got to be ok, because we know, sin and God can’t exist together.
    I believe it is the spirit of fear and exclusion that is preventing growth. Countless sermons I experienced as a child, focused on isolation, us vs them, fear, depravity, walking the tightrope of the straight and narrow, ever nervous of the slip that would condemn me to eternity in hell. It wasn’t good news.
    I am ever thankful for my sweet parents, Emery and Ann Zene Cathey, that demonstrated servants hearts: volunteering, cooking, teaching, cleaning, taking us on mission trips, sending money around the world, hosting the gospel meeting preacher, conducting services in the nursing homes, knocking doors, showing Jewell Miller film strips, heading Bible Bowl teams, stuffing the Suburban full of smelly teens and feeding them dozens and dozens of frozen pizzas, not to mention the thousands of people in Emory, TX and Rains county they ministered to through their years of service in public education.
    Their faith walk demonstrated the love of Jesus daily and I praise God for my amazing Mom and Dad…. and that is the Good News!
    Coby Cathey is the founder and President of Resolute Academy, an online private high school, helping drop outs, at-risk teens and those unable to pass TAKS/STAAR complete their high school diploma.
    Coby
    May, 10 2012

    An additional critique of the above article…What is “growth”? Many churches hyper-focus on numerical growth alone. What about growth in giving, spiritual wisdom and maturity, and so many other factors. A church could realistically decline in attendance, but grow in it’s impact in the community and world.
    As we look at and measure outcomes in our churches, growth in attendance should not be the sole evaluating factor. That’s like focusing on lbs lost when loosing weight without considering things like inches lost, strength gained, lung capacity increased, etc, etc.
    Kevin Bridges
    May, 10 2012

    Hi Bobby,
    One thing that may be skewing the growth figures is that the stats from earlier years seem to blur the lines between the Disciples of Christ and the Independent Christian churches. These are two distinctly different groups now. In fact I think there is a good deal more difference between Disciples and Independents than there is between A Capella churches of Christ and Independent Christian churches. And the Disciples have declined much more sharply than Independent Christian churches.
    Three other observations:
    1. It seems to me, as Tim said, this is a very complex issue. Constellations of factors may be involved. And the mix of factors may change from region to region of the country as well as from rural to urban settings.
    2. And, as Roy pointed out, these are North American trends. The picture is far different in other parts of the world, and so are the ingredients that affect growth. North America is no longer the central locus of churches of Christ/Independent Christian churches. Africa, for example far outstrips us.
    3. The use or non-use of instrumental music – alone – does not seem to be the key to numerical growth.
    Lynn Anderson
    May, 10 2012

    I first started my preaching career in the early 1950’s. At that time, Churches of Christ (whether true or not)had the reputation of being the fastest growing religious group in the U. S. Nearly every preacher and a lot of members in nearly every congregation were having personal home Bible studies with nonChristians. In many communities, we were starting new congregations and enlarging our current buildings in order to accomodate this increased growth!
    Today, we seem to be declining in some communities and most congregations seem to be at best stagnant. What has happened? The one variable that is quite obvious to me is that no one seems to be having any personal home Bible studies! I believe you would be hard pressed to even find any preachers who are involved in personal Bible studies with the lost!! I once asked a group of about 30 preachers to raise their hands if they were involved at that moment in any personal Bible studies with nonChristians. Not a hand was raised. Surely, we can all agree that the lost are not going to be reached and our churches are not going to grow unless we are engaged in personal Bible studies with them. People are not responding to evangelistic efforts like the Gospel meetings we had in the past, but they do respond to personal evangelism efforts.
    Why is no one involved in studying with the lost? I wonder if we shouldn’t look in our pulpits for the answer? If I am right in my analysis of why we aren’t growing like we once did, how are we going to correct it? Who is going to lead the change? If our preachers don’t, who is? We need to be spending some time analyzing why our pulpits are not encouraging and leading by example our fellow Christians to be evangelistic. If we were all busy holding personal home Bible studies, we wouldn’t be having such conversations as this current one. The answer to all of this seems to be so simple and obvious and we are looking in the wrong places for the solutions.
    I would plead with someone to prove me wrong, so I could quit grieving over this failure to care enough about the lost anymore to be trying to save them!!
    Don Humphrey
    May, 10 2012

