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The Churches We Need

Why aren’t people going to church? It could have more to do with the car drive than with philosophical agnosticism or disillusionment. Emma Green considers [1] a new Pew survey [2] on religious participation and church attendance over at The Atlantic:

While Americans on the whole are still going to church and other worship services less than they used to, many people are actually going more—and those who are skipping out aren’t necessarily doing it for reasons of belief.

… First, people who report going to worship services less frequently now than they used to overwhelmingly say the logistics of getting there are the biggest obstacle. Second, a significant number of people who said they’re not part of any particular religion expressed mistrust of religious institutions, suggesting these organizations’ reputations have something to do with why people are dropping out of public religious participation.

… While it’s easy to empathize with the hassle of trying to wake up and rally kids to go sit still for several hours every Sunday morning, this explanation is interesting for a slightly different reason: It suggests that many people view religious services as optional in a way they might not have in the past. Fifty or 60 years ago, churches, in particular, were a center [3] of social and cultural life in America. For many people, that’s still the case, but the survey suggests that many people may be creating their social lives outside of a religious context—or perhaps forgoing that kind of social connection altogether.

To some degree, these findings are indicative of a society in which churches increasingly sit on the sidelines of cultural life. Geographically, they’re distanced from the actual places where people live and work (a consequence, some might argue, of suburban sprawl or consumer-centric urban planning). Culturally, they’ve grown increasingly segregated from the dominant political and artistic voices of our time. Communally, many churches have invested less in the needy and destitute than in building bigger church buildings or organizing short-term mission trips overseas (not to denigrate international ministry—but it does seem that many churches invest more internationally than they do locally).

It’s also true that people’s lives have become increasingly career-centric: with Americans working more hours than ever before [4], weekends have become a time to “veg” and relax—not wake up early and drive to church. Sunday is the one day we don’t want to commute or rush out the door in a frenzy.

But there are ways to combat these tendencies—and most of them have to do with where we choose to attend church. Consider these questions:

My guess is that most people prefer the church that’s closest to them, the church full of familiar faces, and the church that’s eagerly serving its community. People will attend a church that is local, personal, and communal.

change_me

People will not attend a church that is distant, giant, and solitary.

Unfortunately, it is often difficult to find a church that fulfills all three of these requirements equally. Depending on where we live and our own personal proclivities and weaknesses, many of us have to determine which of the three above attributes are most important—and most likely to keep us at church.

For those who feel drained and tired on Sunday mornings (not a tendency to be ignored or sneered at in today’s workaholic world), it may be salutary to find a church that is in or extremely close to one’s own neighborhood. If church is less than a couple miles away, it lessens the logistical and personal burden necessary to get from one’s front door to the church pew.

This does mean, however, that the local churchgoer may have to overcome some denominational and personal biases in order to embrace what’s nearby. Many Americans have gotten used to “church shopping,” hopping from pew to pew until they find a congregation that “fits” them best. Unfortunately, this can either disincentivize our church attendance altogether, or put enough miles between us and the church doors to decrease our chances of regular attendance. Committing to the local church requires an ability to overlook these rather consumerist tendencies, choosing a church in spite of its weaknesses.

That said, it could be that the nearest church is a giant megachurch, with thousands of members and four to five services on a given weekend. Stepping in the front doors, you immediately feel like a lost face in the crowd. No one greets you by name; no one knows your children. There may be donuts and artisan coffee in the foyer, but social and emotional connection is scarce.

In this case, it makes sense to move further afield to find a church that is more personal and communal—a space in which members know each other, proffering both fellowship and accountability. Some seem to find great value in the megachurch, arguing that such “seeker churches” [5] have an important mission. But in practice, it seems that a church characterized merely by emotive worship music and a finishing altar call will have little lasting impact on the “seekers” who visit its doors—because there is no potential for lasting, deep fellowship or accountability amidst the sea of faces that drift to and from the worship hall.

A church that is personal should also be communal: focusing its resources and attention not merely inward, but also displaying an eagerness to find and address needs in one’s local community. Many American communities are broken and hurting, dealing with the deleterious effects of poverty, drug use, and family breakdown. This is where the church can and should work—and a church that is deeply involved in its local community will both attract and keep members, because it gives them a purpose beyond mere self-absorption and back-patting.

