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Decline, fellowship and the 2009 directory

Readers had a lot to say about The Christian Chronicle’s coverage of the 2009 edition of Churches of Christ in the United States, which shows a 3.7 percent drop in the number of men, women and children in the pews of Churches of Christ since 2006.
Among issues of concern for our readers was the decision of the directory’s publisher, Nashville, Tenn.-based 21st Century Christian, to omit churches with instrumental worship. Following are representative responses:
We continue to enjoy The Christian Chronicle. Even though I am 83, I learned so many things about why the church is showing a decline. The article “Wherever two or more — or eight — are gathered”  reminded me of our work in the ’40s when we were planting a lot of new churches. I have seen so many preachers come from those small congregations, and I have also seen some great work being done by larger congregations.
I also enjoyed the editorial, “Giving respect and honor to leaders.” I wish every member of the Church of Christ could read it and we all could walk this journey together.

Maxine Smith Lingo| Rayville, La.
In Bobby Ross Jr.’s article (“Church in America marked by decline”) he asked the question, “Why the decline?” and provided possible explanations by church leaders. But he neglected to provide Jesus’ answer to this easy question — “the deceitfulness of wealth” (Matthew 13:22). Any missionary can tell you that winning souls to Christ is a whole lot easier in Nigeria rather than New Zealand, as your article about World Bible School in Zimbabwe implied (Page 10, February).

David Dill | Kerrville, Texas
I find it to be particularly distressing that 21st Century Christian has chosen to eliminate several churches from its current publication (“Churches in no man’s land,”).
Of particular concern to me is the fact that several of those eliminated churches are among the most vibrant, mission-minded and rapidly growing churches in our fellowship.  
In an age when many churches cannot retain their children … these churches are reaching and baptizing the unchurched. They are also feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing the homeless, ministering to the sick and the imprisoned.
Larry Calvin | Fort Worth, Texas
Though privately published, Churches of Christ in the United States has become an “institutionalized” resource for the brotherhood. Its constituency is larger than its owners and editors, and needs to be involved in major policy changes.
This was not evidenced in the decision to exclude a cappella congregations that also have instrumental Sunday worship.
What’s next — culling all Churches of Christ that no longer teach against instrumental music or consider it a “salvation issue?”
There may be a majority of us by now who remain a cappella out of preference or to maintain harmonious relations with more traditional congregations. 21st Century Christian should return to its inclusive reporting — which has been such a valuable aid to members and a great record of our history — rather than trying to determine that history.
Wayne Newland | Falmouth, Maine
I believe that Richland Hills and others like them have … made it impossible for the bulk (the biblically informed) of our brotherhood to worship with them in good conscience — and therefore should be dropped from the directory.
I believe that the intentions of such churches might have been good. I think that they believed that bigger attendance numbers equal genuine evangelism. …
I think this is why Southern churches are closing down and overall numbers are down. There is a pervasive belief that bigger numbers — regardless of whether they are just transfers from the next neighborhood over, curiosity seekers looking for a good show or genuinely interested people who may convert — make us pleasing to God.
Instruments pull in a larger audience, splashy speakers pull in more people, faith-only messages pull in larger crowds, and messages that pander to worldly beliefs and practice are popular.
Park Linscomb | Manchester, N.H.
Personally, I don’t feel instruments add to the worship service. However, I certainly would consider that each autonomous congregation’s elders should be able to make the decision.
Then, I would not consider instruments as a reason to break up the unity of Christians.   
Jim Alderdice | Eddyville, Ky.
There are plenty of us who do not have instrumental services who embrace Richland Hills as a part of our fellowship.
We respect their autonomy and right to make the decisions they have made. This type of exclusivity has no end to it once it begins. What will be the next issue that will exclude more churches? “Unity” does not require “uniformity.”   

Jim Hackney | Keller, Texas
Were this about who is in the brotherhood and who isn’t, I’d agree with all the hoopla. 21st Century Christian is publishing a directory that, in its introduction, states that it is a list of a cappella churches of Christ.
Is Richland Hills an a cappella church? No. So they no longer fit the description. Personally, I wish they would merely add another descriptive category, but it’s their directory, not mine.  

Tim Archer | Abilene, Texas
It’s very ironic that so many have been so quick to judge the motives of 21st Century Christian as being “judgmental” of brothers who have introduced instrumental worship services.
Churches of Christ in the United States has historically been a statistical, scientific accounting of a cappella Churches of Christ associated with the Restoration Movement. It has never been intended to determine the doctrinal soundness of any congregation, whether listed or omitted.
It is unfortunate that some have placed the spotlight on something that this publication was never intended to be rather than on the plain fact that Churches of Christ are in decline along with most of the mainline denominations.
We will continue to work toward finding fair and accurate ways of reporting changes in our fellowship for the 2012 edition so that all who are within the historical scope of this book may be included.

