Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
February 15, 1968
NUMBER 40, PAGE 1-3a

"On The March" Slowly!

J. Edward Nowlin

For the past several years readers of some of the brotherhood papers have been treated to a steady diet of progress on parade. Many churches of Christ have done everything but hand-springs trying to impress everybody (the denominations in particular) that they are on the march." Judging from all this horn-blowing, one would think that people have been becoming members of the churches of Christ in droves, especially when certain publications describe the "Church of Christ" as the fastest-growing religious body in the U.S.A.

However, figures published by some of these "on the march" churches are a bit disillusioning. J.V. Copeland, Jr., who preaches for West End church in Atlanta, published in their bulletin, THE WEST ENDER, Dec. 5, 1967, the results of a questionnaire he had sent out to the institution-supporting churches in the Atlanta area. Of course, the conservative churches of the area were not included. (Since the rumor is out that we are fast drying up on the bone, any statistics from us would ruin the averages if included with those who are "on the march!") The statistics and his analysis of them took up a whole page. After pursuing the matter for a few minutes, this writer almost fell out of his chair! What he saw was not a ghost; it was a Skelton. According to their own figures, the "on the march" churches were little more than holding their own.

The statistics covered four years, 1963-1966, inclusive, for 20 churches, Negro and white.

(We have figured the number by subtracting those present from the membership)

The reported 4,997 members for 1966 minus 4,888 members in 1963, leaves a net gain of 109 members in 4 years or 27.25 members per year, or 1.36 members per church per year. (But, comparing the 1966 membership with the 1965 membership, you have a loss of 85 members, or 4.25 members per church in 1966.)

Then, note the number reported baptized, moved away, and withdrawn from:

Net gain of 264 members, or 66 per year, or 3.3 members per church per year. (But this does not agree with the above-noted gain of 27.25 per year, or 1.36 per church per year.) Adding their gain from membership figures (1.36 per church per year) and their gains from baptisms over moving away and withdrawals (3.3 per church per year), we have a total of 4.66 members per church per year. However, when we take the net gain for 1966 (4.66 per church) and subtract the loss in membership for 1966 (4.25 per church), we are left with a total net gain per church for 1966 of 0.41 members. Now, did somebody say the "anti's" are drying up on the bone? Perhaps they are measuring our corn in their half-bushel! Evidently, Brother Copeland failed in his interpretation of the reports he collected, for he said no word of rebuke on the lack of growth and stated that his "statistics present a fairly true picture of the church in the Atlanta area."

All of this reminds this scribe of some figures put out by the Christian Churches from whom the liberal churches seem to be taking their cues these days. After being progressively "on the march" for nearly a hundred years, they still like to publish figures. In 1963, Dr. Robert Burns, of Peachtree Christian Church and President of the International Convention, made a speech to the Convention in Miami Beach, in which he upbraided the brethren for the fact that from 1952 to 1962 Christian Churches saw net gain of only about 1% for the whole decade! He also reported that in the 1960's, they had started 83 new churches and lost 102, and added, "It is obvious we are not making any net gains." The reason was, he went on to say, "We are not providing the money..."

This reminds us that the liberal churches of Christ of Atlanta reported gains every year in contributions, with a gain of $5,228 in 4 years, or $65.25 per church per year. But the Christian Churches woke up. They published in their 1965 Yearbook for Disciples of Christ in the U.S. and Canada, that they had topped $100,000,000 for the first time in 1965; but their "Membership remained practically unchanged," said Christian Church News, Office of Interpretation, Disciples of Christ. In 1965, they spent a hundred million dollars just to stand still!

R.M. Bell, President of Johnson Bible College, Kimberlin Heights, Tennessee, published an article in the College paper, BLUE AND WHITE, commenting upon this with bitter words. He said, "What has happened? What vile hand has put on the brakes and slowed the growth of the church to the point where the Disciples of Christ are not even evangelizing their own children? Many are the causes. I will mention only two, which I believe to be chiefly responsible for the failure."

"The first cause was a movement to increase the efficiency of the church...they organized a missionary society...I t was called ' progress' and its' advocates were called 'progressives.' The brethren who opposed this type of restructure were called 'Antis,' and were said to be anti-missionary, because they objected to turning the missionary program of the church over to an outside organization...The time came when the supporters of societies (I was one of them) were forced to admit that we were not getting the, job done. The 'anti' missionary group, which refused to be restructured, was running circles around us...While the 'progressives' mark time and raise money, the 'Antis' preach the gospel and win converts."

"That brings me to the second cause of the dying condition of the Disciples of Christ. They have lost sight of the purpose of the church. They have revised and reinterpreted the Great Commission... If I understand this commission, it means that the primary task of the church is to evangelize the world...their major interest is in political and social reform and in raising the budget. No wonder they can raise a hundred million dollars with no gain in membership. The field that is plowed produces the corn."

It is only fair to state that Mr. Bell now stands with the conservative wing of the Christian Church and tries in vain to put on the brakes, while the "progressives" march on to destruction. The ATLANTA JOURNAL, Mar. 30, 1967, published a note which stated that the Christian Churches had reported a loss of 23,985 members in 1966. In view of these things and the way history has of repeating itself, our liberal brethren who are talking about how the few "Anti's" will soon die out, would serve their Lord better to burn their idols (the benevolent, evangelistic, and educational institutions) and return to the New Testament pattern of work, worship, and teaching. It is axiomatic that the more wheels one puts into a machine, the more power it takes to turn the machine. Likewise, the more organizations men attach to the church, the more of the church's resources it will take just to run the ecclesiastical machinery. This leaves increasingly less for expansion. It is bad for members of a church to lose their identity in the collective body and depend upon the church to do everything, but it is disastrous to the growth of the church when a congregation loses its identity in a maze of inter-congregational organizations and thinks it can send in a little money and let them do everything.

This is exactly what has happened with the Christian Churches. They give their attention to church-sponsored recreation, their preachers give them "bread and parades," and they happily raise money and leave it of the organizations to do the work. When the American Christian Missionary Society did not produce as they expected, did they junk it? Certainly not. They organized the Foreign Missionary Society, the Christian Women's Board of Missions, and others. When calls for money became so numerous, they combined all of them under the United Christian Missionary Society and set up the Unified Promotion to raise money for them. Now, they can spend a hundred million dollars a year and stand still!

Far from learning anything from history, our present-day "on the march" churches of Christ are going right down the same path. They have their intercongregational organizations. Instead of calling them missionary societies, they call them "sponsoring churches," "Herald of Truth," "World Radio," which is really the "Worldwide Missionary and Educational Foundation," "Gospel Press," "Campaigns, Inc.," "Saviour's Way Campaign," "Greater Atlanta Campaign For Christ," "Direct Mail Evangelism," "Worldwide Bible Study," etc. Along with their benevolent corporations, schools, and hospitals, these require millions of dollars per year, and the churches have become money-raising service organizations for them. The inter-congregational evangelistic organizations are not getting the job done, in spite of their exorbitant claims of results in evangelism. (The Greater Atlanta Campaign For Christ in 1965, resulted in 25 baptisms, of whom 90% were from church of Christ families, for an average of 1.05 members per church supporting it!) Will the church in Atlanta junk these organizations and return to congregational independence; or, will they continue to be "on the march" slowly?

— 1959 Barberrie Lane, Decatur, Ga. 30032