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There is a problem in the Church of Jesus Christ in the United States of America. Scientific pollster George Gallup stated that “North America is the only continent where Christianity is not growing.”[1] John and Sylvia Ronsvalle discovered clear trends from 1968-1993 in giving and membership data in twenty-nine mainline denominations; if nothing changes, giving will entirely cease by 2032 and church membership “will fall to zero percent of the U.S. population in less than one hundred years.”[2] United Methodist church growth expert George Hunter, III, considered America in 1998 to be the fourth largest mission field in the world.[3] There is no county within the United States where the percentage of church attendance is higher than ten years ago.[4] Some growth in American churches is deceptive, as between 70-90% of new members are received from other churches. This is not church growth, but the accelerated decline of other churches to the benefit of the receptor church.[5] The basic problem facing the United Methodist Church today, as well as many historically influential denominations, is a failure of the majority of churches to thrive; a systemic homeostasis of not making disciples has become normative within the traditional church.[6] Chapter 1 will examine the ministry context of the Illinois Great Rivers Conference and thoroughly identify four systemic problems in historical and contemporary context.

[1]Mission Spokane, “Why We Need to Plant New Churches . . . Nationwide,” Mission Spokane, http://www.missionspokane.org/needplant.html (accessed June 12, 2007). Cf. Gene Wood, Leading Turnaround Churches (St. Charles, IL: ChurchSmart Resources, 2001), 34.

[2]Merton P. Strommen, The Innovative Church: Seven Steps to Positive Change in Your Congregation (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 1997), 80. For more information on research by the Ronsvalles, see empty tomb, inc., http://www.emptytomb.org/ (accessed June 12, 2007).

[3]George Hunter, quoted in David J. Gyertson, “Ministry in the New Millennium,” Ministry Magazine, (September 1998).

[4]David Garrison, Church Planting Movements: How God Is Redeeming a Lost World (Midlothian, VA: WIGTake Resources, 2004), 160.

[5]Carl F. George, The Coming Church Revolution: Empowering Leaders for the Future (Grand Rapids: Fleming H. Revell, 1994), 37-38.

[6]Cf. Steven J. Goodwin, Catching the Next Wave: Leadership Strategies for Turn-Around Congregations (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 1999), 17-31.

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