About a year ago, I shared with the Sligo Church family some startling statistics from the Barna Research Group regarding Christianity in America. According to Barna, only 20% of Americans are actually Christians, although the number who claim Christianity as their faith is about 40%. When I first encountered these numbers I found it hard to believe, but as time has passed, I see how this can be true. Growing up in the sixties, when we had what was known as the “Jesus Movement,” everyone professed Christianity; or at least it seemed so. According to the Gallup Poll, the most religious era of the past 74 years in America was from the mid 1950s to the early 60s. But we now live in a completely different world than the one in which I grew up, and I doubt very seriously if things will ever be the same again.
Recently I came across a new set of statistics, which I shared with our staff as well as the church board. These are from an article titled, 10 Reasons Why Committed Christians are Attending Church Less Often. If you’re like me, the title seems somewhat off base. Think about it for a moment. How can I be a committed Christian while at the same time my church attendance is steadily declining? As I continued to read the article, it brought out the fact that this is a trend that is taking churches in America by storm. And it doesn’t matter if it is a mega church with a few thousand members or a congregation consisting only of 200, the fact remains that Christians who love God as well as their church, are not showing up for service as often as they once did.
While time won’t permit me to share all ten reasons given in the article (you can Google it for yourselves), I do want to mention at least two for your consideration, and they appear as 5 and 6 on the list. The first is “Online Options.” Let’s face it, the Internet has not only empowered us to shop and do business online, but it has given us the means to worship God online as well. Once thought to be a means of support for the sick and shut-in in our congregations, online streaming, as it is officially called, allows anyone anywhere to participate in any worship anywhere in the world. This means that if you live on the east coast, you can worship online with your local congregation and still have time to catch the service of a church that happens to be on the west coast. And for many, this has become a regular practice.
The second reason is, “The Cultural Disappearance of Guilt.” Simply put, we as Americans don’t feel as guilty as we once did when it comes to being MIA (missing in action) as far as attending church is concerned. Again, it doesn’t mean that someone who attends church less often doesn’t love God; it’s just that now they feel less guilty about it.
So what does this all mean for the church? Well, the answer is too much for me to share in one article. But first and foremost I believe the onus is on the church to acknowledge what is taking place and begin to make cultural shifts in order that we might consider how we engage this demographic. And this we need to be doing regardless as we strive to utilize new methods to reach people for the Kingdom of God.
One of the main takeaways that I want us to understand is that just because someone is attending church less often doesn’t necessarily mean they are less committed to God or their church. Simply put, the fact that they may be missing from time to time doesn’t mean they are lost. And by lost I mean having strayed from God. In the world that we live today there are just too many factors to consider before we immediately jump to this conclusion. And please, I beg you to read the entire article in order that you might gain a fuller understanding of what is taking place in our churches and why.
So the next time you see someone in church whom you have missed for several weeks, before you assume that they have left God and the church, take a moment to pause and consider that just maybe their commitment to God is as strong as it has always been. Just maybe.