AMAC Exclusive – By Shane Harris
U.S. church attendance continued its steady decline in 2023, failing to rebound much from pandemic lows. But in spite of this alarming national trend, some churches have nonetheless seen dramatic growth after the lockdowns were lifted.
One such church is Center Pointe Christian Church in West Chester, Ohio. Following the resumption of in-person services, attendance has soared to more than 150 percent of pre-pandemic highs. I interviewed lead pastor Shawn Spradling to learn more about what his church is doing to attract so many new families and be a light of truth in their community.
As Spradling explained to me, the pandemic couldn’t have come at a worse time for Center Pointe. Attendance had been growing steadily for a number of years, and they had just embarked on an ambitious construction project to build a larger sanctuary. This entailed taking on a significant financial burden that they were counting on the generosity of their (hopefully) larger congregation to help shoulder.
“On the front end of COVID, I really didn’t think it would be long term. I thought maybe a week or two,” Spradling said. “As the pandemic lingered, I remember thinking, ‘Did we not hear the Lord correctly? Are we even going to need this new building? We’re certainly never going to fill it up.’”
As Spradling explained, he and many other church leaders began to have the feeling that in-person services would never be the same again. “That was the narrative all through 2020 – that you’re going to have to rethink church and do church differently.”
However, Spradling and Center Pointe’s leadership team didn’t buy into that narrative. They believed that there was still an urgent need for in-person worship, and that God would come through for their church because He had called them out in faith to expand. “To a man around the room, we all believed that God had called us to this,” he said. “He is leading us to build, so He must know something we don’t.”
The new sanctuary opened in August 2021, “and just as our finance team predicted, we came up $2 million short of our goal,” Spradling said. “But God was already working out the victory.”
“In December 2021, a couple from our church, longtime members, sold a business and donated a portion of the proceeds – $2 million. They had no idea that’s how much we needed. But God knew.”
After that, new families began pouring in to Center Pointe, and the church has thrived ever since. On Easter Sunday 2023, Spradling preached to a record crowd of over 3,000.
This story is indicative of how Spradling has led Center Pointe in all facets of its ministry. Rather than trusting in what the culture said about the irreversible decline of church attendance and how the pandemic would make things even more hopeless, Spradling and his leadership team trusted in God and stayed faithful to His will.
Similarly, Spradling has not bowed to the cultural forces which tell church leaders they must compromise what is in the Gospel in order to not offend or alienate anyone. Spradling is a bold defender of unborn life, the sanctity of marriage, and the gender binary, and shares the Biblical foundation of these truths with his congregation.
I asked Spradling specifically about the notion, popular in some Christian circles today, that if the church wants to survive it needs to either avoid hot-button issues like abortion or transgenderism which have become deeply political or succumb to the anti-Christian secularism which now dominates American culture.
“I don’t preach my opinion, I just preach truth,” Spradling responded. “I’m not going to just get up on stage and skirt around the issue. I might be uncomfortable with a text, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t preach the text. I have to work my way through it just like anybody else. I’ve tried to come at those issues head on while still being as loving as possible.”
“People desire authenticity, and they desire truth,” Spradling continued. “The narrative out there is ‘there is no truth you just make up their own.’ And for millennials and Gen Z especially, they’re saying ‘that doesn’t sound right to me.’”
As Spradling alluded to, most of the growth his church has seen has been in young families – millennial parents and Gen Z kids. Far from fleeing a church that adheres to traditional Christian values and an unapologetic defense of Biblical truth, young people are coming in droves.
I also asked Spradling for his opinion on why church attendance is down nationally, and what, if anything Christians can do to reverse that trend.
“I think beginning back in the 50s and 60s the church became very insular,” Spradling said. “The culture was shifting at a rapid rate, and the church didn’t know how to respond to that. And so, it just pulled inward. Not every church, but the church at large.”
“People on the outside lost trust in the church, and they just felt like they weren’t good enough,” he continued.
To start bringing church attendance numbers back up, Spradling stresses that it all comes back to focusing on following Jesus’s commandment to love people and make disciples. “Jesus didn’t tell us to go build the church, he told us to make disciples, and to love people.” Spradling said. “And so we just need to rethink and reframe what we’re all about and what we’re here to do. We’re not here to placate members, we’re here to be authentic.”
Finally, I asked Spradling why he is hopeful for the future of the church and Christianity in the United States.
“Well, Jesus said he would build his church, and that the gates of Hades would not prevail against it,” Spradling said. “And so the church can’t lose, ultimately. It’s engaging in some cultural battles and it’s getting punched and kicked a bit, but the church is triumphant. So, we are part of the winning team.”
“The victory has already been spoken over us,” Spradling concluded. “The tomb is empty.”
You can see a library of past sermons by Shawn Spradling here.
Shane Harris is a writer and political consultant from Southwest Ohio. You can follow him on Twitter @ShaneHarris513.