The first pages of the New Testament open with John the Baptist likening the ministry of Jesus Christ to the work of a winnowing fork: a tool used by farmers to toss stalks of grain into the air, separating the wheat that would fall to the ground and collected into the farmer’s barn from the unwanted chaff that would be blown away with the wind and later burned.
American evangelical ministers concur that the advent of government lockdown mandates and the social justice movement that began nearly three years ago and continue to reverberate across the nation’s cultural landscape ultimately served to sift their congregations. Attendance had declined to 85% of pre-lockdown levels in Protestant churches even as nearly every church in the country resumed normal worship services, according to a study from Lifeway Research. Some 34% of professing Christians said they attended church four times per month or more before the lockdowns, a figure which declined to 26% by the spring of 2022.
The share of the overall population saying they never attend worship services has likewise soared from 25% to 33% between early 2020 and early 2022, according to research from the American Enterprise Institute and the University of Chicago.
Even as the death of George Floyd and subsequent waves of leftist activism throttled the nation, professing Christians increasingly denied biblical teachings with respect to social issues. The most recent biennial State of Theology survey from Ligonier Ministries found that the share of evangelicals who believe “gender identity is a matter of choice” rose from 22% to 37% between 2020 and 2022, while the share who believe “the Bible’s condemnation of homosexual behavior doesn’t apply today” more than doubled from 11% to 28%.
Professing evangelicals also began to reject the most basic theological convictions held throughout church history. While some 15% of respondents to the Ligonier Ministries survey said that “the Bible, like all sacred writings, contains helpful accounts of ancient myths but is not literally true” in 2020, the figure increased to 26% by 2022, showing a rapid decline in the commitment to the inspiration and authority of Scripture.
Even as millions of church attendees were lost to the wind, others reoriented their priorities toward pursuing membership in churches with a steadfast commitment to doctrinal fidelity amid the volatile cultural moment. One such congregation was Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, where Pastor John MacArthur peacefully resisted the state’s lockdown orders and reopened services. The church, which later won a lawsuit against their state government, has “added hundreds of new members every month” for nearly three years, according to Pastor Phil Johnson, who works as executive director of Grace to You, the church’s teaching ministry.
“Numerous Southern California churches stayed closed for months even after retail stores and other businesses had reopened, and people who were frustrated with the closures, starved for fellowship,” Johnson recounted to The Daily Wire, adding that “lots of people from other churches came” when they heard about Grace Community Church on the news. “We received a large influx of new attendees, starting shortly after we resumed regular services in 2020. It seems most of those people have stayed, and many of them have become members.”
Pastor Josh Buice of Pray’s Mill Baptist Church in Douglasville, Georgia, noted in an article provided to The Daily Wire that his first several years leading the congregation were marked by numerical decline as he implemented various reforms. The trend paradoxically reversed itself when lockdowns struck the nation. “While many churches struggled to survive, we started to see a steady numerical growth,” he wrote. “During the last two years, we have added more new members than any recorded two year time period of our church’s history.”
The end of the article commends ministers toward patient obedience as the Lord carries out the work of building the church, regardless of whether or not the congregation sees more or less new members. “To the pastor who is faithfully serving God and seeking to obey the Scriptures as a faithful pastor, just remember that God sees your faithful labor and knows the needs you have personally and corporately,” he continued. “Continue to be steadfast in the faith and the Lord will remain faithful.”