• Share
Empty pews

Image by Kevin Rawlings, licensed under Creative Commons.

No shows

The decline in worship attendance

Many people assume that there has been a steady decline in worship attendance for all the mainline denominations since the mid-1960s—the era when most of them began to see their memberships decline. But trends in attendance—usually thought to be a better indicator of church vitality than trends in membership—have actually followed their own patterns.

For example, the Episcopal Church re­ported higher attendance in 2000 than in any year since 1991, the year the denomination began recording attendance figures. The United Methodist Church re­ported worship attendance figures in 2000 that were higher than those in the mid-1980s. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America had relatively flat attendance rates in the years before 2001, and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in the 1990s had several years showing modest gains in attendance.

But the years following 2001 have shown a deep recession in worship attendance (see graph below). The losses in worshipers year after year were more dramatic than what data from the previous decade would have predicted.

David A. Roozen, reporting on the findings of the 2008 Faith Communities Today survey of American congregations of all types, points out that the "erosion of vitality" holds not only for "oldline" Protestants but also for evangelical Protestants, Catholics, Orthodox and "other world religions." The new century has brought a "retreat for America's congregations," according to Roozen.

One feature of the recent downturn in attendance is the changing pattern in large churches. In the United Methodist Church, large churches (those averaging 350 or more in attendance) showed steady attendance growth during the 1980s and significant growth during the 1990s, reaching a high point in 2001. Their decline in attendance began in 2002 and has continued every year since. If the large churches had held their attendance numbers at previous levels, there would still have been de-nom­inational decline, but much less. In essence, the smaller churches con­tinued and somewhat accelerated their decades-long decline while the large churches for the first time joined the decline.

There is one exception to the trend: churches averaging 1,000 or more in worship are still showing growth in most years, with 2008 marking their largest attendance figures ever. For the past four years, the only tier of United Methodist churches in which at least half of the churches showed an attendance increase is the group of churches averaging 1,000 or more in worship during the previous year.

No one knows the reason for the overall attendance drop, but three possible explanations are:

Worshipers attend less frequently. In addition to tracking weekly attendance numbers, some churches are tracking who actually worships during a month. Many pastors sense that the same individuals are worshiping throughout the year, but that they worship less often.

This impression gets some confirmation from the General Social Survey 2008 conducted by the National Opinion Center. It traced according to frequency the percentage of the adult population who attend worship. While the percentage of people who report attending church more than once a week has stayed steady over the years, the percentage saying they attend once a week has steadily gone down. Some pastors have observed that many members of their congregation identify themselves as regular church­goers even though they may attend only twice a month or less. In earlier times, being a regular churchgoer meant coming to worship almost every Sunday.

Aging constituencies. Mainline churches have a disproportionate number of mem­bers age 65 and older. This proportion will only grow more pronounced as the first of the baby boomers reach 65 in 2011. While it does not appear that death rates are changing dramatically in the mainline churches from year to year, many older members may not be attending as often—for health or other reasons.

The other side of this dilemma is the failure of churches to reach younger persons. This is particularly true for the smaller churches that constitute a large part of mainline denominations.

Lack of interest in religion. Adding to the challenge of reaching younger people is the fact that the age group in which self-identified adherents of "no religion" are found most is 25-34. Additional indicators of decreasing interest in church life are found in the General Social Survey 2008: fewer people report going to church "several times a year" and more people report going "once a year." Fewer report going "less than once a year" while many more report going "never." In fact, the attendance category that has grown the most since 1990 is "never."

Church attendance patterns are subject to greater fluctuation, at least in the short term, than membership figures. The relatively strong attendance of the 1990s did not carry over through the next decade. A renewed interest by denominations in reaching beyond traditional racial and class constituencies and in reaching younger people may lead to an increase in worshipers. But it's also possible that these denominations are approaching a tipping point: with fewer and increasingly older members, the shrinking attendance will make many congregations unsustainable. In the 21st century mainline churches will face perhaps their greatest challenge since they faced the American frontier of the 19th century.

Join the Conversation

Comments

No Shows

There may be one other reason for the growth of "No Shows." As attendance (and finances) have been declining, denominational leaders appear to have reacted by becoming far more constrictive in their approach to "managing" both clergy and congregations. I am a United Methodist pastor who has experienced, along with countless of my colleagues, a overbearing bishop. It seems that the more the congregations shrink in numbers, the tighter his grip becomes, literally choking the life out of both clergy and the congregations we serve (or used to serve).

fear leads to control

we too have watched ELCA bishops tighten their grips on rostered leaders as well as congregations without pastors (another huge problem). these actions come out of fear. fear of losing influence, losing control. as congregations "cut out the middle man" and out of good stewardship practices, give directly to the missions and ministries they desire to prayerfully support rather than give blank checks to bureaucratic, self-interested denominational hierarchical influencers who take their cut before passing the crumbs to those who truly need it. the ivory towers are cracking and beginning to crumble under their own ineffective weight. watch for news in the coming week of big layoffs in the ELCA (and listen to the cries from the influencers of "foul" against those who are being good stewards and the guilt they will attempt to pour on those who are voting with their pocketbooks). the ELCA is reaping what they have sown, and they have only themselves to blame for their current declining situation no matter who else they may try to lay the blame upon.

Without the BoD...

