Is radical change the answer for declining churches?

More observations as to why people aren’t attending Church

In my last entry on the subject, I detailed some of the responses to the question that I posed on my facebook page. I asked why many of my friends no longer attend church. Generally the responses centered on perceived judgmental attitudes from others. Today I wanted to share some more of the responses. Some, seem to have given up on traditional ways of doing church altogether and are calling for alternative methods.

Consider this response; “I hear from many that Christians are judgmental and push their ideas of biblical teaching rather than allow others to come to their own conclusions. They also feel and I have felt this myself that asking a question out of doubt they are given and answer to which they must believe and not continue to ponder for themselves. People going to church are robotic at times. It’s a must do on Sundays who dares question? My biggest fault with the church is the lack of true concern for the suffering. I do believe that we should care for those within our walls but what about those outside? The church waits for them to come but what about going to them. What if your Sunday mornings were worshiping by collectively feeding the hungry in the community or visiting the prisons, nursing homes and homes of those home bound. What if it means going to the projects and playing ball with the local youth and just making a loving connection. Jesus himself hung out with the sinners, which btw are us as well. I’m afraid churches have long ago become a club to which nice dressed people belong. What about the not so nice dressed, or the person next to you alone and dying inside. The truth is people want church to be pretty, simple, nicely done so we can go about our daily lives and week. What if the definition of church was examined and redefined? I wonder then what are results would be to reach others. Clearly a lot has not worked as church numbers everywhere continue to drop…”

The observation that Church attendance is down in America is confirmed by demographic research. But as one study suggest; “the news is not all hopeless.” There are growing and spiritually healthy churches to be found, and specifically “if congregations can change, they can grow. Congregations that are spiritually vital and alive, have strong, permanent leadership, and enjoy joyful, innovative and inspirational worship are more likely to experience growth.” The key then would seem to be that churches must be willing to change. This decade old research is even more true when we consider how the habits of people are changing post pandemic. The bottom line is that church is going to look very different for most of us moving forward.

Many are seeking to lead that change as a couple of the responses indicate; “My wife and I no longer attend an institutional church because the pastor essentially cut us off when our small group discovered the beautiful message of grace. A year and a half later, our small group is thriving and growing and we finally are experiencing the abundant life and community that Jesus came to give! Jesus plus nothing indeed is everything. We have gathered with a small group we call Simple Gathering going on 5 years now. Wonderful family time around the Lord’s supper ( literally a full meal). Sometimes songs, not always, sometimes teaching video’s, again NO formal agenda. We love God’s presence, we love sharing, we love that EVERYONE can share. And here is the deal: most of us are over 50 and have been Christians for 30-40 years. We have a wealth of experience, wisdom, knowledge and (believe it or not) child likeness. Our friends are a rich, rich resource.” 

So many are experiencing new ways of doing church and finding satisfaction with new methods. But churches, like all institutions, are resistant to change. Increasingly, however,  it is becoming clear that strategic changes are needed in order to more effectively engage the culture with the message of the gospel.

As one response indicates; “It is in our efforts for change, our need for wanting peace that counts. It may not be in a religious establishment but if we can help influence those who are in charge of those establishments then so much the better. IT will be a mix of people and those who are in a church. A church who is aware and want CHANGE. It will also be outside the box and God will touch those necessary for any refinement and any chance for anyone to have to know they have the decision in all things. We have to support each other any strive for the best of all.” 

Perhaps some just need to change their attitude towards church as one my friends observed; “I go to Mass every Sunday but often go to different churches in the parish to coordinate with my work schedule. (I work Sundays and either have to go super early or late.) I haven’t established any friendships at the churches. I know some people there but I don’t feel like I’m there to socialize. Some people get fussy when you sit in their spot. Some people make a lot of noise and have a rowdy family. Some priests do things a little differently in each church, or have slightly different customs. Some people are TOO friendly and some want you to leave. I have to say, this goes on no matter where you go. People will be people whether they are in church, the grocery store, the street, in their homes, anywhere. People will judge fellow parishioners, their friends, their idols, their families, their dogs, and themselves. It’s sad to think that fear of being treated a certain way is what keeps people from church. Because these same people are in your lives doing everything else you do, yet you don’t fear going to buy cereal when there will be someone on aisle 2 who won’t like what you’re wearing today. If you don’t fear buying cereal with judgmental people, why fear going to church to spend time with God, the only person who loves you entirely for who you are?” 

Some are suggesting it isn’t necessary to attend church at all, what do you think?

For some the logistics of getting to church may just be overwhelming; “I love God but honestly it’s difficult getting 3 kids and myself ready for church. Then “kids will be kids” even in church. Unfortunately, some churches don’t have a baby sitter. For me, it’s easier to watch church service on TV & read my bible at home. If the church had some kind of program for kids during worship hours then I would feel better about attending.” 

All things considered, it is clear that the church can do a better job in many areas including being better examples of what it means to be a Christian outside of the church building. Consider the negative impression church attendees left on this young lady; “When I was a single mother of a baby, I had to work on Sundays as a waitress. The Sunday crowd came in and it was hell. They barely tipped, they were rude, demanding, messy, and never offered a smile. I had already known Jesus and if I hadn’t, I can’t say I would be eager to get to know these obnoxious people.  P.S. I never saw any of them praying over their meals!”

Clearly for those of us who serve as leaders of Christian churches, the task is challenging. We are called to address the hurting and the angry. Many in our society are just broken and angry, and in need of love and the life changing message of the gospel. Just like one young man who confessed; “I just got angry…mainly due to my failed marriage. Angry at God, angry at church, just angry…I have my demons to wrestle with, so to speak…” If as the church we do not respond to the changing needs of our culture, then we are in danger of becoming irrelevant. And perhaps fulfilling the observation made in this response; “Classical theism seems unsustainable given critical analysis. Given this, in my opinion, it is pointless to attend an institution that propagates the ideology.”

May Christ help us to revive the only institution He left us with -His Church. “…I will build my Church and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.” –Jesus in Matthew 16:18

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