More Protestant Churches Closed Than Opened In 2019, Report Says

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A study on 34 Protestant denominations reportedly revealed that more churches closed in 2019 than those that opened.

Faithwire said the study conducted by Lifeway Research showed that there were 4,500 closures against 3,000 openings of Protestant churches in the United States. The data is said to be in reverse of a similar study conducted by the same institution seven years ago where there were 3,700 closures against 4,000 openings.

This data revealed a loss of 1.4% in Protestant churches across the United States where it is estimated there are around 320,000 to 350,000 congregations. Though the rate is comparatively low, Faithwire said that is a growing trend that closures are becoming evident even before the pandemic started. The trend is said to be due to the revitalization of existing congregations instead of launching or planting new ones.

"Over the last decade, most denominations have increased the attention they are giving to revive existing congregations that are struggling. This has been more than a fad. This has been a response to a real, growing need to revitalize unhealthy congregations," LifeWay Research Executive Director Scott McConnell revealed.

"The U.S. population continues to grow, so there is a need for new churches to share the gospel with everyone. But even before the pandemic, the pace of opening new congregations was not even providing enough replacements for those that closed their doors." he added.

Author and podcaster Daniel Im pointed out the trend is not surprising because the current circumstances of launching churches isn't what it "used to be." Im, a church planter himself being the Lead Pastor of Alberta's Beulah Alliance Church, said that a reason to this is the increasing trend of finding successors to churches opened when pastors are already retiring.

"While planting a church is still one of the most exciting things a pastor can do, over the past few years, I've noticed a growing hesitancy to plant, which is why these numbers don't surprise me. Starting a church from scratch is not as it used to be, especially with the rise in Boomer pastors retiring and needing to find a successor," Im revealed to Lifeway Research.

Im added that the realization now among pastors is to revitalize a church than launch a new one that far exceeds the reality of costs considering the uncertain economy especially now with the pandemic "or a lack of faith."

In the study, Lifeway pointed out that although new congregations attract 42% of people who never attended church before or who had not attended church for many years based on their 2015 study, the realizations of church leaders to revitalize current churches has really moved the trend to more closures than openings in its recent study.

Faithwire said that amidst the trend, the spiritual challenge remains to be unanswered since there is a big opportunity of people searching for God and that only "6% of American adults" hold a "biblical worldview."

"Church planting is slowing, and the number of closures is growing. Yet, the opportunity is still before us-people are searching spiritually, and the gospel is the answer," pointed out Wheaton College Billy Graham Center Executive Director Ed Stetzer to Lifeway Research in an interview.

Stetzer said that the pandemic will add to the pressure of opening new churches but not in so much as what the actual trend show.s