Am I Alone in Grieving Every Sunday at the Empty Pews That Were Once Full?

Am I alone in grieving every Sunday morning at the empty pews that were once full?

You are not alone.

Retired Christian Reformed pastor Henry Wildeboer once lamented, “I love the Lord and I love his church. So it grieves me to learn that the Christian Reformed Church declined in membership from 316,000 in 1992 to 245,000 in 2014. . . . These are not good signs. . . . Our efforts have not stopped membership losses or shortfalls in agency budgets. Unless God intervenes, we will soon face a crisis in which some churches’ very existence will be in jeopardy. There is a problem. So how do we stop this trend? Where do we look for a road map that can lead us out of this morass? Perhaps our denomination is in need of revival” (“These Bones Can Live,” Nov. 2014).

Wildeboer’s comments urge our utmost attention and action. According to the Calvin Social Research Center’s demographic studies on churches, our birth rate has slowed significantly, the saints are passing away at a greater rate, and churches are closing. The denomination’s own 2014 Strategic Planning and Adaptive Change Report revealed our struggles as a denomination and put evangelism front and center.

In response, Resonate Global Mission is expanding efforts around the world to grow the church by working with partners to plant new churches and renew established churches. Prayer and the strategic use of finances and human resources are crucial to these efforts.

I encourage you, along with all members of the church, to pray and work with your own congregation to bring in someone who does not know the Lord. I believe we can all bring at least one person to Jesus.

I challenge all 1,094 Christian Reformed churches in North America to invite each member to share the gospel with at least one person. It is no longer acceptable for any Christian Reformed congregation to record not a single new member added to its membership through evangelism outreach.

Sharing the gospel and inviting people to join God’s mission in the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) is paramount to our future as a denomination. Every church must be held accountable to growing the CRC with the good news of Jesus in their unique locales. I believe God will intervene.

About the Author

Reginald Smith is the Director of Diversity for the Christian Reformed Church. He attends Madison Square Church in Grand Rapids, Mich.

See comments (2)


As much as I lament the decline of the institutional church, I also lament the fact that we are still stuck in our old ways of trying to "get people" to church instead of teaching our own to BE the church wherever God has placed them; to live as disciples and open their homes and hearts to their neighbours or co-workers. If we do this well, we will have no need of agencies that facilitate "church plants" . What we need now is not more "churches" but for our laity to live like the disciples of the early church - bold, excited about their faith and able to model and articulate it authentically. This way churches will grow organically in peoples homes and offices. And then maybe, these folk might "attend" church to celebrate what goes on outside of it :). 

Its about 16 years since I stepped into a CRC church and 15 since I've been baptised.  I've done the outreach thing, the Alpha thing, the guilt thing and finally acknowledged that I had been right all along - there is no magic formula to get people in the pews.  Frankly, I stopped worrying about that and moved on to learn how to engage the culture I'm in with my faith in Christ.  I care about the spiritual growth of those who go to church so they can see the marevlous opportunities all around to speak/act God's wisdom into the lives of others.  For those of us who were never here when the church was full - we aren't really missing anything because a half empty church is all we know.  There are people who engage in worship on Sunday and wonder what's next.  Is church all there is?  I ended up going to seminary to get my answers but wish the church had been prepared to help me transform and find my place serving the culture I live in rather than waiting in the pews.  This isn't a CRC thing but every church I've been in that worries about the empty pews rather than the busy world outside the doors.