Sunday, July 29, 2018

A PROTESTANT MINISTER'S TAKE ON DECLINING CHURCH ATTENDANCE


Like Catholicism, Protestantism has experienced great change in beliefs, morality and styles of worship to include music or Muzak.

I would suggest that the ensuing identity crisis, especially expressed in worship or liturgy must be added to the plethora of reasons for the decline and fall of Christianity.

This is a commentary in Sunday's Augusta Chronicle on this decline is by a Protestant minister who lives in a suburb of Augusta:

It isn’t a death, but a resurrection

Over the last few years, I watched our weekly church attendance slowly diminish.

We are not alone. Many churches across the country are experiencing a serious decline in attendance as our older faithful members die off.

Every church sees normal attrition as mature members move to glory and other members just move on. Since our church is a few miles outside the gate of a major military base, we have always experienced members who get transferred or deployed. In the past, we’ve always had new folks come in to take their place.

A few years ago, our worship leader was moved out of state when a new young military family started attending who picked up the worship team leadership without missing a beat. Now the couple leading our worship, the Army is transferring them to Korea.

Over just the last year we have lost half of our regular members. A young couple gets a great job offer out of state, an elderly active member retires and moves to be close to their kids, regular military transfers and then our pastor retires and moves — and that’s just in the last couple of months.

Thousands of churches close permanently every year. As thousands of new churches are planted, the net gain for churches is a negative. I drive by a large empty lifeless church building every day and work a block away from a beautiful cathedral that is now a civic center (Sacred Heart Catholic Church). A vivid reminder of just two churches that closed their doors permanently.

I think back to those who witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus. Many of those who watched Him die on the cross had also seen Jesus healing the sick, giving eyesight to the blind, curing the lame and feeding thousands with a few fish and loaves, and viewed His triumphant entry into Jerusalem only a few days before.

For the disciples, their whole world hung lifeless on a rough wooden cross.

They weren’t watching their church die; they were witnesses to the antecedent of the greatest event since the creation of the universe, the resurrection the Messiah. The risen Savior of all mankind.

It wasn’t what they were expecting, even though Jesus spelled it out for them, but His conquering death is what had to happen.

I realized I’m not watching my church die, I’m experiencing a resurrection. This is just the hard part.

Good News

Just as trimming back our rose bushes makes for a stronger, healthier plant with more blooms, I believe it’s a good thing our church has been cut back.

Our remaining membership has a passion for the mission, not the building. Some former members would have been opposed to any changes. They would have fought the renaming of the church to the death, either theirs or the church’s. Our remaining membership is open to merging, to changes, or a new name. Not to keep the building, but His mission and ministry, alive.

Our church is blessed in so many ways.

• We are a debt-free ministry. We have no mortgages or obligations, just regular utilities and maintenance. Even with the drop in weekly offerings, we have enough revenues to make ends meet and send monthly gifts to ministries we support.

• We are fortunate to have two church leaders step up into the pulpit; although we pay a small stipend to the preacher, we know if tithes fall short we will pay our missions first. If we ever lose sight of our ministry, we may as well close our doors.

• We have a caring church membership. So much so we advertise Free Hugs Sunday at 11:00 a.m.

• We have a diverse congregation. The church’s leadership is 50% white and 50% black, which I believe expands our outreach.

• We also have a plan. After some major repairs we are cash poor, but land rich. Our church sits on 32 acres, of which we have 22 acres up for sale in a growing area. Once we sell the property we will set aside enough for two years of salary for either a full-time minister or two part-time positions, either a pastor, music minister and or youth pastor.

We are open to any direction that has the vision to grow the Kingdom of God.

More Good News

Examining U.S. church attendance statistics since our nation’s founding, Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion found the percentage of Americans attending church, relative to overall population, is more than four times larger today than it was in 1776. Plus, the number of church attendees has risen each and every decade right up until today.

Whether we merge with another small struggling church, get incorporated by a growing church without a building, hire someone with the right vision for our ministry to gain momentum, or close the doors and give the church building and property to a Christian ministry, we will serve a risen Savior.

Me, I’m no longer watching my church die. I’m eagerly anticipating how God will resurrect and restore us.

The writer is an elder at Wildwood Christian Church in Hephzibah.


5 comments:

Gene said...

I would suggest that the "free hugs" mentality is a primary cause of declining church membership and theological decline.

ByzRC said...

Could not agree more with Gene. Replace authenticity with arguably superfluous symbolism and gestures, the urgency to attend will likely diminish. At church, I need: the eucharist, the word, other sacraments of the Church and the spirituality provided by rite and environment. I do not need a hug.

ByzRC said...

To clarify "I don't need a hug", I have little time for staged actions like what is noted in the posting. To the extent I experience a life event, I would gladly accept the spiritual and personal comfort of my priest and, parishioner friends in the same way that I provide when others experience the same. As we all are journeying together, that action feels genuine, "Hugs at 11" somehow, to me, seems staged and fake.

TJM said...

Gene, left-wing loons gotta be left-wing loons, reality be damned!

Anonymous said...

Bee here:

You mean to say "free hugs" isn't getting them stampeding at front door of the church? Well I'll be darned!

:-)

God bless.
Bee