This is also one of the most powerful ways to combat the widespread distaste for “organized religion” mentioned in the Pew poll and Green’s article: “Among people who were raised religiously and who fell away from religion in adult life, roughly one-fifth said their dislike of organized religion was the reason,” Green writes. “Insofar as the decline in U.S. religious affiliation is an intellectual or philosophical story, it seems to be this: Fewer people are willing to sign on with the rules and reputations of institutions that promote faith.”

“Organized religion” can often connote a corrupt and insensitive institution, a group that is both callous and shady in its everyday work. Many Americans have been hurt by a church or other religious body at some point, and they’ve seen firsthand the damage that results from corrupt leadership or a wayward pastor.

But a church that truly roots itself in its community, loving and serving its neighbors unconditionally, can combat some of these judgments. It can help demonstrate the goods that flow from a religious group that is investing its resources in helping the needy.

Ultimately, a lot will have to change to draw record-breaking numbers back to the church. But combating some of the apathy felt toward America’s churches may be as simple as proffering options that are local, personal, and communal: showing people that the joyful fellowship and service they find at church on Sunday morning is worth getting out of bed for.

38 Comments (Open | Close)

38 Comments To "The Churches We Need"

#1 Comment By Bowl of Petunias On August 24, 2016 @ 9:10 am

Finding a church that actually preaches the Gospel can be a good trick.

#2 Comment By Matt On August 24, 2016 @ 9:29 am

Surely it has something to do with church being boring. You go, hear the songs you’ve heard a thousand times before, hear a sermon you’ve heard a hundred times already in some form, stand up sit down stand up sit down stand up maybe kneel, go home. Honestly, if you aren’t going to socialize, why go? Christianity is 2000 years old, and it might have run out of things to say.

#3 Comment By Matthew Loftus On August 24, 2016 @ 10:12 am

The problem is… that people do often go to churches that are giant, distant, and solitary. (Why else would suburban megachurches be packed?) The last point is tricky because most giant churches do offer lots of programs and do quite a bit for their local community– but someone who comes from afar might only show up on Sunday. People like you and me might like local, personal, and communal churches– but there are a lot of reasons others don’t, and it seems like you’ve elided those reasons here.

Also, the only statistics I was able to find suggest that local to international giving is about 10 to 1: [6]

#4 Comment By JonPatrick On August 24, 2016 @ 10:46 am

What Matt said articulates what a lot of people seem to feel at least in my church (Catholic). Perhaps this is the problem of a consumerist culture that expects to be catered to, entertained. Worship is about meeting God on His terms not ours. But how do you get people in today’s world to realize thsi? I suspect one has to go through a crisis of some kind where they realize their need for God.

#5 Comment By Will Harrington On August 24, 2016 @ 10:54 am

I find the assumption that churches are interchangeable, so local is preferable, to be interesting, but unconvincing. It may be an indication of how little people know about their faith that this assumption can take hold, but it seems to be a symptom of something else that is missing, good catechesis. If people don,t know the distinctives of their faith, then why bother to go anywhere? If you can’t explain the why of church in theological and christological terms, then there is no reason for the church. The practical stuff like social connection and helping the poor just don’t require a church. Being a part of the body of Christ requires Church. Churches are not interchangeable and they do have distinctives in their teaching. They must get back to educating their members. I will continue to drive an hour and a half to the nearest Orthodox church because it is not interchangeable with the local United Methodist congregation.

#6 Comment By Johan On August 24, 2016 @ 11:03 am

Many churches seem to be just reliving past traditions, like Civil War Re-enactors. Many specialize in moralistic harangues with attenuated biblical content. Why bother with such places unless it’s part of your own personal tradition?

The most effective churches I have seen preach from the full Bible in ways that are relevant to the people. Not relevant=trendy but rather, intersecting the peoples’ actual lives. This requires lots of work by pastor in getting to know the people and working with the text and setting up small groups to deepen knowledge and relationships. There is a PCA church in my town like this. Not my religious cup of tea but I admit it resonates with lots of people.

#7 Comment By Leonidas On August 24, 2016 @ 11:05 am

Let’s not get lost in the particulars. The question is whether or not we know in ourselves a need for repentance and hope for redemption. By extension, the Church we need is the Church that preaches repentance and hope. Anything less than this is vanity.