    Yes, I think you are right, Don.
    Part of the inspiration behind the home studies back then were brethren like Mid McKnight and Jule Miller who placed easy to use tools at peoples’ disposal and encouraged brethren to use them. As a college student I attended some classes taught in the home of Mid McKnight that were inspiring and helpful. Charts like Mid McKnight used can still be effective.
    We now have DVDs that can attract interest even better than filmstrips. Why are they not being used?
    Through my websites I get contacts from all parts of the world and from all parts of the US. But it is often hard to find someone to follow them up. Recently I sent an e-mail to a brother near a good contact, and never received a reply. A while back I phoned the nearest congregation to a contact in the northeastern US and suggested that someone might visit a lady who was interested. The secretary said, ‘Oh, we don’t do home Bible studies’. Just give her our address and tell her to visit our congregation sometime.
    I found a congregation near another contact in the northeastern US, but on their website the preacher was called ‘Pastor’. Not wanting to jump to conclusions, since church websites are sometimes put up by people who are not sound, I phoned the brother and asked him about it. He laughed and said, ‘Yep, my father would have been bothered by that too!”
    It is not just a matter of methods. It can be a lack of love and conviction. Numbers don’t tell the whole story. If we don’t think we have something exclusive to offer, why should we get excited about it and why should anyone listen?
    Roy Davison
    May, 10 2012

    The 2011 Directory of the Ministry, A Yearbook of Christian Churches and Churches of Christ, lists 5,346 churches with an estimated church membership of 1,273,174 in the U.S. Unlike Churches of Christ (acappella), Christian Churches/Churches of Christ do not count “adherents.” Many of the new megachurches (averaging 2,000 or more in weekly attendance) and emerging megachurches (averaging 1,000-1,999 weekly in attendance) have not sent in their stats. Listing in the Directory is purely voluntary. The May 6, 2012 Christian Standard reports that the average megachurch is 4,412 (64 churches represented, up from 56 in 2010) and the average emerging megachurch is 1,321 (62 churches represented, up from 59 in 2010. The growth rate of megachurches is 5.8%, up from 5% in 2010. The growth rate of emerging megachurches is 5.4%, up from 1% in 2010.
    Victor Knowles
    May, 10 2012

    I have preached for both groups over the last several years. I love both. They are both my heritage. I really do believe that there are much bigger fish to fry than to maintain our sects. Our concern must be the same as Jesus. He disdained sectarianism. The fields are indeed ripe for harvest, but the workers are few. Let’s do what Barton W. Stone and the guys at Cane Ridge did once they realized they had created just another sect/denomination. They gave it a funeral and buried it and wrote the Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery. In it they said, “We will that this body die and sink into union with the body of Christ at large.” How simple and proactive is that. No looking back. Looking forward and taking only the Gospel with them. I believe that Satan loves these continued intramural skirmishes. They have the appearance of being important, meanwhile another sheep goes astray; another coin rolls under the dresser. Come on , let’s get on board with our Lord and just be Christians. NOTHING else matters.
    Bryan Barrett
    May, 10 2012

    Have you forgotten that :QUALITY IS BETTER THAN QUANTITY?
    So many people followed Our Savior but not all of them followed Him to the end because Jesus told them what they needed to know and not what they wanted to hear so they left. Such is the case of instrumental churches. They want to hear the instruments not the voice of God.
    As for a capella churches OF Christ, we want to listen to the voice of GOD NOT HUMAN INSTRUMENTS THAT IS WHY WE PRAY WITH THE SPIRIT AND SING WITH THE SPIRIT FOR such is the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.
    PRINCE KYEI
    May, 10 2012

