What's at stake
In this continuing series, we've been looking at the issue of leaving your church. With the advent of the popular, mall-like "megachurch" of the 1980s, the American culture has seen the continuing growth and rise of large, trendy churches seeking after relevance across the country. It's now somewhat hip to be a church planter, and new congregations "launch" after mass mailouts and focus groups, often with several hundred (at times over 1000) strangers showing up for a first service. All this takes place in the overall context of Christianity in the States declining.
Studies tell us that "The proportion of the [American] population that can be classified as Christian has declined from 86% in 1990 to 77% in 2001."1 In 2008, the number dropped to 76%.
Here are some other disturbing observations:
Less than 20% of Americans regularly attend church–half of what the pollsters report.
American church attendance is steadily declining.
Only one state is outpacing its population growth.Hawaii, where 13.8% of the state's population (1.3 million) regularly attends church, was the only state where church attendance grew faster than its population growth from 2000 to 2004. (However, church attendance in Arkansas, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Tennessee–all of which have higher percentages of church attendees than Hawaii–was close to keeping up with population growth in the respective states.)
Mid-sized churches are shrinking; the smallest and largest churches are growing.
Established churches–40 to 190 years old–are, on average, declining.
The increase in churches is only 1/4 of what's needed to keep up with population growth.
In 2050 (if trends continue), the percentage of the U.S. population attending church will be almost half of what it was in 1990.2
What's my morbid point? Simply put, there are better things to be doing than looking for a better church for you. It is not a time to be shopping for a church that appeals to you or the needs of your family. It is a time to gently and graciously help those who have not confessed Christ as Lord to surrender their lives in wholehearted obedience to Him.
It is an act of allegiance and submission when you give your heart and life to Jesus Christ as Lord. Your confession of sins and glad reception of salvation from God through Christ's death and resurrection is not for the ultimate goal of comfort in religious gathering. The ultimate goal of our salvation, in fact, is not about us.
Rather, our salvation brings honor and glory to the Father for His indescribable mercy. Our lives are meant to exalt Him, and our salvation and eternal life in Him are reflective of His love and kindness.
We should be seeking to lead others to Him, not consumed with whether our churches meet our needs for activities, programs and social life. Before you think I advocate an evangelically busy church, I will expound more on the importance of us being the church in later posts. For now, however, I simply say that we must be extremely careful to not make "church" about us.
Amid concerns of a church lacking certain programs for your family, styles of music or of the teaching not being "meaty" enough, please realize that there's more at stake than the whether there's steak.
To be continued...
1.Religious identification in the U.S.:How American adults view themselves, ReligiousTolerance.org
2.The American Church in Crisis byRebecca Barnes and Lindy Lowry, a special report of the North American Mission Board (5/1/2006)