Ten Observations on the Church of the Nazarene’s 2018 Global Statistics

Scott Armstrong

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!

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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:

  1. 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).
  2. 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!
  3. 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).
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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!
  8. 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.
  9. 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)…
  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?

The Protestant Reformation 500 Years Later

“Whether by day or by night, whenever the cloud lifted, they set out…At the Lord’s command they encamped, and at the Lord’s command they set out.  They obeyed the Lord’s order, in accordance with his command through Moses” (Numbers 9:21, 23).

October 2017 is a special month. It marks the five-hundredth anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. The end of this month, October 31, will be five hundred years to the day since Martin Luther nailed the Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. This was the act that started it all, that started the grand and vast movement of Protestantism, that started the Reformation.

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In the evangelical church – and in the Church of the Nazarene specifically – we have obviously been greatly impacted by the Reformation.  If you have ever asked, “Why do we do this or that in the Church?”, many times the answer comes in large part due to the Protestant Reformation.

During the entirety of this month, we will be focusing on this anniversary. At times we will dive into the lives of the Reformers.  Other times we will focus on the core tenets of the Reformation (keep an eye out for the “5 Solas”). The primary purpose will be to help us learn about and reflect upon this enormously important event and how it has brought us to this moment in history as a Christian Church.

At the same time, a secondary purpose is also at work.  By dedicating a month to this topic, I hope that we will recognize that we are a Church that is always willing to evaluate itself and make adjustments as needed.  We have not always been good at that through history, have we? The Church has often been the last entity in society that is willing to change.

Thus, through this month I pray that we would renew our calling to reform, beginning with ourselves.  Just as the post-Exodus Israelites needed to be ready in any moment to follow the cloud, may we be so attuned to God’s presence that we willingly move and adapt at his prompting.  Lord, begin a reformation in me, and in us!

5 Mistakes More Likely To Be Made By Small Churches Than Big Churches

By Karl Vaters

Different sizes of churches serve different functions. And they face different challenges.

Small churches are not just smaller versions of big churches.

Every size has value, but different sizes serve different functions in the body of Christ. They also have different challenges and they tend to make different kinds of mistakes.

Here are 5 mistakes that are more likely to be made by small churches than by big ones. The smaller, the more susceptible they are.

(For the other side of this equation, check out 5 Mistakes More Likely To Be Made By Big Churches Than Small Churches.)

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1. Holding On To Stale Traditions

Some traditions strengthen a church, some weaken a church.

And some traditions that used to strengthen us will eventually weaken us if we hold onto them past their sell-by date.

Some churches need to ask themselves a very serious question. Namely, ‘what’s more important to us? Holding onto traditions that are killing our church, or letting go of some traditions to save the church?’

No, I’m not talking about biblical principles. Without those, we don’t get to call ourselves a church. But anything other than those need to be held lightly, and sometimes not at all.

2. Poor, Or Nonexistent Planning

Not long ago, I was chatting with the pastor of a dying church. He was excited about his plans to revitalize it, so I asked him to send me an outline of those plans. What did he send me? A six-month calendar of committee meetings.

Certainly, getting the planning team in the room for regular times of prayer, strategizing and assessment is a very valuable part of the process. But having more meetings is a poor substitute for having a plan.

Another pastor in a similar situation sent me a list of sermon series. Preaching in series can be very helpful. I’ve done it for years. But we can’t confuse a sermon series with a revitalization plan any more than meetings are. They may be elements of a plan, but they can’t be the plan.

On a recent, very helpful Thom Rainer podcast about replanting dead or dying churches, Mark Clifton said that churches in crisis “generally value the process of decision over the outcome of decision.” Healthy churches prioritize outcomes.

A plan includes a roadmap for how to get from where you are now to a better, more desirable future. Certainly that plan will change as circumstances change, so the ability to adapt and change needs to be built into the plan. But, to repeat the old cliché, those who fail to plan, plan to fail.

3. Not Enough Assessment Or Evaluation

The smaller the church, the harder it is to gauge effectiveness by numbers.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t evaluate our effectiveness in some way.

After Jesus sent out the 72, he gathered them together and asked how their mission went. Then he told them how to evaluate their effectiveness (Luke 10).

Every time we do any ministry, we need to gather the leadership to assess

•What went right

•What went wrong

•Why it went right or wrong, and

•What we can do to improve it the next time.

I know, when things are really bad, that can be painful. But it is essential.

4. Too Much Inward Focus

Many dying churches are doing so because of many years of obvious, intense conflict.

But some churches are surprised that they’re dying because the people who remain are often having a great time with each other.

“The preaching is great, the worship is vibrant and the fellowship is so deep,” they’ll often say. But it often only feels like that to those who already belong.

In a previous post, I made a statement that many readers took me to task for. But I stand by it. Here it is again. “If your church isn’t willing to be changed by the unbelievers who come to your church, they won’t come.”

Yes, we need to be willing to allow them to change us, not just expect us to change them. In fact, the smaller the church, the more this is true, because in a smaller group each person has a greater impact.

If we aren’t willing to listen and adapt our methods (but not our core theology, of course) based on the changing needs of the community around us, we will be seen as increasingly cold, distant and irrelevant to them.

No, the church must never abandon the saints who built and support it (a challenge I’ll address in the companion article about mistakes big churches tend to make), but if all we’re doing is a holy huddle, we’ve stopped being a light in the darkness.

5. Depending On The Pastor Instead Of Making Disciples

The smaller the church, the more we need to fight against the expectation that the pastor is supposed to do ministry for the members. Instead, we must follow the biblical mandate to equip the members to do the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12).

No church can survive if its ministry doesn’t grow beyond the capacity of the pastor. We need to expand our ministry base by equipping and involving everyone.

For more about this, check out The Best Way To Avoid Pastor Burnout? Equip The Saints.

What This List Does Not Mean

Before concluding, I want to be sure no reader goes away thinking anything that I do not intend to say by this list, specifically these five possible misunderstandings.

First, this list is not exhaustive. No list can be.

Second, none of these errors is inevitable, no matter how small the church is.

Third, these are not necessarily the reasons a church stays small. So, if your church is small and not committing any of these mistakes, that’s great!

Fourth, fixing these errors may not bring numerical growth. There are plenty of healthy, missional, strategic small churches that have none of these issues, but still find that their greatest contribution to Christ and his church comes in a smaller package.

Numerical growth is not the goal. Health is. Sometimes that health will produce numerical growth, sometimes not.

Finally, big churches aren’t perfect. They may not tend towards these errors, but they do have their own sets of challenges.

I take a look at some of those in my companion post, 5 Mistakes More Likely To Be Made By Big Churches Than Small Churches.

This article was originally posted at: http://www.christianitytoday.com/karl-vaters/2017/april/5-mistakes-more-likely-small-churches.html?paging=off