Multiplication Center

The American Church in Crisis

May 7, 2008

418cqdalwl_sl160_aa115_On my nightstand at the moment is David T. Olson’s new book, The American Church in Crisis (Zondervan, 2008). Olson is the director of the American Research Project and director of church planting for the Evangelical Covenant Church. Loaded with charts, graphs and sidebars, his research is based (as are his conclusions) on his study of a national database of some 200,000 churches.

And there is cause for concern.

For instance, despite some optimistic polls that otherwise suggest the American church is thriving, Olson writes, “On any given Sunday, the vast majority of Americans are absent from church and if trends continue, by 2050, the percentage of Americans attending church will be half (of what it was in 1990).”

To avoid this dismal future, “the American church must engage with…three critical transitions…which have altered the relationship between American culture and the church.” Namely, Olsen defines these as:

1. The transition from a Christian to a post-Christian society;
2. The transition from a modern to a post-modern society;
3. The transition from a mono-ethnic to a multi-ethnic society.

Of course, transitions 1. and 2. have long been foreseen and understood. It’s transition 3. – the new kid on the block – that’s getting increased attention from researchers, writers, theologians and practitioners, etc., alike. Indeed, we are making the case for the multi-ethnic church as a Biblical response to address the changing times!

According to Olson, it’s not only what’s needed; it’s the future.

He writes, “In the mono-ethnic world, Christians, pastors and churches only had to understand their own culture. Ministering in a homogeneous culture is easier, but mono-ethnic Christianity can gradually become culture-bound….In the multi-ethnic world, pastors, churches and Christians need to operate under the rules of the early church’s mission to the Gentiles.”

And I really loved this: “As the power center of (global) Christianity moves south and east, the multi-ethnic church is becoming the normal and natural picture of the new face of Christianity.”

It’s what we’ve been saying; it’s what increasing numbers of churches are now striving to become.

There are many more insights that make the book well-worth its cover price. But listen, don’t read it simply for more stats and info. I recommend you read it with a desire to make personal and corporate changes that will be necessary for the American church – and, ultimately, the Gospel of Jesus Christ – to truly thrive in a changing world.

Mark DeYmaz

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