    I believe that our fellowship, the a cappella COCs, has put a stumbling block in the way of many people staying within our congregations due to the legalistic way we insist on music being implemented in our assemblies – mostly by treating instrumental music during the worship hour and / or inside the walls of our church buildings as sinful,but in other ways too. For instance, why is it okay for me to sit, playing my piano within the walls of my home while I sing praises to God, but it is not okay within the walls of a church building? I believe that my entire life (24/7) should be an act of worship to God. If the COC belief is that a cappella music is the only acceptable music for worship, then does that mean I cannot sit at the piano in my home playing it while singing hymns? Can I only sing secular music while an instrument is being played? We have people who have great talent in playing an instrument who end up feeling like their musical ability cannot be a part of their christian walk. How long will those people stay with us when they can go somewhere else where truth is spoken and they can also incorporate their love of music?
    And why all the fighting over soloists? Sometimes just sitting and listening to someone singing a spiritually meaningful song can be just as encouraging and inspirational as actually singing myself. I have heard other people say so too. So again, why would we argue about someone singing a solo? And then there is all the arguing about choirs. Oops! I forgot. We are not supposed to use the word choir. It is almost like a cuss word in our fellowship. Really? How silly!! In my congregation, we have graduated to a praise team, but they must sing with their backs to the rest of the congregation. I guess if they faced us,it just wouldn’t be “scriptural” singing.
    What must non-christians and people with real struggles that need help think about us when we are wasting precious time being as legalistic as the day is long about singing/music? For the most part, they are just really turned off. Why wouldn’t they be? They need to go where they can get the help they need, not some place that is caught up arguments over these types of issue.
    We have truly made music a stumbling block. If I remember correctly, the bible really does speak to that issue and I believe it says we are supposed to try to avoid causing people to stumble!
    I happen to like both a cappella and instrumental music as well as some of the old and new songs. I guess in a perfect world for me, I would like to attend a congregation where both types of music are embraced and implemented and the arguments are left behind.
    Marlane
    May, 10 2012

    I am really not worried in the least about counting heads. What I am concerned about is the churches sticking to the scriptures. It is no secret that when a church departs from the faith, they seem to grow. Of course. People want to do what they want to do. When they are told what they want to hear rather than what the Bible teaches, then there seems to be a growth. People are independent today, no one wants to be told what to do. The church is the army of God and has discipline. It does not fellowship false teaching, and marks false teachers and calls them by name. However, the world wants a church that is a big community love fest, that everything and everyone is accepted, and anything taught can be accepted as long as one is sincere. Nothing is further from the truth. Remember there was only Lot’s family, and Noah’s family, 8 souls were saved by water—8 people out of the whole world. People have always turned away from God’s truth, and do so today. Churches of Christ teach what the Bible teaches–that a commitment to Christ is a full time, lifetime commitment and everything that you do matters. People just don’t want to hear this–they want to hear that they can dabble in the world-have a few social drinks here and there, be in the bar scene still, gamble and play the lottery—… and on and on. Once one is a Christian, he must give up these worldly lust or being trying to and praying for help in doing so. But these churches fall into the devil’s hand and teach their people—you can still be a Christian and part of the world–nothing is further from the truth. We are to abstain from all forms of evil.
    Gary Hatmaker
    May, 10 2012

    I would suggest the readers reflect on the blog concerning what our response should be about Obama’s evolutionary stance on gay marriage. Of course, if you would equate the eternal destiny of those who practice gay sex and those who lift up their voices in praise to God with the accompaniment then the comments could simply be substituted for each other. Honestly.
    What should our response be to those who use musical instruments in their worship to God. They read the same bible. They find the stance that the inspired text is clear on the prohibition of musical instruments in worship of the Author and that eternal damnation awaits those that use them as utterly incredulous. The list of damnable sins are quite clear. The other blog provides more insight into our spiritual journey than the silence of a direct mention of instrumental music in the New Testament (barring Revelations of course)
    Mike Nance
    May, 11 2012