#8 Comment By TheRev72 On August 24, 2016 @ 11:31 am

I don’t personally attend a “megachurch,” but I think there is mis-characterization going on here. Many megachurches actually do the “personal, communal” thing better that smaller churches by having really good small group ministry. Sunday morning becomes a kind of modern version of big, cathedral Christianity with small groups filling the need for smaller, commmunal groups (many of which are often geographically-centered) during the week. It works for them, despite the elitist disparagement.

#9 Comment By John Turner On August 24, 2016 @ 11:59 am

“Surely it has something to do with church being boring.” If you find the old hymns and the Scriptures and historic ways of worshiping boring, then surely you have been singing the wrongs hymns, reading the wrong Scriptures, performing the wrong rituals or–much more likely–not allowing them to take you deep enough to understand what they are saying. There are both old hymns and new worship music that have solid messages that continue to challenge and refresh the souls of attentive worshipers (admittedly, there is also worship music of all generations that is designed to please unconverted ears without challenging the spirits of the attenders). And if the Scriptures are boring, either they are not being well-interpreted and applied or you are not engaging them deeply enough. Open your mind to find new depths and keep hunting for the church that delivers the power of God’s presence speaking through the words. If you encounter the living God, you may still have complaints, but boring will not be one of them.

#10 Comment By Jen On August 24, 2016 @ 1:33 pm

You really glossed over a big reason people avoid church:

“Second, a significant number of people who said they’re not part of any particular religion expressed mistrust of religious institutions, suggesting these organizations’ reputations have something to do with why people are dropping out of public religious participation.”

I believe Christians have not fully grasped how damaging the Catholic child sex abuse crisis has been to organized religion overall.

#11 Comment By Rudy On August 24, 2016 @ 1:36 pm

The problem lies in the fact that people that make excuses to not go to church do not really WORSHIP Him. They don’t feel they need to be near Him and other likeminded individuals. They aren’t in awe, revere or fear Him. They don’t believe in His graces, His comfort and saving power that we can receive when we go to church give back to Him. They are not hungry for all that He has to offer. It’s too easy to tell The God of the universe that He’s not worth their time and roll back over and go to sleep.
I can only come at this from a Roman Catholic view which primarily involves the Real Presence. I won’t go into details here but by all means look it up. I understand and appreciate the standing, sitting, kneeling and the drilling into our minds the meaning of The Word. The newness of it never ends. To say Christianity has run out of things to say is just another lazy excuse not to attend. We attend a Church that is 40+ miles from our home, passing roughly eight others on our way. It takes up approximately 4-5 hours of any Sunday. It’s were we feel the focus is where it should be and the liturgy is delivered in it’s purist form. It fills all three requirements you list and more. We would drive 80 miles (and sometimes have) if that’s what it took.
Romans 12:2

#12 Comment By JonF On August 24, 2016 @ 2:32 pm

Re: I will continue to drive an hour and a half to the nearest Orthodox church because it is not interchangeable with the local United Methodist congregation.

Proximity to an Orthodox church is one of my non-negotiable conditions on where I live. Not walking distance maybe, but at least biking distance (though I usually drive to church, but the drive is a short one, made tolerable by the fact that there’s little traffic on Sunday morning). The one time I lived a ways from church I found myself not going though the unfriendliness of that specific congregation was also a factor.

#13 Comment By Hound of Ulster On August 24, 2016 @ 2:58 pm

Those Protestant mega churches may be large, but they have a high turnover rate in membership, while the Pentacostal churches change doctrine with every new minister that walks through the door. The ‘churchgoer as consumer’ idea is incredibly toxic on so many levels

#14 Comment By CB French On August 24, 2016 @ 3:09 pm

“This does mean, however, that the local churchgoer may have to overcome some denominational and personal biases in order to embrace what’s nearby…. Committing to the local church requires an ability to overlook these rather consumerist tendencies, choosing a church in spite of its weaknesses.”

