The population of the United States, which according to government estimates was 179,250,000 at the beginning of 1960, is expected easily to reach 250,000,000 by 2000 A.D. if growth continues by present trends. Although hardly an “explosion,” as is taking place in Asia, this expected increase poses some serious problems for the Church. It is being studied with great care by the minister-sociologist experts who guide denominational strategy in the field of church extension.

The population scientists are uncovering some astonishing facts. Of the 10 most populous cities in the United States, only one (Los Angeles) will share this expected growth; the rest will remain stationary or even diminish in size. Rural areas likewise will show scant gains. Where then will all the people live? Statisticians make it clear: they will live in the suburbs.

The suburbs today form the growing edge of America. Around the edges of Denver, for example, the population has more than doubled in the past eight years. Similar gains are reported on the fringes of west coast cities (notably San Diego), as well as Detroit, Fort Worth, Baltimore, and Washington. In the Pacific states and in New England, suburbanites now outnumber city dwellers by a considerable margin.

Our purpose at the moment is not to investigate the manifold causes of the exurbanite movement, but to see what the churches are doing about it. The answer, so far as we can learn, is simple: they are moving out too. Hundreds if not thousands of American pastors today have appointed long-range planning committees for one primary purpose: to study ways of moving the church to a suburban location, adjoining a spacious parking lot, where a new, modern structure will attract young families and where the Gospel can be preached amid the blessings of gracious American living.

Denominational leaders are keenly aware of the vacuums left by this exodus, and are devoting time, prayer, pains, and money to the problem of the “inner city churches.” Meanwhile the movement of people from the country to the metropolitan area is continuing to impoverish the rural churches, and “town and country” conferences are being held the year round all over the nation to bolster the flagging zeal of rural pastors and people. In both cases the outlook is discouraging and the operation is at best an effort to hold the line for a dignified and orderly retreat.

The inner city churches, by and large, are ill-prepared to meet the needs of changing neighborhoods. They are often unwilling to adopt unfamiliar evangelistic methods such as would appeal to the newcomers, and the newcomers are just as unwilling to join what seems to them to be cold and rather snobbish houses of worship. Experiments in parish visiting, in multiple church ministries, in settlement-house programs aimed particularly at the needs of youth and the senior citizenry, are all under way in the old downtown churches. Some have been spectacularly successful in attracting numbers and in contributing significance to rather drab urban living. Yet when one asks if these churches are really bringing the people of the inner city into a life commitment to Jesus Christ and integrating them into the church membership, he is apt to be disappointed. Far from being markedly evangelistic, many inner-city church programs are vocally anti-evangelistic.

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The situation in the country churches is equally serious. Most small rural churches labor under an inferiority complex. They feel that the denominational leaders do not appreciate or understand their problems. Furthermore, they are apt to be overwhelmed by the advice and the handouts that come their way. Most of the “planning” is over their heads because it implies that the rural minister has nothing else to do or that he has a keen, well-paid staff to do his bidding. Nothing really seems to work; and in spite of the hand-wringing at headquarters, the rural church buildings get older and the congregations grow smaller and fewer.

Meanwhile the denominational leaders, as expected, devote their major strategy to the mushrooming suburbs. They establish liaison with the large contractors in new developments; they make funds available where the income level is high enough to justify it; and they count on a benevolence return that will pay back the denominational investment many times. The key to this return is the minister who is specially chosen by the denominational executive with certain qualities in view: good health, attractive appearance, the ability to get people to work together, and a cooperative attitude toward the denomination. Within such a framework a minister is free to preach whatever message he chooses to suburbia, and to make his own adjustments to the mores of his flock.

The real significance of the population drift for the churches will appear in our August 1 issue. CHRISTIANITY TODAY will publish a World Missionary Index describing Protestantism’s statistical predicament in the world today. It will be seen that Christian churches and missions on five continents still look to the United States and Canada as the source of the Church’s power and leadership. That power and that leadership are located in suburbia. Yet one wonders whether suburbia is as interested in the spread of the Gospel on five continents as in providing its churches with foam-rubber seat cushions, “eternal” swinging lights, and Church “School” sandpiles. There is at times a grim, almost savage purposefulness in the way suburbia seems to twist and knead the Christian message until it “fits” the mold of conventional living. Thus a hospitable cocktail proved the standard welcome offered by church people to one young pastor as he called in a suburban area to organize a new congregation. But were that pastor to insist that the Church School curriculum incorporate teaching about hell and Satan, his feet would never be allowed to cross the threshold of the new manse.

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The question is: how, under God, can the Gospel be brought to life in the American churches? What human agencies can be harnessed in the service of revival that will give to the Church the thrust and drive she so desperately needs? In place of the present attrition of Christian world resources now going on, what can crystallize the wills of clergy and laity and turn the Church of Jesus Christ into an evangelistic warhead? And the answer is: the Kingdom of God cometh not by the mimeograph, nor the multilith, nor the Wollensak, nor the denominational program. It comes by the spoken invitation to receive Jesus Christ. “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.”