    God is the judge of each one and there is a difference between someone who promotes worship forms of human origin and those who ignorantly tag along.
    Nadab and Abihu evidently thought it was OK to worship God by doing something He had not commanded (Leviticus 10:1, 2). Such worship is called ‘strange’ which in this context means ‘unholy’ or ‘profane’. It is like taking a utensil into God’s temple that does not belong there!
    Jesus called people whose worship is based on commandments of men, hypocrites, and said their worship is vain (Matthew 15:7,8).
    We need to be careful here.
    Roy Davison
    May, 11 2012

    I have no desire to be among those who fan the flames of division that keep people apart. I do not write these words to �keep us apart.� Peter wrote that some of Paul�s words are �hard to understand.� His teachings on music are not among those words that are hard to understand. They may be hard to accept for those whose hearts are leading their heads. I do not have the musical giftedness that to some seems to call for public recognition of religious expression, either in voice or in instrumentation. I therefore, cannot judge the expressive desire in this area. I do believe that we can appropriately restrain ourselves in worship as did Paul in 1 Corinthians 14:18-19 I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all; 19 however, in the church I desire to speak five words with my mind, that I may instruct others also, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue. I will continue to sing �five words with my mind, that I might instruct others (in tune or not), rather than ten thousand� mechanical sounds that have no heart.
    John Fewkes
    May, 11 2012

    Mr. Royster seems to contradict himself. First, he says, “I feel I should point out that the Churches of Christ are not the only ones experiencing stagnant or declining numbers.” Then, he suggests that independent Christian churches are experiencing decline too. Finally, he admits that Christian churches are not really declining, but are growing by nearly 1%. So, the bottom line is that non-instrumental churches of Christ are declining and instrumental Christian churches and churches of Christ are growing. I understand that Mr. Royster might be a bit defensive in response to comments like the one quoted above. But, he brought it up in his previous article, didn’t he?
    I tend to agree with the person who commented about COC primitivism and it’s lack of appeal to this generation. Primitivism and traditional COC hermeneutics has also proven to be divisive. By definition, the CENI hermeneutic resistant to innovation in ministry and outreach. That said, the decline in non instrumental churches is not likely to be explained by a single factor (i.e., no instruments). As was said, geography is also an important factor. Aging demographics are a real problem, too.
    Why is this comparison being made? Is there a self-esteem problem that seeks to excuse and explain away decline and stagnation by making comparisons? The problem is not that other groups may or may not be experiencing “phenomenal growth”? The problem is that non instrumental churches are declining. Comparisons won’t solve the problem.
    The problems with measuring the growth of Independent Christian Church growth mentioned by Victor Knowles might better explain why the numbers seemed to change dramatically from the 90s rate of growth in instrumental churches to the first decade of this century. The fact is that Independent Christian Churches are seeing a decline in small town, rural churches like everyone else. But, in larger, new church plants, etc., the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ are growing. Pew research has shown that the problem with church decline in America has more to do with the aging of the church than the particular model of church or denomination (or lack thereof).
    The church in North America is going through significant changes. Whether or not the COC will continue to decline will have more to do with it’s response to these changes than whether or not it’s keeping up with instrumental churches.
    Ryan
    May, 11 2012

    I am hopeful for a day when Churches of Christ do not base such a large part of our identity around music forms, and that even greater unity will exist among these Churches and our fellowship. Of course, among autonomous churches this is a congregation-to-congregation effort. I appreciate Victor Knowles filling in more of the data about the demographics of Christian Churches. I rejoice that they continue to grow as the ones I am familiar with(Southeast in Louisville being one) are preaching the gospel, baptizing many, taking the great commission seriously, and are very committed to God’s Word. We would, in my view, impact this nation and our world for Christ far better together than apart.
    Ron
    May, 14 2012