This, of course, entirely (and rather condescendingly) overlooks the fact that the religious “consumer” may have legitimate theological motivations for being choosy and not just going to the church down the street. I am a continuing Anglican of a very Anglo-Catholic extraction. The theological commitments that I hold are deeply rooted and not negotiable. This is more than a predilection for my own “personal biases”; I attend the parish I do because it teaches what I reasonably hold to be the Catholic Faith. As Will Harrington notes, denominations and churches are not interchangeable entities to those Christians who have deeper-than-superficial theological stances…

#15 Comment By GregR On August 24, 2016 @ 5:03 pm

Jen makes a good point

“You really glossed over a big reason people avoid church:

“Second, a significant number of people who said they’re not part of any particular religion expressed mistrust of religious institutions, suggesting these organizations’ reputations have something to do with why people are dropping out of public religious participation.”

I believe Christians have not fully grasped how damaging the Catholic child sex abuse crisis has been to organized religion overall.”

But it isn’t just the sex scandle. It’s the parsonage exemption that has resulted in pastors receiving multi-million dollar homes as part of their salary, it’s Creflo Dollar begging for a new $100 million airplane, it’s the refusal of small churches to open their books like other non-profits.

Look there are a lot of good churches out there that preach the bible and meet their members needs. But the failure of the major denominations to even address the corruption in their own churches, let alone churches in general is astounding.

The problem is that churches seek to speak as arbiters of moral authority, and yet they fight tooth and nail to be held to the same reporting standards as everyone else. The ‘give to the church so we can help the poor’ line works far better when the pastor isn’t living in a $10 million dollar house the congregation paid for.

#16 Comment By Evan On August 24, 2016 @ 7:31 pm

Green seems to miss one obvious point.

Churchgoing is an activity that’s largely engaged in by people who conform to the “family values” narrative. That’s true of both mainliners and evangelicals.

I grew up in an evangelical church, and still broadly agree with evangelical theology. Even so, I stopped going to church years ago. As I moved into my 30s, it was clear that people just weren’t interested in having single adults around, unless there were some obvious reason as to why the person was still single (e.g., health issues, abandonment by an ex-spouse, etc.). Even so, we live in a culture where over half of all adults are single, and where divorce just isn’t stigmatized to the degree that it once was. But churches consist almost exclusively of married people, most of whom married within a few years of college, had their first child a year after that, and stayed married. That’s the target audience of most churches. And most people go to church to be around people like themselves, and aren’t interested in sharing a pew with people whose life journeys are too different from theirs.

It’s not that people have simply decided to stop attending church. Churches tend to market themselves to a limited demographic range of people. In the past, that demographic range included a larger number of people than it does today. So, it makes sense that church attendance is down. After all, if I’m not within the church’s target demographic range, I’m not going to feel comfortable going. It’s the same reason why 30-something professionals don’t shop at Hollister. It’s also why I, as a runner who’s 5’6″ and 115 pounds, don’t shop at the big-and-tall shop.

#17 Comment By TomG On August 24, 2016 @ 8:12 pm

I am 59 and 58 of those years were spent in the church—always active and very faithful. Over the years, with all the judgmental adherence to dogma over Grace, I increasingly came to see how much more faithful to church I had been than the church ever had been to me. I know many people who express this same kind of sentiment. We have been beaten-down too many times by ‘bound consciences’ of so many in leadership in churches large and small that would rather be ‘right’ about doctrine than actually follow the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount.

The political environment in the US is a direct reflection of the bankruptcy of the church. Yes, Ms. Olmstead is correct that we should be caring for the poor and neglected. We should be part of a community that is local, caring and hopeful. However, we cannot turn a blind eye to the suffering that we as a country impose; the mass exports of weapons for profit in the name of a war on terror to the most volatile parts of the world; the cruelty and injustice of our own criminal justice system; and the complicity we provide through blindly investing for maximum return on our investments. We have cast stones at our own membership and then wondered why the ‘outside’ questions our compassion. On these matters the church is grossly negligent and that has led to many like me who say enough is enough.

#18 Comment By Mad Max On August 24, 2016 @ 8:27 pm

Let’s see; Christians have the pedophilic priests and fundamentalists (no relationship implied), Islam has extremist Jihadists.

I don’t know the history of Judaism; did they do anything wrong?

How about Buddhism? Hinduism?

I personally don’t like organized religion. To me, religion is like ancient historical myth that can sometimes be hijacked to support inhumanity.

We need something to replace the good things that local churches used to provide without the dogma.

