If its current rate of decline continues, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) denomination could lose half its membership over the next 10 years, according to an Institute on Religion and Democracy blog post by Jeffrey Walton.
Numbers provided by the DOC’s Office of General Minister and President show that total membership declined 7 percent from 2017 to 2018, from about 411,000 to around 382,248. Likewise, average worship attendance declined 11 percent, from 140,000 to 124,000, Walton wrote on IRD’s blog, Juicy Ecumenism. Also, baptisms dropped from 4,344 to 3,782, down 13 percent, while other additions (including transfers in) declined 6.4 percent, from 7,441 to 6,969.
Walton said the Disciples—led by “denominational officials [who] strongly embrace social justice causes”—likely were the fastest-declining major U.S.-based church last year.
Walton acknowledged that the denomination’s switch to an online reporting format led a smaller number of congregations to report their attendance figures.
“A universalist theology appears to be sapping the evangelistic vigor of clergy [among the Disciples],” Walton told the Christian Post. He cited research that indicates the denomination’s clergy is more liberal than the overall membership.
“On a more anecdotal level, I’m hearing from Disciples members who are tired of political lectures in general from their clergy during Sunday worship services. . . . They’d like to hear the gospel preached, but their clergy are more focused upon social witness and, in the words of one Disciples’ congregant, ‘milquetoast sermons.’”
The Disciples and two other church groups trace their roots back to the Restoration Movement forged by Barton W. Stone, Alexander Campbell, and others in the early 1800s. The noninstrumental churches of Christ peeled off in 1906 (they remain nondenominational), and the Disciples broke away in the 1960s (the Disciples became a denomination in 1968). That left the nondenominational Christian churches and churches of Christ, the main constituency of Christian Standard.