Reverse Membership Trend

2007 Church of the Brethren Statement

Because: Jesus commissioned his church to “make disciples of all nations,” “baptize them” and “teach them” everything he commanded (Matthew 28:19-20); and,

Because: The early church believed the promise of God’s grace was “for you and your children and all who are far off” (Acts 2:39); and,

Whereas: Church of the Brethren membership declined by the largest amount in five years in 2005, down 1861 members or 1.42 percent; and,

Whereas: Total reported denominational membership fell under 130,000 for the first time since the 1920s; and,

Whereas: Denominational membership has been on a steady decline since the early 1960’s; and,

Whereas: The number of baptisms in 2005 was at its lowest level in recent history, with just 1,660 reported;

Therefore, Nampa Church of the Brethren confesses our sinful complicity with the declining membership of our denomination and asks when and how the Church of the Brethren can halt and reverse this trend toward extinction.

September 12, 2006: Query adopted by Nampa, Idaho Church of the Brethren and forwarded to the District of Idaho & Western Montana Board of Directors.

Robert McKellip, Board Chair
Marilyn Blickenstaff, Moderator
Jim Hardenbrook, Senior Pastor

October 3, 2006: Query reviewed and discussed by District of Idaho and Western Montana Board of Directors. This body unanimously approved forwarding query to 2006 District Conference.

Ed Kerschensteiner, Board of Directors Chair
Sue Daniel, District Administrative Executive

October 21, 2006: Delegates to the Idaho and Western Montana 2006 District Conference, meeting at the Mountain View Church of the Brethren in Boise, Idaho, unanimously approved passing the query to Annual Conference for consideration, with the addition of the following statement:

“The Idaho District Conference also acknowledges its complicity in the declining membership of the district and the denomination. We will give in-depth consideration to this issue for our local congregations and our district, as well as the denomination.”

Sidney King, Idaho & W. Montana District Moderator 2006
Sue Daniel, District Administrative Executive

Action of the 2007 Annual Conference: Annual Conference adopted the query and provided the following answer:
The Church of the Brethren’s commission is clear:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. Matthew 28:19-20 (NRSV)

However, as stated in the 1981 Study Committee report, “Diminishing Membership in the Church of the Brethren”:

For far too long we have allowed our uncertainties to inhibit our evangelism and we have been hesitant to share enthusiastically our convictions about God’s love and grace…. It will take more than passing a statement at Annual Conference to change the trend of diminishing membership in the Church of the Brethren…. [We] will need…a willingness to let the Holy Spirit lead us in being and in making disciples.

We affirm the work and continuing validity of the 1981 paper and encourage all Church of the Brethren agencies, districts, congregations and individuals to revisit the principles and recommendations it contains. We should also confess and repent of our complacency in living out and sharing our faith with others.

Therefore, we recommend that:

  • Congregations provide opportunities for studying the 1981 Study Committee report, “Diminishing Membership in the Church of the Brethren;” actively review ways in which they interact with “the world;” work at not only being an inviting presence and witness for Christ, but also identify the ways in which they have become an impediment to bringing others into relationship with Christ; seek ways to invite others to faith in Jesus Christ and membership in the church; and report these activities to the district.
  • Districts actively create opportunities for congregations to share stories of success with an emphasis placed upon encouragement, education and spiritual formation; and that they submit written reports through their Standing Committee delegates to be shared with Standing Committee in 2008 and 2009. We further encourage the Annual Conference officers and the Program and Arrangements Committee to find ways to celebrate these reports in the larger Annual Conference context in 2008 and beyond.
  • All Annual Conference agencies develop a strategy to mentor, coach, or develop tools to assist in the transformation of attitudes, actions, skills, habits and spiritual depth. They should provide a written copy of their strategy when they report to the 2008 Standing Committee during the time allotted for agency reports.