#19 Comment By Steve On August 24, 2016 @ 8:45 pm

This guy’s reasons for giving up on church about 40 years ago:

1) I was raised in a strict, authoritarian Catholic household. We had a big picture of Jesus hanging in our living room. I could not count the number of beatings my siblings and I received in front of that picture.

2) I was sent to a strict, authoritarian Catholic grade school where teachers (including nuns — this was the 1950/60s) treated students, especially the boys, cruelly. Two of my classmates committed suicide in high school (separately, not together), and until the day I die I will put some of the blame on how horribly they were treated in that Catholic school.

3) My Protestant wife goes to her church religiously (pun intended). Several years ago they spent millions of dollars on a new church building with lots of physical comforts. Since then they have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars more on fancy sound systems, video systems, construction of a coffeehouse inside the building, etc. I cannot think of a single thing they do for anyone outside the church — no homeless shelter, no food pantry, no fundraising for such groups — although they do have special collections for a church in Africa.

4) Earlier this week there were headlines in my local paper about a priest accused of stealing $500,000 from a parishioner with dementia. A couple of months ago there was a story about a local Protestant pastor sending around child porn. This, of course, is on top of the revelations that came out some years ago about the Catholic church protecting homosexual pedophile priests.

5) Then we have the TV preachers who have been shameless in their hucksterism and flag-waving, as if the US government is an arm of God.

To summarize:

People who call themselves Christians and publicly proclaim their love for the Lamb of God and Prince of Peace and then treat defenseless kids with stern cruelty are not a good advertisement for their beliefs.

People who spend millions of dollars to make themselves more comfortable for an hour or so each Sunday and no money on local people who might need help are not a good advertisement for their beliefs.

People who act as church leaders and commit crimes or cover up for others who commit them are not a good advertisement for their beliefs.

People who wrap their Christian worship in the US flag and blindly defend every US military action are not a good advertisement for their beliefs. (Ditto for those who excuse every cop beating or shooting. I have some in my family. They almost take glee in these incidents because they see it as justice quickly meted out. Cops never beat up or shoot people for no good reason, right?)

These people either have never read the Sermon on the Mount or, if they have read it, they have rejected it.

The first commenter, Bowl of Petunias, wrote: “Finding a church that actually preaches the Gospel can be a good trick.”

Yep. And finding people who take the Gospel to heart can be an even bigger trick.

#20 Comment By Evan On August 24, 2016 @ 10:12 pm

@TomG

I’d echo the same thought. I grew up in an evangelical Reformed denomination (PCA) that tends to tout its emphasis on the doctrines of grace. Even so, by the time I left, I found church to be a fairly graceless place. The church’s “theology” related much more to fetishizing the 1950s than to proclaiming the doctrines of grace.

I feel like I get far more spiritually out of participation in a Sunday morning running club than I did by going to church. And my running club is local!

Overall, I think church has simply outgrown its utility. It’s a nice environment to raise kids around other nice families doing the same. Aside from that, it’s difficult to see the practical use.

#21 Comment By Gerald Arcuri On August 25, 2016 @ 12:42 am

This article looks to sociological and logistical explanations for why Americans have abandoned church attendance, and by extension infers that if only these obstacles could be addressed, church attendance would rebound. What isn’t questioned is the implied premise that church attendance is, eo ipso, necessarily good. Church attendance rates are not dispositive indicators of anything much. Soren Kierkegaard explored this subject as it existed in nineteenth century Denmark, which had a state church. Here is S.K., remarking on what it means to distinguish between Christianity, and actually being a Christian, Imitation, the imitation of Christ, is really the point from which the human race shrinks. The main difficulty lies here; here is where it is decided whether or not one is willing to accept Christianity. If there is emphasis on this point, the stronger the emphasis the fewer the Christians. If there is a scaling down at this point (so that Christianity becomes, intellectually, a doctrine) more people enter into Christianity. If it is abolished completely (so Christianity becomes, existentially, as easy as mythology and poetry and imitation an exaggeration, a ludicrous exaggeration), then Christianity spreads to such a degree that Christendom and the world are almost indistinguishable, or all become Christians; Christianity has completely conquered – that is, it is abolished!” ( from Kierkegaard’s “Judge for Yourselves” )
The kind of churches we need are churches filled with people who understand the nature of following Christ as an individual. Until those who call themselves pastors understand that themselves, and begin to preach that gospel from the pulpit, it matters not how high church attendance rates are. People will travel hundreds of miles to watch a sporting event because it fills a need. Apparently, churches are failing to do the same thing. The effeminate, watered-down message that people mostly encounter in modern American churches of all stripes might flatter their infantile egos, but it does nothing to feed their souls. They aren’t failing to attend because of logistical difficulties. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

#22 Comment By mrscracker On August 25, 2016 @ 11:10 am

Matt says:

“… Honestly, if you aren’t going to socialize, why go?”
*****************
Well, I go to worship.

