We all know 85% of churches in the West are in decline, so I wont go into that other than to say I know the cause for this decline. The number one problem with Western Christianity rests on its misunderstanding of the Church Growth movement and the liberalization of the Western Church. Let me explain.
The Church Growth movement, under Donald MaGavran, was based on growth by disciples making disciples. All of his growth strategies were based on assisting disciple making. To MaGavran, evangelism and disciple making were dependent on each other. You couldn’t have one without the other if you followed his writings. His emphasis on numbers was based on this understanding of church growth. He never substituted growth strategies for disciple making.
In addition, MaGavran’s theology was based on taking the Gospel to those who needed it. There was never an attraction element in MaGarvran’s theology. Christians were to go out to those who had never heard the Good News. His model was not based on “ya’ll come,” but on “lets go to them,” even if it was based on homogeneity.
MaGavran’s model of church growth worked well until the liberalization of Western Christianity. With the liberalization of Western Christianity evangelism became a dirty word and disciple making was equated with worship attendance at best and church membership at worst. To make matters worse God was dead; sin was replaced with therapy; eternal life was replaced with living a good life, and going to Church became a habit that few really enjoyed or saw much benefit in other than getting ahead in business. The result was a Church full of nominal Christians who were never transformed much less discipled, and as soon as their children left home they left the church.
Now with the growing emphasis on planting churches the above problem could get worse unless we understand that planting churches isn’t the solution to the decline. I know; I am a proponent of planting churches. But planting more churches won’t stop the decline of Western Christianity unless we return to the MaGavran understanding of disciple making.
Case in point number one- according to Ken Howard, the number of new congregations being planted now outnumbers the total number of new Christians, which means we are adding congregations but not new Christians.  We seem to be making the same mistake of confusing growth strategies with disciple making. Planting more churches without an emphasis on converting disciples will just compound the decline.
Case in point number two – most denominational leaders measure the success of a church plant based on whether or not it accumulates enough members to charter. Their goal is to get a church to viability as soon as possible. Making disciples is at best a secondary goal. Denominations can’t continue to plant churches based on church attendance or they will just continue to perpetuate the growth of congregations while the actual numbers of Christians continues to decline.
There is only one biblical strategy – making disciples. Only one. Every other strategy is dependent on making disciples. Growth for the sake is growth is never good. Membership without conversion is a perversion of the Gospel. Evaluating a church plant on the number of members or how soon it reaches viability is a farce. Making authentic disciples is the only solution to the decline of Western Christianity.
MaGavaran had the solution all the time.
So why has the Western Church placed more emphasis on attendance than making disciples? I can think of only two reasons: one, making disciples is harder work than collecting members; and two, liberalism doesn’t see the eternal nature of disciple making.
So, what would it mean to your church if everything you did were focused on making disciples who were enthused about making disciples?
Comparing the trend lines for total number of denominations and worship centers (i.e., discrete physical sites designated for worship17) worldwide with the trend line for the total number of Christians worldwide, it quickly becomes clear that institutional Christianity is, in fact, in the process of dis-integration. Denominations and congregations are increasing in number – mostly by breaking apart – at a much faster rate than new believers are being birthed by baptism to fill them.