General Secretary David P. Wilson and Nazarene Research Services recently released the annual Church of the Nazarene statistical reports for 2018. 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.
There is much to be thankful for! God is on the move around the world and in our denomination!
In an upcoming article, I will offer some observations on Mesoamerica’s statistics specifically. However, for now, and as I have done in the past, I have read through the document and offer some of my initial observations:
- The denomination’s membership has steadily grown during the past 10 years, although last year’s growth was tepid. Total membership has risen from around 1.84 million in 2008 to nearly 2.58 million in 2018. Additionally, in no year did we see a decline in membership worldwide in the last decade. More than 40% growth in only 10 years is quite encouraging! Nevertheless, last year’s growth was a mere 1.13% (see #4 below for one reason why).
- For the first time in a decade, we have reported a decline (-0.53%) in the number of churches. In 2017, 30,875 churches were reported, and in 2018, 30,712 were reported. It should be noted that the decrease could be viewed as positive in one sense: while the number of missions went down (taking the overall numbers with them), many of those “not yet organized churches” most assuredly became organized, which is reflected in that number increasing by 0.58%. Still, last year we organized the fewest number of churches of any year in the last decade. One thing is certain: we must continue to emphasize church planting!
- Of the six world regions, Africa and Eurasia are pacing the way. Africa grew 7.3% last year, and 29.3% of the world’s Nazarenes are now African. In a few years it is likely that one of three Nazarenes globally will be found on that continent. As far as Eurasia is concerned, membership has more than doubled in the last decade (112% growth).
- Membership in South America and the USA/Canada regions has declined. The -11.52% decrease in South American membership at first appears alarming. However, Nazarene Research informs us that one district had over-reported fellowship members in 2017, and the -52,550 fewer members reported there in 2018 can be attributed to a correction of the previous year. Thus, it should be characterized as an “artificial loss” (just as the purported growth in that district in 2017 should be labeled an “artificial gain”). The decline in membership in the USA/Canada region is another story. While the overall Church has grown 40% in the last ten years, Nazarene membership in those two countries has gone down -4.57% in the same decade.
- A greater number of new Nazarenes are being received by transfer from other denominations (11.46%), while fewer new Nazarenes are being received by profession of faith compared to a decade ago (-9.47%). It is exciting to see that fellow Christians are changing their membership perhaps because of doctrinal alignment or experiencing the love of Nazarene churches. At the same time, the majority of Great-Commission Christians would agree that our primary growth must come from reaching those who do not know Christ with the good news.
- The denominational emphasis on discipleship during the last 10 years seems to be producing numerical fruit. Sunday School and Discipleship attendance has grown 62% in the last decade, a number much greater than the overall membership statistic. To put it another way, last year discipleship attendance represented 51% of overall membership totals, while in 2008, that percentage was only 44%. It appears more of our Nazarenes are a part of some sort of discipleship group weekly, and/or our pastors and leaders are learning how to more accurately report the varied forms of discipleship that are occurring.
- God is calling and the Church is ordaining more and more leaders. 21% more elders and 48% more deacons have been ordained since 2008. The number of licensed ministers keeps increasing, too. A rapidly growing Church will require more and more leaders to preach, serve, and administer the Sacraments. We praise the Lord for the growing numbers of pastors and lay people answering God’s call to shepherd His people!
- Membership in Nazarene Youth International has increased only 3% in 10 years. Let’s state that again: while overall membership has grown 40% since 2008, NYI has increased by 3%. The one-year total is 0.53%. I am almost at a loss for words. Last year I addressed this issue, and I worry that any pleas to adapt are falling on deaf ears. Every church wants youth to be present, but how many are willing to change in order to reach them and how many would then be willing to even hand over leadership to them? If we do not intentionally decide to wholeheartedly invest our time, resources, and love into children and youth, we will have forfeited our chance to be change-agents of society within the next 50 years.
- Giving to Global Mission (World Evangelism Fund + Approved Specials + Other Global Interests) went up considerably. 6% growth is exciting! It reflects depth of stewardship and commitment around the world. That said (see #10)…
- We have a long way to go with regards to World Evangelism Fund (WEF) giving. On the first page of the report, the evidence cannot be denied: exactly one-third of global Churches of the Nazarene gave the minimum expectation of 5.5% or more of their non-missions giving to WEF. Admittedly, on a positive note, that number is much higher than the previous year’s: only 26.8% of global congregations gave the full amount in 2017. Still, nearly 29% of our churches did not give anythingto WEF last year! And 96% of all WEF came from one region: USA/Canada. Around the world we have to do better! We have been blessed by WEF for so long; now it is our turn to bless others. As a pastor friend in Dominican Republic who is in the process of transferring his credentials to our denomination once told me, “How can a church call themselves Nazarene if they don’t give to the World Evangelism Fund?!” Great question, José Luis!
Whew! That was a lot, I know. And even then, I have undoubtedly missed dozens of other significant take-aways. What would you highlight, after looking at the document? Which of my ten observations encourages or alarms you the most?