#23 Comment By ek ErliaR On August 25, 2016 @ 11:34 am

@Steve

“3) My Protestant wife . . . . I cannot think of a single thing they do for anyone outside the church. . .”

Well, that was the formula used by the Reformed English churches when they enjoyed their greatest success over the 300 years between 1550-1850. They were first and foremost revolutionary political and economic mutual aid societies with a religious theme. These early reformed churches drew a sharp distinction between the deserving and non-deserving poor.

#24 Comment By Randolph Le Baron On August 25, 2016 @ 3:50 pm

Why does the author insist on referring worship as “Sunday morning”? Does not the author realize that a growing number
of church/synagogue goers prefer the Sabbath, Saturday
worship?
Billyboy

#25 Comment By Dennis J. Tuchler On August 25, 2016 @ 4:12 pm

The idea is good — form community-centered groups from which can be reinforced our cultural norms that order civility and care for others, and can oppose the force of remote government for good reasons. See deToqueville. The assumption is that most of us are Christians (atheists and doubters can not be part of this). Is there no way in which non-believers can be brought to participate in the interpretation and reinforcement of cultural norms of civility and care? You don’t need to fear for your soul in order to behave ethically/ morally and accept and pursue what we all accept to be the recreation of a good society.

#26 Comment By JonF On August 25, 2016 @ 4:48 pm

Re: Does not the author realize that a growing number of church/synagogue goers prefer the Sabbath, Saturday worship?

Jewish synagogues have always preferred Saturday for worship. But the only newish trend I am aware of among Christian churches is to offer a Saturday evening service in addition to the Sunday morning service(s) to accommodate people who have “plans” for Sunday morning (or maybe want to stay out and party late on Saturday). The Catholic Church is noteworthy for its Saturday evening masses, but I’ve heard of evangelical churches doing this too.

#27 Comment By jan814 On August 25, 2016 @ 5:13 pm

This is so American and so opposed to the practice of religion. Your essay is addressed to folk who say “what can ‘going to church’ do for me?” The sole reason for doing so in the ancient liturgies, Latin and Greek, is to worship God and receive his grace through the sacraments. Any other reason for attending essentially is blasphemous and will harm body and soul
.
Also, surely you have read the many studies that show that the more demanding a denomination is, the greater the attendance. I.e., the case in France, where the average age of Vatican II sing-alongs is 85 and the bishops are closing churches while chapels and seminaries for the ancient Latin rite are doing very well. Or, compare strict denominations like the Mormons with the Episcopalians, who have no rules or requirements and who make no demands on clergy or laity. In the latter case, this degrading of the liturgy has cut their membership by more than 2/3 compared to the denomination prior to the 1970s.

So focusing on what I think I “need” to comfort and please me, me, me is wrong and spiritually harmful.

It also is counterproductive. Why bother belonging to an organization that makes no demands on its members. E.g., Before fasting on
Fridays was abolished during the 60s, Roman Catholics liked eating fish or macaroni and cheese on Fridays. It showed, they were convinced, that they were different than and more serious about religion than Prots.

#28 Comment By Scott Miller On August 25, 2016 @ 5:46 pm

“People will not attend a church that is distant, giant, and solitary.”

So all the “megachurches” are empty every Sunday?

#29 Comment By chris403 On August 26, 2016 @ 10:26 am

There is also the issue of both the husband and wife agreeing to attend the same church. I no longer have any respect for or confidence in the Disciples of Christ Church we attend, but I go there anyway because my wife likes it.

I feel very strongly they have lost their way, and their dwindling attendance tells me I’m not the only person who has noticed.

I would think many marriages these days come from different religious traditions, and that can cause friction when it comes time to pick a church for your family.

