With the share of self-identified Christians in America continuing to plummet and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic forcing some churches to permanently shutter, two North Carolina congregations that have hemorrhaged members and donations will merge this Sunday in a bid to survive the toll of the virus.
The pastors of Hope Church in High Point and Renaissance Church in Jamestown explained in a Fox 8 interview that they see their decision as an opportunity to keep the ministries alive. They hope other struggling churches will be inspired by their actions.
“We had a large building with a large mortgage, and there were bills to pay,” Pastor Randall Reece, who founded Hope Church in 2003, told the outlet. “So going from a church of 350 to a church of 80, the loss of income was significant. And even in the congregation of 80, some of the ones who were regularly giving really had to stop because they were impacted by COVID as well.”
The church did not immediately respond to calls from The Christian Post on Friday, but Reece told the news outlet that struggling churches merging in the pandemic “makes sense.”
“It certainly makes sense. Those churches can stay alone and struggle or come together in strength and merge out of the pandemic from a position of strength. Hopefully, it becomes a model,” he said.
Pastor Jason Goins, who founded Renaissance Church in 2008, said he hopes his friendship with Reece will help the merger.
“I mean, Randall and I are great friends. He’s like a spiritual father to me. He got me involved in the ministry. It takes that relation equity,” he said. “This is an opportunity for something great to come out of something that is a period of darkness for all of us.”
Goins says he knows that the idea of merging with another church can be difficult to consider for some congregations. He noted that while Renaissance Church wasn’t in as difficult a position as Hope Church, they also struggled.
“We dwindled by 150 people or so, but the folks we have been left with are excited and energized, so we’re bringing together two pockets of two energized congregations,” Goins detailed.
The first service will be 10 a.m. on Sunday at Rennaissance Church in Jamestown.
A Gallup poll released earlier this year suggested that less than half of American respondents (49%) have formal church membership, marking an 80-year low. In 1937, 70% of Americans had a formal church membership.
Data from the National Public Opinion Reference Survey conducted by Pew Research Center from May 29 to Aug. 25, 2021, finds that just under half (45%) of adults in the United States say they pray daily, a decrease of 13 percentage points from 2007. In 2014, 55% said they prayed daily.
Even though self-identified Christians are still the largest religious demographic in the U.S., they make up a collective 63% of the adult population. When the Pew Research Center began measuring religious identity in 2007, self-identified Christians outnumbered “nones” 78% to 16%.
The study noted the decline in Christians nationwide was mostly concentrated among respondents who identified as Protestant. Their numbers declined by 10% in the last decade and 4% in the last five years.
Last month, the 221-year-old First Presbyterian Church in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, permanently closed its doors on Christmas Eve due to declining membership and attendance.
The Potter’s House of Denver announced plans last month to sell its $12.2 million megachurch in Arapahoe County, Colorado, and go completely virtual amid declining donations amid the pandemic.