    I am always amazed to see in these type of discussions the thought that churches either being or remaining small is equated to “faithfulness,” and that large churches are thought to be large because they have no regard for the Scriptures.
    Jimmy Edwards
    May, 15 2012

    Agreed Jimmy. This culture of small means “sound” seems to give excuse to take swipes at churches that are reaching more than they by writing them off as obviously unfaithful. Usually, faithfulness being defined by adherence to their defined terms, and it allows some to be okay with our decline. After all, we’re just being faithful! It seems that Jesus said somewhere that our abiding in him would result in our bearing much fruit. This equating of small with faithful and a “family” atmosphere would make most of us very uncomfortable in the Jerusalem church described in Acts 2-8.
    Ron
    May, 16 2012

    The Pentecostian church of Christ in Jerusalem is not prototypical. God broke it up and scattered it. [Acts 8.1 – 4] There is absolutely no biblical directive as to congregational size. There is, however, much directive as to faithfulness!
    Russ McCullough
    May, 16 2012

    Of course there’s no biblical directive as to congregational size. Did something in this thread suggest that? And where in scripture does it say “God broke it up and scattered it?” It was scattered by persecution. To say “God broke it up,” isn’t exactly speaking where the Bible speaks. My only point is that some of us (and some in this thread) tend to equate small with sound. There is no biblical statement that supports this idea either. A congregation may be small and faithful, and a larger church may be as well.
    Ron
    May, 16 2012

    One reason for non-instrumental congregations to be on average smaller is that they do not have to support instrumentation, including its cost, personnel, logistics, etc. They don�t need pianos and organs or pianists and organists.
    All they do musically is to sing.
    Wherever two or three or gathered together, no one needs to know how to play an instrument.
    PS: Several variations of the Latin expression for �like the chapel� are in circulation. Sorry, Mel, but use of a variant which eliminates the space solves certain stylistic challenges.
    David Ramsey
    November, 15 2012

    I know of several congregations in Nairobi, Kenya for instance, who have experimented with instruments to incite numerical growth and yet failed miserably to see such growth, instead such additions fueled divisions. Use of instrumental does not seem to be a determinant factor in genuine and sustainable church growth, in my view.
    Charles Ngoje
    November, 16 2012

    What people are finding in liberal churches of Christ, and the secular churches is a gospel that fills their bellies rather than serving the Lord. It is easy to make a comparison—a person goes to the doctor with a weight problem and is told by the doctor that he has to give up this and that and make changes to lose weight or he is going to die early. He doesn’t want to hear this, so rather than follow the doctor’s advice, he just goes to another doctor, and another till he hears the message he wants to hear—that basically he can keep going the way he is going and not make many changes–it won’t make much difference anyway. The same in religion. People shop around–when they enter a sound congregation of the church of Christ, and they find no entertainment (because we are not there to entertain each other but to worship the Lord); no hoopla, i.e. clapping, shouting, waving hands all over, etc–(we are not at a ball game); and lack of declaring the whole counsel of God–(commands to withdraw from the disorderly and not forsaking the assembly and doing so are always totally missing from worldly churches—-then these churches will be full to the door. But they are not fooling the Lord. Of course the liberal element in relgion will have full buildings. But what did the Lord say–‘strait and narrow is the way and few there be that find it’. Actually, if people were knocking the building down trying to get in-I would be worried then, because the Lord said it would not be like this. He said we would be rejected by the world and his Sword would divide families.
    Gary Hatmaker
    November, 19 2012

    A cappella is Latin, literally meaning, “As in the chapel,or Chapel Style.” It meant a choir who sang for an audience. These were often doubled with instruments.
    Henry Brigman
    November, 19 2012

    A cappella meant as in the church, or as in the chapel. It was because instruments were not used in Christian worship until the 6th century, and was not accepted until the 12th century. It is one testimony that the original way of Christian worship was free of the use of musical instruments because that reverted to the law of Moses and it’s physical works.
    Gary Hatmaker
    November, 20 2012

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