Carl Royster | Nashville, Tenn.
Perhaps such statistics are not as telling as we would like to think. People are coming to Christ in places we don’t think of. Within the last three months I have personally baptized 55 men into Christ.
I found, after only being in chaplaincy for six months (I still minister with an a cappella congregation and am in my 20th year), that inmates are starving for the word.
I hope our myopic view of the kingdom of God (us versus them) is not as stilted as I sometimes think it may be. We don’t have an exclusive on the gospel. Salvation may have very little to do with guitar strings and other such issues. I am thinking the kingdom of God is growing in the middle of a pluralistic society that is challenging our reasons for what we do religiously.
Steven Clark Goad | Blythe, Calif.
My wife and I read your recent articles … with great interest. We have been particularly aware of this issue in our congregation as we are in a small town that has few move-ins but numerous move-outs due to our kids graduating and moving away to find employment.
Still, we have consistently maintained our numbers through a very simple formula — we have a loving congregation that welcomes newcomers and we have not become apologists for the church, but have simply preached the truth in love.

Rick Bloodworth | Happy, Texas
While the door to Moscow closed for the team that ended up in Kharkov (“Unable to reach Russia, team moves to Ukraine”), the door to missions in Russia is still open. Workers are needed for leadership training of the 50-plus Churches of Christ in Russia and are welcome!
Joel Petty | St. Petersburg, Russia

  • Feedback
    It is fantastic that more young people want to experience God in a “relationship”, but they should be aware that a relationship is bidirectional; Christianity should not only be about what God can do for them, but how they can serve Christ and honor Him the way he asks. That includes in worship. If a wife told her husband that she didn’t like flowers, yet every year for her birthday he brought flowers because he liked giving flowers, the wife would certainly feel disrespected. In the same way, we have the Bible which tells us about our interaction with God- how to live, love and worship. For us to ignore His wishes is to place ourselves of greater importance and that is a place I do not wish to be.
    Lara Jester
    Pleasant Valley church of Christ
    Altoona, PA
    March, 13 2012

    The “Directory of the Ministry: A Yearbook of Christian Churches and Churches of Christ” is not published by either Christian Standard or College Press. It is published by Specialized Christian Services of Springfield, IL, Judy Noll, Director. www.directoryoftheministry.com
    Listing is voluntary.
    Victor Knowles
    Mt. Hope Churc
    Joplin, MO
    June, 29 2010

    I stand corrected. The new publisher of the directory of churches of Christ for those churches who DO use instruments is here: http://www.directoryoftheministry.com/ . This used to be sold by College Press, who also sold copies of the ANUKAN database containing the same information.
    April, 2 2009

    In 2001, I left the churches of Christ and took a position as a worship minister in an Independent Christian Church. I am now the Senior Pastor in another Christian Church.
    I thought that in leaving the C of C that I would be going into a fellowship that was warmer and more loving and perhaps a little less dogmatic and schizmatic. Yet, what I’ve found in the Instrumental Churches is that the same problems exist here as in the Church of Christ, with the exception of instrumental music. There is extreme legalism and extreme liberalism and all flavors in between. There is much division over a multiplicity of issues. However, what often happens in Independent Christian Churches is that people disagree but stay together and become angry, bitter, and very hateful with each other. The result is that the health of the church is compromised and energy that could be spent on reaching people for Jesus is instead expended on biting and devouring each other.
    I’ve now served two Independent Christian Churches and I would tell anyone that I have been lied to, lied about, slandered and maligned more in the eight years I’ve been in the Christian Church than the previous 20 years that I served Churches of Christ.
    Additionally, what I’ve found among this segment of the Restoration Movement is that the people in the pew are grossly ignorant of biblical truths and are apt to follow any charismatic leader and swallow his teaching without checking it out in the Word. The ONLY issue upon which Christian Churches generally are immoveable, is the doctrine of baptism. I firmly believe that in many of our churches a preacher could teach error on many subjects – at first subtly – as long as he taught the traditional view of water baptism – and such teaching wouldn’t cause the slightest ripple on the water.
    While I still believe that the Church of Christ is far too narrow and dogmatic in most instances, I do appreciate the love for the Lord and His Word and the spiritual training that I received in the church. And, I am concerned that far too many in the fellowship of which I am now a part are so abysmally ignorant biblically that they wouldn’t be able to discern between the truth of God and counterfeit religion.
    Thank you for your articles regarding decline in church growth as well as those dealing with other issues, good and bad, in the non-instrumental churches. Keep up the good work.
    James Kisner
    Painted Post, NY
    March, 26 2009

    Whats really puzzling here is why those who want to use instruments in worship don’t want to be correctly listed with those of like mind… in the published directories of restoration movement churches that DO use instruments. Christian Standard publishes that directory, so why not list there? Why aren’t these churches properly listed there? It only sows discord to get these things mixed up and/or try to hide some practice from the rest of the world.
    March, 19 2009

Filed under: Letters To The Editor Staff Reports

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