50 Years of Kyodan Data: Analysis and Proposals

by Suzuki Isao, member
Kyodan Executive Council and
Mejiro Church, Kita Subdistrict, Tokyo District

The report “50 Years of Kyodan Data” is the result of an effort by the
Kyodan’s Commission on Finance to lay out the various trends to help the
Executive Council picture the future. It is hoped that this work will be
a catalyst for both clergy and laity to discuss the issues involved and
to think seriously about where the Kyodan is headed as they make their
own analysis and proposals. The following graphs shows data on Kyodan
finances, membership, baptisms, age distribution, church school
attendance, etc., in comparison with the data of other denominations

Graph 1. The Christian Population in Japan in Three Categories:
1) Total number of Protestants (including the Kyodan),
2) The number of Roman Catholics,
3) The number of Kyodan members

Membership (resident communicant members). These statistics show that in
1948, just three years after the end of World War II, the resident
communicant membership of the Kyodan and the membership of the Roman
Catholic Church were virtually the same, but in the 60 years since then,
the Roman Catholics now outnumber Kyodan members by about 5 to 1,
clearly showing the difference between the continued growth of the one
and the stagnation of the other.

【Table 1】 Kyodan membership in relation to the total population of Japan
Graph 2. Changes in total income of the 1,730 Kyodan churches during the
period 2000 to 2007. The total income during the year 2000 was 13.15
billion yen. Income peaked in 2002 at 13.25 billion, but by 2007 it had
dropped 4.3% to 12.58 billion, a loss of 570 million yen.
Graph 3. A comparison of membership and total income for the period 1990
— 2007, which shows the following points.
1) Surprisingly, for about ten years after the “bubble economy” burst,
income continued to rise. It seems that the Kyodan curve is about ten
years behind that of society as a whole. The peak in income in 2002 was
some nine years after the membership began dropping from the peak
reached in 1993.
2) Two other noteworthy points are:
a) The effects of the bubble economy bust finally appeared here in the
income decrease. This is exactly the same curve that the general economy
experienced, so it is perceivable that the decline in Kyodan income will
continue beyond these ten years.
b) In addition, since peaking in 1993, resident communicant membership
has been steadily declining, which is a clear danger signal. So, what is
the behind this decline in membership? One worrisome trend can be seen
in the decreasing number of baptisms.
Graph 4. This graph shows both the differences in membership and
baptisms in each district between 2000 and 2007. It is a serious
situation all across the country. The gray color indicates a change in
membership; the black color represents the degree of change in the
number of baptisms. The average decline in baptisms during that period
nationwide was 26.6%. The greater the decline in the number of baptisms,
the greater the impact will be on the decline in future membership.
Graph 5. This graph represents an estimated present-day age-range for
lay members, based on the decade in which they received baptism. The
first generation of post-war recipients of baptism, from 1948 to 1958,
totaled 103,442. Almost everyone still remaining among this group are
now over 70 years old. During the next decade, from 1959 to 1968, there
was a total of 60,185 baptisms, so persons in this group are now likely
in their 60s. So it can be surmised, just from these figures, that 63%
of the Kyodan’s membership are 60 years of age or older. This highly
skewed age distribution, together with the decline in new baptisms,
accounts for the decline in membership.
Graph 6. A graph comparing the annual figures for baptisms, resident
communicant members, inactive members, and deaths.
1) During the period from 1952 to 1963, there were numerous pioneer
evangelism programs, such as the Lacour Evangelism program, that were
heavily dependent on overseas financial support.
2) In the 20 years from 1948 to 1968, there were 163,527 baptisms. This
represents a total of 63% of post-war baptisms through 2007, so this
coincides with this period of evangelistic activity.
3) There were 11,386 baptisms in 1948, and the number peaked in 1952,
with 15,765. While there were subsequent ups and downs, by 1968 the
strength to rebound was basically spent, and by 1971 it was definitive.
The 40 years since then has been a period of sparse numbers of baptisms.
4) The “Kyodan Struggle” [internal conflict] began in 1969, but as this
graph shows, danger signals were already present the year before. During
the next ten years, due to the issues involved in the “Kyodan Struggle,”
there was an 11.3% drop in membership, with 12,025 people leaving the
5) The 64,483 persons on the inactive membership roles cannot be
neglected. At the very least, there is a need to focus on pastoral care
and fellowship among the laity so that this figure does not rise any
6) The decline in resident communicant membership since 1994 is
indicative of the fact that since then, the number of members’ deaths
has surpassed the number of new baptisms. During 2007, 2,586 members
passed on to their heavenly reward, while there were only 1,424
baptisms, for a net loss of 1,162 members to that factor alone.
Graph 7. Sunday School. For easy comparison, there are two vertical
scales: one for total population of children 14 and under and the other
for Sunday school attendance.
1) The 50-year decline in total population for persons aged 14 and under
was 40.57%, while during the same period the number of such children
attending Sunday school decreased by 84.05%, showing how serious the
decline has been.
2) One fact should not be overlooked: while the decline was fairly
gradual until 1979, when Sunday school attendance was still 74,229, it
has rapidly declined ever since. This was just a few years after the
loss of evangelistic emphasis and shows that the most severe effect of
the “Kyodan Struggle” has been on the number of children attending
church school.

3) In spite of the fact that Japan is experiencing a very
low birth rate, it is not as though there are no children at all. Only 1
in almost a 1,000 children is being reached by Kyodan churches.

So how are we to view these past 40 years? Whether or not we turn a
corner and put an end to this period of evangelistic stagnation is the
issue we now face. Other denominations have maintained their
evangelistic outreach during this same period and have continued to
grow. So, what is it that interferes with evangelism in our Kyodan
churches? I pray that we will have the courage to come together in
prayer and follow the path God leads us to.
This article is excerpted from “The Kyodan as Viewed through Graphs,” a
report compiled by the Kyodan’s Commission on Finance of which the
author was a former member. (Tr. TB)

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