Depending on who you are listening to, church membership and attendance is either in decline or is on the rise. It seems that those with no apparent immediate ‘stake in the game’ are reporting a decline while many denominations are saying they are spreading and growing, just not necessarily in America and not from ‘new converts’; it seems that theirs isn’t real growth. It is people leaving other churches and coming to their church – for a while.
A Gallup poll reports, “U.S. Church Membership Falls Below Majority for First Time” (March 29, 2021). Gallup reported that “Americans’ membership in houses of worship continued to decline last year, dropping below 50% for the first time in Gallup’s eight-decade trend. In 2020, 47% of Americans said they belonged to a church, synagogue or mosque, down from 50% in 2018 and 70% in 1999.”
They report that the change primarily due to rise in Americans with no religious preference. But that does not tell the whole story. Most of these studies are about the results but fail to delve into the reasons for the decline except to say things like, ‘There are fascinating explanations, theories and hypotheses for these trends — why we continue to see predictable variations in religiosity across the age spectrum, decade after decade”.
Research and polling organization are not predicting the demise of religion in America anytime soon. But it is evident there is a restructuring taking place and a major shift, a reformulating of belief systems is occurring, particularly away from fundamental beliefs in traditional Biblical doctrines to a more ‘user-friendly’ version. These changes are now being played out in the lives of these individual Christians and Christian religious organizations – and it overlooks the mandates and practices of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I.e., it ‘ain’t your Momma’s Gospel no more’.
One of the cornerstones of Christian thought and belief is based on the doctrine of Biblical Inerrancy, and Biblical inerrancy is under attack, both inside and outside the Church. Liberal ideologies and Marxist thought has invaded the Church and is rewriting The Book. (E. J. Young, in his classic work on the inspiration of the Bible, gives us a good definition of inerrancy: “By this word we mean that the Scriptures possess the quality of freedom from error. They are exempt from the liability to mistake, incapable of error. In all their teachings, they are in perfect accord with the truth.”)
The doctrine of biblical inerrancy is extremely important because the truth matters. This issue reflects on the character of God and is foundational to our understanding of everything the Bible teaches and influences how people conduct their lives.
One outspoken defender of traditional Biblical conservatism and proponent of Biblical Inerrancy, Pastor Tom Ascol, pastor of Grace Baptist Church and president of the Founders Ministries, Cape Coral, Florida contends that “we have been blessed with ready access to the Bible for so long and have seen reaffirmation of its full authority so boldly declared by many of our pastors, churches, and institutions that we have made the affirmation of its inerrancy almost meaningless.
When a Church’s practices veer away from its proclamations (what it says it believes), the people attending that Church take notice. Some will blindly follow a church teaching no matter the circumstance, but many more will question contradictions in faith and practice. When those differences become harmful, untenable or blatantly hypocritical, people will either leave the church for good or will start searching for a new church. And it seems that if that or a similar experience is repeated at another church or not, it seems many of the ‘rightly offended’ leave church membership and church attendance for good – or at least find an alternative to a ‘brick and mortar church’.
According to Pew Research, here are some of the main things people say they are looking for and why they would attend church:
– To become closer to God
– To find forgiveness
– To grow spiritually
– To give my children a good moral foundation
– To make me a better person
– To comfort me in times of sorrow
– Find the sermons valuable
– To be part of a community of faith
– To continue a family’s religious traditions
– Feeling a religious obligation to go
– To meet new people
– To please my family, spouse or partner
However, when these offerings are not found in a church or the expectations are not met, people usually leave that church – and many decide to just stay away from the traditional Church setting.
On the flip side of this coin are reasons why people leave church. But there are as many reasons people leave the church as there are people who actually leave church, so I won’t attempt to list all the reasons. But here are a few from credible sources:
According to ChurchLeaders.com:
- You (the members) aren’t the problem – it’s the church.
- Your Sunday ‘production’ is wearing thin.
- You speak a religious language I don’t understand.
- Church buildings, your programs and staff are your higher priorities than the members, and are the only apparent vision for the future.
- You are fighting the wrong battles; the externals ones. We, the people, need help, first.
- Your love doesn’t feel like love.
- You seem to be blaming me and the other members for your failures.
Lifeway Research adds this:
- I was hurt at church and nobody is helping us to reconcile.
- I had a need and the church did not come to my aid.
- I tried, but couldn’t connect.
- You are trying to control every aspect of my life and faith for your own objectives, and without good reason.
So, where is the church headed, and what should I do about it?
Review your own attitude and efforts within your church, and if you still suspect that your church or church experience is leading you away from God and the Gospel of Jesus, then perhaps it’s time for a change.
- If you have been trying to ‘fit in’ for several years and are still feeling left out, talk to your pastor and ask him for advice. (If he fails to help you, then maybe it’s time to change churches.)
- Does your preacher, church staff and leadership teach and practice what is clearly taught in the Bible? (If you need help here, at the very least compare the teaching, attitudes and behavior of your church leadership to Galatians 5:22-24. If theirs is different, it may be time for a change.)
- The teaching is Biblically sound but the pastor and staff operative under a shroud of secrecy. (I.e., you don’t know exact salaries of staff, where the church money goes, why the pastor and staff avoid socializing with the membership.) Then maybe it’s time for a change.
- If your church is too political, too polarized, has too many cliques or it is obvious the pastors has his favorites, then it is time for a change. (This is becoming cult-like).
- If most of your long-held and respected friends keep leaving, there must be a reason. Ask them.
You don’t have to be a sociologist or a psychologist to figure this out. If your church is ‘above you’ they may simply be ruling over you and that is not right.
The pastor and staff are to be servants of the Lord and are to care for those in their charge. Their vision for the church, their ambitions, goals and personal agenda should never rise to the level of ‘caring for the flock’.
Your church leadership may say they are spreading the Gospel and reaching the lost, but their primary responsibility while performing the Great Commission is the Great Commandment: “To Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Finally, once you find your place, remember, you are not to be a ward or a dependent of the Church – you are a member of God’s Church; and members of God’s Church are ‘A chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
Set your sights and your efforts on becoming a disciple of Jesus. Join with others to support your church to reach the lost with the Good News of Jesus; to help gather the straying sheep of God; become what God has called you to become, such as a pastor, a teacher, an evangelist. Recognize and employ the Spiritual Gift God has given you.
Refuse to be a victim of Church drift, apostasy, scandal or abuse. Become the Victor in Christ! Find your place and thrive in Jesus name!
Your Brother and Friend,
More on this subject: FRACTURED CHURCH?