11 October 2020

On 8 October, Dr. David Trim released on video the General Conference annual statistical report.

Trim highlighted two trends: attrition and loss, and the leveling off of growth rates.

While Trim thanked those leaders—particularly in the Southern Asia Division—who have done thorough but difficult audits of their memberships, he also notes that losses undercut evangelistic gains. “There are places in many divisions where church leaders prefer simply to not record the losses,” he admits. But “closing our eyes to that is no substitute for closing the back door.” Our loss rate in the last 55 years, says Trim, is about 40%, and reducing losses is our first challenge.

Lower growth

“We are not having the evangelistic success that might be expected,” says Trim, who is careful to explain that he’s not talking about a reduction in membership, but a reduction in the rate of growth—a trend that, should it continue, would have dire consequences on the world church. On a slide showing the reduction in the growth rate, he notes that the preceding membership audits also distort the growth rate. Many who were taken off in 2019, for example, left the church long ago and were only removed in 2019.

The most reliable data

“Baptisms, rebaptisms and professions of faith are being reported pretty accurately,” says Trim. Our growth rate doesn’t seem to be increasing, but the church is clearly growing.

But does that mean that net accessions are increasing? “They are not,” admits Trim. In ten of the twenty years on this chart, accessions are lower than in the preceding year. “Our success in soul-winning seems to be plateauing.”

What should be powering the world church is church planting, says Trim. “The more local churches we have, the greater presence in the community we have.” While there is a net increase in the number of congregations in the past 20 years, the rate of increase in new congregations has steadily declined.

While church planting can be strengthened, “congregations need to become more effective in outreach,” says Trim.  In terms of accessions per pastor, that trend is also down, though less markedly than for congregations.

Trim leaves us with two questions:

  • Are we giving our church members effective training in holistic disciple-making?
  • Have we as church leaders around the world come to take growth for granted? Have we become complacent? “These data tell us that there is no room for complacency.”

Holistic discipleship and disciple-making will help us resolve both problems, says Trim.

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