By Scott Armstrong
General Secretary David P. Wilson and Nazarene Research Services recently released the annual Church of the Nazarene statistical reports for 2017. These detailed reports documenting the missional activities of the denomination on a global scale show growth for the Church of the Nazarene over the statistical year, as well as continued growth over the past decade.
“We have seen some significant increases in several areas and we’re grateful for the leadership of the Spirit and the hard work of God’s people around the world,” Wilson said.
Next week I will share my observations on the Mesoamerica Region specifically. However, for now let’s focus on our denomination at large. Here are my initial observations:
- The denomination is growing and has steadily grown during the past 10 years. In 2007, 20,958 churches were reported, and in 2017, 30,875 were reported. Total membership has risen from around 1.73 million to more than 2.55 million in that same time. Plus, in no year did we see a decline in membership worldwide in the last decade. This is encouraging growth – nearly 50% growth in only 10 years!
- We are not receiving as many new Nazarenes as we were ten years ago. Although our membership is steadily increasing, the number of new Nazarenes joining the church per year has declined 14% (from around 170,045 to 146,577). In addition, every one of the previous four years (2014-2017) has produced fewer new Nazarenes than any of the first four years of this report (2007-2011). Could this be attributed to a lack of evangelism? Is there less emphasis in some contexts placed on membership, and more on attendance?
- Every region has shown significant growth except one: the USA and Canada. It is common to hear some evangelical leaders proclaim that “the Church is dying” in the USA and Canada. I would not go that far, especially since we presumably call ourselves Wesleyan optimists. Saying the Church is dying means at some point (soon?) it will be dead. How can a passionate Christ-follower throw out that maxim as a truth, without factoring in that the Church has proven itself to be historically adaptable and resilient? Nevertheless, an honest look at our current reality is mandatory. In ten years the membership of our denomination has decreased in these two nations by -3.5%? It’s jarring. Pastors and leaders in the USA and Canada must change their methods drastically if they do not want to become an afterthought in the American and Canadian cultural landscape.
- The region with the most Nazarenes is now Africa, followed by USA/Canada and Mesoamerica. This is a seismic shift. In only one decade, African Nazarene membership has nearly doubled, from 364,698 to 674,414. Put another way, one in every four Nazarenes worldwide is from Africa. It is significant to note that two of our six General Superintendents are from that continent. I fully expect that our leadership on all levels will continue to greater reflect the momentous reality of the growing African Church.
- Some of the places deemed most difficult or even hostile to the Christian faith are growing: Eurasia and Asia-Pacific. Remember also that many of our brothers and sisters from what we call “Creative Access Countries” in these regions cannot be reported officially due to governmental restrictions and persecution.
- Total Church membership has increased in the last decade by 816,602 (47%), while attendance at weekly worship services has increased by 288,799 (24%). What the USA and Canada have seen for many years now could possibly be occurring in other regions: the average church member is attending worship services less frequently than a generation ago.
- Membership in Nazarene Youth International has increased only 7% in 10 years. This concerns me, especially since I have seen greater ineffectiveness in many of our local churches recently with regards to their youth ministries. All of our churches want youth to come and be a part (or so we say). However, are we willing to have them lead and – gasp! – change our methods and strategies when the standard operating procedure has proven stagnant? We must be more creative, and we must intentionally invest our time, resources, and love into children and youth.
- With drastically more members and churches globally, we see that giving has actually decreased by -8% in the last decade. This has to be attributed to the majority of giving coming from the one region that is not growing: USA/Canada. There is a misunderstanding in many of our churches regarding the World Evangelism Fund (WEF) and why it is important. I have recently had conversations with local and district leaders from three different regions that all have expressed confusion regarding this “pillar” of our denominational missions’ system. This leads us to #9…
- WEF giving is far from universal. Bright and colorful on the first page of the report, the facts are stunning, if not sickening. Only 26.8% of global congregations gave the full 5.5% of WEF last year (almost all from USA/Canada). 29% of our churches did not give a single cent or peso or rand to WEF. How can this be?! We have to do better than this as Nazarenes. I realize that there are many great methods to give missionally to a variety of excellent organizations. It could be that many people are just choosing to do that, right? Well, diving deeper, it appears that globally our maturing financially has not kept up with our growing evangelistically. Sure, the Gross National Product (GNP) of Nicaragua or Nepal is way lower than that of the USA. But our current model of churches multiplying around the world while neglecting to give to the primary denominational missions sending fund is unsustainable. As the General Superintendents have been fond of saying in the past five years, “We do not seek equal amounts of giving; we seek equal sacrifice.”
- Discipleship attendance is up 60% in 10 years. This is significant and remarkable. I recall how in the last decade our Global Church has placed much emphasis on holistic discipleship – ie. not just Sunday School being the only way to disciple. I have seen much more creativity in reaching and teaching children, youth, and adults through small groups, Sunday School, and even – as in our local church’s case in Dominican Republic – Houses of Prayer. May this renewed focus on discipleship be a calling card of Nazarene congregations in the coming decade as well.
There are undoubtedly many nuances and other points to be gleaned from these statistics. What did I miss? What jumps out at you, or what of my observations encourages or alarms you the most?