The call today in suburbia, in the rural churches and in the inner city, is for the clear, unadulterated preaching of the truth as it is in Christ. The Word of God can and must be preached with imagination. If the inner city is filled with Puerto Ricans, the pulpits of the inner city churches could well be made available for Puerto Rican evangelists. As for the suburban churches, they ought to be exposed to a steady stream of Christian men and women, ordained and unordained, from every country under heaven. Perhaps they will succeed in stabbing the suburban church awake, or at least in keeping her from going into a country-club stupor. These “foreign” Christians, missionaries to our shores in the apostolic sense, would have the mandate to show that the Gospel of Jesus Christ makes essentially the same claims everywhere, wins converts in essentially the same way everywhere, and exacts the same Christ-like obedience everywhere—including suburbia.

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“America took away our Emperor as our god, and we have nothing in which to believe.” So spoke a Japanese student recently.

A wise occupational administration had indeed set itself to deliver Japan from its feudal and pagan deification of the emperor.

But the Christian Church never adequately filled the resulting vacuum with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Where General MacArthur had asked for thousands of missionaries, only hundreds went. Many of these settled in the Tokyo area, setting up divisive sects and compromising the opportunity for a vigorous witness to the saving power of Christ. Hindered by lack of man power, inadequate funds and limited vision, the Christian thrust caused hardly a ripple on the national consciousness of Japan. Nation-wide propagation of the Gospel was not aggressively ventured by radio and television and it remained for Dr. Bob Pierce’s Osaka Crusade to demonstrate that mass evangelism holds high potential even in Japan.

The Church has no direct responsibility for the political debacle now in process, although Christianity alone supplies the virtues which enable democracy to function well. Now that mob violence has triumphed over political procedures, the role of Japan as a bulwark of freedom in the Far East may crumble at an alarming rate. When restless students and left-wing labor unions are skillfully guided by subversive forces, an indifferent public may turn the nation to a position of neutralism advantageous to communism and particularly to Red China. Many missionaries took the pacifist side.

For the disappointed political leaders of the West, this apparent debacle carries a deep lesson. Too long have modern statesmen thought that peace may be willed by man, legislated by world assemblies, and guaranteed by military assistance pacts, forgetful that enduring peace is conferred on God’s terms.

The Church needs to bolster her efforts in Japan, not with personnel and financial support alone, but by united prayer for that meager but valiant minority of Christians within the nation. Under the good hand of God they may yet prove the nucleus of stable government. God is still sovereign. Of him we are told: “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Hard, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will” (Prov. 21:1).

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Sobered by international trouble, and shadowed by domestic unrest, Democrats will gather July 11 in Los Angeles, and Republicans July 25 in Chicago, to name presidential candidates for the Fall election campaign.

However divergent their past traditions, the major United States parties now are less dissimilar in practice than ever. Pressured to support the Big Government complex of enlarging Federal intervention and activity, their differences often dwindle to “less” Republican and “more” Democratic leeway for “the spenders.” While the Eisenhower administration brought needed dignity to the White House, it scarcely reversed New Deal trends. Its government welfare program perpetuated many policies weakening a free enterprise economy, even if it determinedly preserved “established proportions.” Supported by the academic community, by the labor lobby, even on occasion by big business, this Big Government complex has been confronted less conscientiously in the United States than has the socialist drift in Germany and welfare statism in Britain.

Christians will view the approaching political conventions with deep-seated anxieties and welcome every evidence of sincere political dedication. A multitude of voters, sufficient to hold the balance of power in any national contest, will search party commitments with a careful eye on basic concerns such as:

1. The distinctive American heritage of limited Federal power.

2. The historic tradition of separation of Church and State.

3. The position on welfare spending, inordinate power of labor leaders, business monopolies and injustices, and the expansion of the Big Government complex generally at the expense of voluntarism and free enterprise.

4. The attitude toward the staggering national debt, and toward the erosion of the dollar by inflation.

5. A conscientious and courageous plank on human rights that neither condones civil injustices nor promotes social upheaval through revolutionary legislative compulsion.

6. A stern international policy that in the face of communism supports the principal basis of membership in the United Nations, and commitment to a just and lasting peace by foreign alliances whose prime bond is a mutual dedication to righteousness, truth, and freedom.

7. The party nominee should be a symbol of personal maturity and moral integrity in the White House. So highly ought he to regard the presidency that the nation reaches for the man (rather than the man for the office). Any intimation that the office can be attained by inordinate ambition or excessive use of personal funds should be rebuked. In a world whose powerful systems increasingly dwarf the dignity of the human person, the nominee must tower as the image of America’s tradition of political and religious freedom.

