Churches of Christ decline affects ‘brand loyalty’ to church colleges

Along with the decline of membership and congregations in the Churches of Christ, there is diminishing “brand loyalty” to the denomination’s colleges and universities. The Christian Chronicle (December 26) reports that universities associated with the Churches of Christ have seen a 51 percent decline in students who identify with the fellowship. At the start of the 21st century, two out of every three freshman at the dozen-plus universities—which include Pepperdine University and Abilene Christian University—identified with the Churches of Christ; today that figure stands at two out of every five freshman, according to an annual survey conducted by Trace Hebert of Lipscomb University. In the past, church leaders, church members, and alumni from Church of Christ institutions would recommend these schools to young people and stress the importance of maintaining church affiliation in their educational plans. Hebert adds that another trend is the decline in parents’ commitment to send their college-age children to universities affiliated with the Churches of Christ.

Since 2000, approximately 1,200 Churches of Christ congregations have closed, a 10 percent decline, and there has been a 12 percent decline of adherents (to 1,445,856). While the overall membership of the denomination is shrinking, the number of church members who attend Churches of Christ universities “seems to be shrinking at a faster rate,” according to Jana Rucker of Harding University in Arkansas. College officials say they see church members wary of incurring student loan debts and more fiscally conservative than the typical family, making attending a denominational college too costly. But by drawing non-members and increasing graduate enrollments, these universities have been able to hold their own. Yet Hebert voices concern about “what happens to the church long-term when you don’t have the same number of students and alumni coming out of these universities, serving and planting churches and helping grow the population…[A]s I look back, I see the beneficial, symbiotic relationship between these institutions and the growth of the church in decades past.”

(The Christian Chronicle,