Christian universities feeling the pinch as Churches of Christ shrink

Sharp decline seen in number of freshmen who identify with the numerically declining fellowship.

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle

Since today’s college freshmen were infants, roughly 1,200 Churches of Christ in the United States have closed, and the number of men, women and children in the pews nationally has shrunk by 200,000.

In the same 18-year period, universities associated with the fellowship — from Abilene Christian University in Texas to York College in Nebraska — have seen a 51 percent decline in students who identify with Churches of Christ.

Just 2,177 freshmen who enrolled at 14 such universities in fall 2017 gave their religious affiliation as “Church of Christ” — down from 4,411 in fall 2000, a national survey found.

At the start of the 21st century, two out of every three freshmen at those dozen-plus universities — 66 percent of 6,643 total first-year students — cited their heritage in Churches of Christ.

Now, that figure stands at two out of every five freshmen — 39 percent of 5,603 total first-year students — revealed the annual survey conducted by Trace S. Hebert, a higher education researcher at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn.

“In previous generations and during much of the 20th century, Church of Christ affiliated institutions were beneficiaries of a certain type of ‘brand loyalty’ from C-of-C congregations, church leaders, church members, and alumni from affiliated institutions who would encourage young people to go to an affiliated institution of higher education,” Hebert wrote in a recent report to the Christian universities’ presidents.

“The C-of-C enrollment data revealing declining numbers of C-of-C enrollees in affiliated institutions suggests that the era of brand loyalty has substantively diminished from what it once was,” added Hebert, associate dean of Lipscomb’s College of Education.

Read the full story.

Expanded interviews: Q&A: Christian university leaders on recruiting students in a declining fellowship

Related story: Christian higher ed challenges: Parents of college freshmen weigh in

These stories appear in the January 2018 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.