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EDITORIAL: Our non-denominational legacy lives

It’s hard to hear, standing in a sea of teenage Christians spanning as far as the eye can see.
But it’s easy to be encouraged.
More than 12,000 Christian teens and sponsors packed quaint, tiny Gatlinburg, Tenn., for this year’s Winterfest, the mother of all youth rallies.
One weekend later, about 9,000 more came for the Challenge Youth Conference, also associated with Churches of Christ.
A few weekends before that, about 5,000 rallied in Arlington, Texas, Winterfest’s other venue.
That’s 26,000 youths and adult leaders, coming together from across the nation, joining their voices to worship our Father, learning how they can better serve him. Praise God!
Our coverage of these youth events stands in stark contrast to another story in this issue — the shrinking number of men, women and children in the pews of our congregations, as reported in the latest edition of “Churches of Christ in the United States.”
In the past three years, Churches of Christ have lost nearly as many adherents as the combined attendance of the youth rallies.
News of the decline generated a wave of comments on The Christian Chronicle’s blog. Some readers said that churches’ strict adherence to doctrinal issues has cost them members.
“I am almost certain that we have loved Scriptures — over the people in the pews — to a fault,” wrote Dave Bendickson, who ministered for Churches of Christ for 30 years and now lives in Iowa. “Evangelism is talked about but never experienced. … In continually defending our doctrines, joy has been sucked out of our people, and they have no story to share with others.”
Other readers said that churches have catered too much to their own members, focusing on producing entertaining worship and youth events instead of evangelism.
In truth, Churches of Christ are part of a larger trend among religious groups in the U.S. Most established Christian groups in America face declining membership.
However, community churches, identified in statistical surveys as independent and non-denominational, are experiencing exponential growth.
Non-denominational? Didn’t that term used to describe us?
A wise church member once postulated that the biggest problem of Churches of Christ was that we were about 100 years ahead of our time. The idea of simple, Bible-based Christianity is gaining momentum in the 21st century — especially among young Christians.
Perhaps it is part of our legacy for the religious world. We should rejoice.
As we consider the future — and whether or not the non-denominational churches of tomorrow will be called “Churches of Christ” — we consider the blog comment posted by Don Yelton, a ministry leader in North Carolina and longtime friend of the Chronicle.
“Let’s listen to one another and work to keep our fellowship together, but we should not think we have all the truth,” Yelton said. “Only God has all the truth. Trying to be like Jesus — and all that means — is more than enough to lead the lost to Jesus.”
While we lament those who have left our fellowship in the past three years, watching our teenagers carry on the pursuit of simple, biblical Christianity renews our faith.
We see 26,000 reasons to be optimistic about the future.

  • Feedback
    It truly is sad to hear of the dwindling numbers that has taken place in the Churches of Christ – the fellowship that taught me to love the Lord and his word, and to search the scriptures. I still love the Churches of Christ and always will, but it would be wise for those churches (and Independent Christian Churches, of which I am a part) to revisit the ideals of speaking where the Bible speaks, being silent where it is silent; and the other ideal of “in matters of faith unity, in opionions liberty, and in all things love.” The younger generation wants to see authentic Christianity in DEED and, contrary to what some may believe, they want to see it in DOCTRINE, also. Growth will come when both aspects of Christianity are in tact.
    James Kisner
    Twin Tiers Christian Church
    Painted Post , New York
    United States
    April, 4 2012

    With respect, my heart skipped a beat when I read your recent editorial regrding our non-denominational legacy.
    Like Bro. Bendickson, I have also preched for 30+ years. Unlike Bro. Bendickson, I am almost certain that we have NOT loved Scriptures — over the people in the pews — to a fault.
    Unlike your very nearly approving reference to community churches, I have seen the community church movement divide congregations (representing very little “love the people in the pews”)and think that their tolerant and inclusive collection of denominational beliefs is more omni-denominational than non-denominational, or, using a term that we once used, anti-denominational.
    Don Prather
    Liberty Church of Christ
    Liberty, Texas
    March, 29 2012

    Great observations. I would add that it is not adherence to doctrine that is the problem, but in our approach. We must be able to approach others like Paul did on Mars Hill without losing our first love as the church at Ephesus who by the way was known for their hard work. For I am not ashamed of the Gospel for it is the power to save.
    Kenneth Morvant
    Climax Church of Christ
    Anna, Texas
    March, 27 2012

Filed under: Editorial Staff Reports

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