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Recently a meeting was held in a downtown church of a major American city. Although it drew men and women from churches all over the city, no one talked about church unity or ecumenicity. Present were people from differing racial backgrounds, but no one boasted about integration. The meeting was called to train laymen, lay women, and pastors in the art of winning individuals to Jesus Christ.

For an hour and three-quarters these believers were given a respite from the self-congratulation and musical entertainment (high and low) that make up such an astonishingly large part of what we call worship. It was like coming out of a room full of stupefying incense into the heavenly breath of God’s fresh air. One almost caught the sense of being in a church in New Testament times: with Timothy in Thessalonica, or Philip in Samaria, or Paul in Corinth. There was a subdued excitement about the meeting, as in a team squad before an important game, or better, as in an encampment where men are preparing for battle.

None of the trappings that seem so indispensable today were apparent. A “coffee hour” was not needed to generate fellowship because there was already fellowship in the Spirit; one could detect it from the way the learners chorused the Scriptures. No organ was crashing in the background, and, as for robed choirs, many church singers had passed up rehearsal to come for a lesson in the finest of the fine arts known to man—the art of soul winning. The speaker did not wring his hands about the sin of disunity because there was no disunity. Nor was there fear of competition; not a person switched church membership as a result of the meeting. Many of the props and clichés of modern church life were conspicuously absent. But each worshiper present had a Bible, a notebook and pencil; and most remarkable, each seemed to leave with an eager desire to return the next week for another session.

To witness such an event in the twentieth century American Church forces a reflection upon the nature and purpose of the holy, apostolic church of Jesus Christ. What is the Church? What was her original intention in the mind of Christ? How is the Church fulfilling that intention today? In the labyrinth of national and international associations, graded lessons, corporate trusts, academic “relatedness,” ecclesiastical communiques-from-headquarters, Wednesday evening group-dynamics, Bach festivals, psycho-religious clinics, dances sacred and secular, “chancelitis” and conventions on church architecture, just what is the Church up to?

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The peril that faces the Church most acutely is not the invasion of the world of culture (which is a perennial problem) but the temptation of the Church to become an end in herself, rather than the means to God as the chief end of life. The gorgeous buildings we are raising beckon with open doors and seem to say, “Inside is the way, the truth and the life.” That is, inside are fun and fellowship, great music and chicken pie, proper playmates and bean plants. (And across the street at St. Aloysius’ they add with some pride, inside also are prizes and beer.)

Granted that we are not living as simply as people did in first-century Asia Minor, and that in the growing complexity of society it is natural for the Church to strengthen her witness by broadening her base. Our point, however, is that the Church is not and never was intended to be the locus of the Christian life; rather, she is the motivator of the Christian life. The Roger Williams room, Witherspoon Hall, or Asbury Annex, or whatever the church social hall be named, is not the racetrack upon which we complete our threescore and ten laps; it is rather the filling station and repair garage.

The need for our day, then, in John A. Mackay’s great phrase, is to “let the church be the church.” Let her point the way to God; let her close with Satan on the problems of human life and character which the Scripture tells us are the Church’s business. All of those problems, upon analysis, fall into two classes: getting men to Jesus and keeping them there. For every minister who has the courage to tackle it, there is a fulltime job awaiting him in the raising and training of a battalion of Christian workers who will get out in the highways and hedges and win people to the kingdom of God; and further, to give Christian people the spiritual nurture by which they can learn how to live together in a way pleasing to their Heavenly Father.

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That is the Church’s business. Nothing else matters.

When a church decides really to be a church, her social conscience does not go numb. She becomes instead the living application of the prophetic voice of Scripture. Instead of telling the world how to solve its problems, the Church shows the world how God’s plan works by solving her own problems. Then when the day comes when the world turns to the Church and listens, it will not wonder whether it is hearing the voice of Karl Marx, or its own voice, or merely the braying of wild asses; for what it will hear will be the clear and living Word of God, spoken by men who are “rooted and grounded in love”—the love of Christ that passes knowledge.

The nearer we draw to God, the nearer we draw to each other. Problems of social adjustment work toward solution; coldness and divisiveness are melted by the flaming tongues of the spirit of God; missionary budgets are assured because every member is now being trained as a missionary. Not only so, but the Church of Jesus Christ becomes a great fortress and bastion of free man in a free society. Not, mind you, that she set out to be so; but when the Church seeks the kingdom of God, instead of seeking to be the kingdom of God, then blessing upon blessing is added. When she decides to be true to her original charter and downgrades her own importance to the glory of God-decreases that he might increase—then men will turn gratefully to the Church for fuel with which to run the race of life, and run it victoriously for Christ, without having to buy up the service station or spend their lives in it.

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