Olson, The American Church in Crisis

I just finished reading Dave Olson’s book:

Dave Olson leads the church planting movement at the Evangelical Covenant, of which I am a part.  This book is a persuasively written statistical analysis of the current state of the American church.  With clarity and insight, Olson shows that with each passing year a smaller percentage of the population attends church.  Some denominations are growing and some are not, but on a whole the church is falling far short of keeping up with population growth.  Some stats:

  • “The percentage of Americans who attended a Christian church on any given weekend declined from 20.4 percent in 1990 to 17.5 percent in 2005” pg. 36
  • There were an average of 3,200 church closures a year between 1990-2000, and 3,707 between 2000-2005. pg. 120
  • “There needs to be a yearly net gain of 3,205 churches to keep up with American population growth.  The number is ten times higher than the actual net gain.  For the American church to keep up with population growth, 2,900 additional new churches need to be started each year.” pg. 120
  • “Each year from 2000 to 2005 an estimated 4,000 new churches were started in America.” pg. 145

Olson also argues that the single best way to grow the church in America is through church planting.  He provides a list of reasons for church planting that include (pg. 155-156):

  • Because the majority of Americans do not attend a local church and many more new churches are needed.
  • New churches are more effective then established churches at conversion growth.
  • New churches are the only truly effective means to reach the growing ethnic populations coming to America.
  • New churches are historically the best method for reaching each emerging new generation.
  • New churches are the test laboratory for lay leadership development.
  • The continued growth of new churches will extend up to 40 years after their start.
  • New churches provide synergistic benefits to established churches.

The book is a sober reminder of the waning influence the church holds in today’s culture.  Fewer and fewer people attend church each week, and fewer and fewer people have even the most basic understanding of Jesus or the gospel.  But it is also a hopeful book.  Olson provides a compelling case for church planting, and hope for a bright future for the church.  He documents the success of many denominational efforts at church planting, and he relays stories of success from local congregations that are committed to church growth through planting new churches.  I recommend this book to anyone looking for motivation to plant a new church!