#30 Comment By Bowl of Petunias On August 26, 2016 @ 11:35 am

The first commenter, Bowl of Petunias, wrote: “Finding a church that actually preaches the Gospel can be a good trick.”

Yep. And finding people who take the Gospel to heart can be an even bigger trick.

Agreed, Steve.

#31 Comment By Bowl of Petunias On August 26, 2016 @ 11:47 am

Evan says:

@TomG

“I’d echo the same thought. I grew up in an evangelical Reformed denomination (PCA) that tends to tout its emphasis on the doctrines of grace. Even so, by the time I left, I found church to be a fairly graceless place. The church’s “theology” related much more to fetishizing the 1950s than to proclaiming the doctrines of grace.”

My family was in the PCA for more than a decade. The biggest reason for me wanting to go church shopping is not just things like what you mentioned, but the neverending focus on Law, moralism, and neonomianism (turning the gospel into a new law). This is an issue that has dogged the entire reformed/presbyterian tradition from the get-go. That, and the fact that I find their sacraments to be uncertain. I’m tired of it.

#32 Comment By A.J. Kinnamamn On August 26, 2016 @ 8:35 pm

“People will not attend a church that is distant, giant, and solitary” Exactly where the Roman Church has gone in our area, doing away with parishes for for big regionals. They need to give way on the priesthood. Married parish clergy (once commonplace), crossing the gender line….

Of course, having a message that resoantes helps.

#33 Comment By Ray On August 27, 2016 @ 12:40 pm

There’s a lot of talk, these days, about the desirability of living in a “walkable” community, where people can walk (or bike, or take a short shuttle or golf-cart ride) to work, school, grocery, etc. I’m surprised I hadn’t thought about including church in that. But it’s true: the location of my childhood church, right next door, was a major contributor to my involvement with it.

#34 Comment By MikeS On August 28, 2016 @ 12:30 am

“Why aren’t people going to church?”

1. In my experience (in California), churches are magnets for people who are somewhere on the spectrum of eccentric to weird to outright mentally disturbed. Unless you have a burden to be in a group disproportionately populated by such people, you’ll meet nicer and more normal people in a hiking club or at the museum. Maybe it’s different in parts of the country where everyone (cross section of the whole community, not just the eccentrics) is expected to attend church.

2. There are heavy financial expectations. I.e. some fraction of your income as donations, up to 10%. Suppose your family makes $60K/year. Join a church and boom, there’s another $3k-$6K expense. Too much for many middle class people.

3. Time expectations. Not just on Sunday, but if you’re at all functional, you’ll be asked to join a committee(s), and there goes 1 or 2 or 3 weeknights per month. Like most people with a job and kids have time and energy for that. I have been in committee meetings that last until 11 PM and I have to work the next morning. Crazy.

#35 Comment By Steve McQueen On August 29, 2016 @ 10:23 pm

Fewer people are attending church because fewer people believe the Gospel message.

If you don’t believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that He died for your sins and that He rose from the dead, there are better uses of your time on Sunday morning.

#36 Comment By Carmen Flores On October 23, 2016 @ 4:26 pm

We were sincere church goers until the liberals began taking over the mainstream denominations in the 70’s. We left the Presbyterian current, the United Methodist Church, and the Episcopal more recently. Gay priests, gay theology, moral relativism and a tolerance for unnatural lifestyles and Marxist political beliefs have kept us away. We don’t know where to turn. We want a church home, but don’t know how to find one in Joplin, Missouri. Please help us! [7]

#37 Comment By Winning On October 28, 2017 @ 10:38 pm

I’d love to find a church where the Bible is both preached and practiced. There are too many buildings with a “church” sign out front but no God inside. They have opened their doors and brought “the world” inside. They preach what itching ears want to hear – I think this is the case with many mega churches and this is the reason they have grown to be mega sized. It’s very disappointing, but the Bible tells us it’s going to happen and we are witnessing it.

#38 Comment By hurch On January 21, 2018 @ 4:48 pm

The Church is called a “sanctuary” but in fact it is just the same thing you will find in the secular world,biblical Church discipline is almost non existent and has been replaced by the seeker friendly philosophy that allows people to do as they please so they will feel comfortable and come back……if you leave a Church after a sermon and feel good about yourself find another Church.