Dear Colleagues in Ministry,
Most of you know in your heart of hearts that institutional Christianity his facing serious headwinds: unprecedented levels of change, from within and without, that challenge our ability to adapt, as well as rising uncertainty that threatens to paralyze us with fears for our survival. Well, I’m here to tell you that the danger is real but we have a choice of how to respond.
I recently published research paper in the International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society, entitled “The Religion Singularity: A Demographic Crisis Destabilizing and Transforming Institutional Christianity.” This paper is the result of five years of research, a year of open-source review and revision, and a year in peer review. As the title implies, the article describes the dangers and opportunities inherent in the demographic crisis I have dubbed The Religion Singularity.
The Crisis in a Nutshell. Denominations and congregations are now fragmenting at an ever-increasing rate, which has surpassed the growth rate of the Christian population worldwide. This, in turn, is sending number of Christians per denomination and per worship center into a freefall that will soon render denominations and churches unsustainable in their current institutional forms. In other words, we are witnessing the death of institutional Christianity as we know it, and we have already passed the point of no return.
We have a choice. We can fight to save our institutional life…and lose it. Or embrace our institutional death in such a way, as to become the mulch for our resurrection as a new Way of being Church.
Want to learn more about the Religion Singularity and how to prepare your congregations for the journey ahead of us?
- Click here to download the Religion Singularity research paper.
- Click here to view a 3½ minute YouTube video on the Religion Singularity and what faith communities can do to prepare for it.
How to Get Help. The focus of my current ministry is dedicated to preparing faith communities, their leaders, and the organizations that support them learn to survive and thrive beyond the Singularity. I do this primarily through individual and organizational coaching. I am also available for conference presentations and workshops. If you are interested in exploring any of these strategies, feel free to contact me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 301-704-3290.
With hope for the future,
The Rev. Ken Howard
By Ken Howard
I am pleased and excited to announce the publication of my peer-reviewed article, “The Religion Singularity,” in the International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society. The full title of the article is “The Religion Singularity: A Demographic Crisis Destabilizing and Transforming Institutional Christianity.” In this article, I trace the emergence and impact of a worldwide church demographic crisis that has recently entered a critical stage, but has been developing without attention for more than a century. Click here to download a pdf copy of the article or click here to purchase a bound copy.
The crux of the crisis I describe in the article is this. For nineteen centuries, Christianity experienced strong and steady growth in the total numbers of Christians, worship centers, and denominations worldwide. Since then growth in the number of Christians has continued largely unchanged. But growth in the number of denominations and worship centers, mostly due to fragmentation and schism, turned sharply upward in recent decades, substantially exceeding the growth rate of the total Christian population.
This in turn will send attendance and membership numbers in every denomination into a freefall that will soon make denominations and churches unsustainable in their current institutional forms. Denominations are unlikely to survive in any form. Churches on the other hand, given their smaller size and more organic structure, worship centers may be more likely to survive the religion singularity than their larger counterparts, but only if they are willing to become vision-guided and experimental. Stated plainly, we are witnessing the death of institutional Christianity as we know it, and we have already passed the point of no return.
In the paper, I suggest that this presents us with a window of opportunity. We can choose to view the impending death of our longstanding institutional paradigms as an evil and try to fight it (…and fail). Or we can choose to view it as the work of the Holy Spirit, bringing about the death of the old Way, and join with the Spirit in welcoming the birth of the new Way. Our window of opportunity will not remain open long – perhaps ten years at most. Which means we need to get start getting ready now, preparing ourselves not only for the emerging paradigm but for the journey to get there. The journey will not be easy. In the article, I compare it to taking a dangerous trip through a wormhole, and ending up in an entirely different place and time.
Future blog posts will explore the religion singularity in greater detail, as well as ways to both survive and thrive through the journey and beyond.
We hope you will join us in that conversation.
Part 1 of the series “The Dis-Integration of the Church”
Editor’s note: Darren Slade is Director of Research at The FaithX Project. He contributes regularly to the FaithX blog, both curating research on church fragmentation and offering original contributions of his own, such as today’s post. This post is updated and expanded from the original.
According to Ken Howard’s research, the number of new Christian congregations throughout the world outpaces the total number of new Christians, indicating that the growth of worship centers is largely due to Christian fragmentation more than it is to evangelistic practices. In other words, churches are breaking up more than they are converting or reproducing more Christians. Some have speculated that fragmentation and apostasy occurs in the West because of the architecture of church buildings, which no longer have any significance or relevance for the postmodern world. By isolating themselves to a particular building, Christianity has inadvertently separated itself from the rest of society. However, a recent study by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) reveals that millennial Catholics are leaving the faith largely because they no longer view Catholicism as compatible with what they are learning in school, especially with regards to science. Most former Catholics simply no longer believe in God. But what of non-Catholic Christians who remain in church, especially those who consider themselves conservative fundamentalists or evangelicals? What reasons could explain fragmentation within this demographic?
Date: March 26, 2017 (The 4th Sunday in Lent)
Preacher: The Rev. Ken Howard
Location: Church of the Holy Apostles, Arbutus, Maryland.
Text: John 9:1-41
Jesus said, ‘I came into this world for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.’