The dictator that is our bishop of the last two years has harmed more clergy, members and constituents than we can count. Followed only by the reign of terror of his henchman Dean of the Cabinet. We've been instructed to hospice the small non-paying church families. Members are leaving in droves as the fist tightens to bleed apportionments from people who simply want to come together to hear the Word and worship. This coupled with replacing sound, committed to small church ,ministry pastors with inexperienced puppets who will goose step to the demand for money or worse yet, cash demanding Elders who are so near retirement that they really do not care how many people leave the pew since they are on the way out the door. The UM denomination in my state is not following Wesley's prime directive nor are they following the BoD. The bishop and his henchman make a mockery of the Word daily, let alone the Discipline. It is a very sad decline in moral, trust and attendance. People here are voting with their feet and pocketbooks. We want the Word and the sacraments and integrity. Without that we are nothing but sounding brass.

After 55 years in a denomination in which I placed my trust and found my calling, I am ashamed to say I am a UM in NY.

We have become that which we eschew.

Only Divine intervention can turn this around but we must seek and embrace the Word and pray for it!!

An issue here, too

The manic panic of the Bishop is certainly a factor at work among morale of North Alabama UM's.The Bishop publically boasts that he wants to inflict pain on the clergy, but cannot comprehend why that does not make them want to send more money to hedaquarters.

missing the big reasons

context: a 30-year young Lutheran congregation; we have 650 in weekly attendance (and rising); growth coming from families with young children (under age 15); our church left the ELCA last year after years of watching ELCA seminaries, publications and influencers re-interpret God's Word and pursue justice while abandoning mission. this article is missing the big reasons for the death of the mainline. big reason #1 ... the move away from historical teaching and deferring to biblical authority in all 4 of these "featured" mainlines. big reason #2 ... preaching from a lectionary that has little to no application of God's Word to people's daily lives by ordained clergy who have no missional passion for the Great Commission. big reason #3 ... an increasing awareness of the laity that in the vast majority of mainline churches there is a complete loss of the concept of "priesthood of all believers" by an elitist clergy who see themselves as the only ones worthy of DOING church when the laity want to truly BE the church - what ever happened to "equipping the saints (ie laity) to do the work of the church"? our congregation is growing younger and larger because we, guided by the Holy Spirit, intentionally attempt to defeat all 3 of these big 3 reasons. people are spiritual, they have God-shaped holes in their lives that they try to fill with stuff and/or stale religion (as opposed to true faith and an alive, active relationship with Jesus Christ). mainlines need more Spirit-driven faith; less humanistic (and heretical) reinterpretations of Scripture, less religion, and less secular agendas / politics.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder

My own denomination, the United Methodists have no choice whatsoever but to decline and die like a once glorious but now irreversibly dying star. The denomination is a thoroughly narcissistic organization and probably most of the Bishops who have the power of everything but the power over life and death are NPDs.

Death to denominationalism : yes to Christ.

Not Just "Liberal Policies" or "Heavy-Handed Leadership"

Thank you, Dr. Weems, for giving us this statistical perspective and for such an even-handed reading of what these statistics mean-- not just for the four denominations in the chart, but indeed for Christianity in the US more generally.

My wife is an Episcopal priest, and I have worked closely with colleagues in the ELCA national office as part of the UMC/ELCA full communion agreement, as well as on the Consultation on Common Texts. I've also worked closely with TEC and PCUSA colleagues through the CCT.

What I've seen and heard in these years shows me that SOME of the decline in this decade can be traced to some of the more open policies these three denominations have taken toward non-heterosexual persons. Some, but hardly all. The Episcopal Church's official position actually hardened a bit in 2006, despite the election of an openly gay bishop. (Ask any knowledgeable Episcopalian about B033, and they'll tell you that!). That was only reversed, to a degree, by the General Convention of 2009. ELCA only altered its official position in 2009. And PCUSA only in 2010-- and some of the jury is still out on that one. For these latter two denominations, these official changes would not even have registered in the statistics you cite. Meanwhile, the UMC during the same period actually tightened its restrictions. Yet our denomination's average worship attendance has declined precipitously as well.

As for "heavy handed leaders," I'm sure every denomination has some of those, and all of us probably always will. But I don't discern this to be a norm among the leaders in any of these four denominations with whom I have worked. And the "tightening of the reins" in the UMC (manifested most clearly in "dashboard metrics" for pastoral performance) is a fairly recent phenomenon, largely post 2008, and so one that does not account, really, for at least the first half of the decade where declines were just as precipitous.

Alongside the three possible contributors you cite, I might add a fourth: the larger cultural plausibility structures for Christianity as expressed in congregational life (and so average Sunday worship attendance) have also suffered serious degradation nearly everywhere but the more affluent and often more culturally (and economically) homogeneous suburbs. I think Peter Berger is right that if a religion doesn't create compelling plausibility structures for itself either internally (as an alternative culture) or externally (with strong support from the surrounding culture), it is likely to face this very thing. More conservative and sectarian faith communities sometimes do a somewhat better job of creating "internal" plausibility structures, but the external ones are largely broken or absent, with little sign of repair or return in sight.

And this, along with an actual concomitant real decline, I would argue, was already underway in the 1990s and before. I tend to think that the "success" of the megachurches seemed to distract from the decline everywhere else. In my own conference (North Indiana, now Indiana), for example, we experienced a bit of an increase in worship attendance while at the same time a decline in professing membership through the second half of the 1990s and into the early 2000s. But the modest rise in worship attendance could be entirely accounted for by the impressive increases in attendance in a few very large and mega-churches that slightly offset the losses nearly everywhere else. In other words, even when it looked like our numbers were up, at the level of most of the congregations, by and large they were not.

This pattern of more precipitous decline, then, probably did not happen overnight, or just in this decade, for many if not most of our congregations. Nor do I think it will be dramatically reversed quickly. Indeed, the three factors you cite, and the fourth I have noted, may tend to suggest we are in for significant challenges, both missionally and institutionally, for the foreseeable future. The heart of those challenges, though, is not about returning to where we were in the 1950s, or even where we thought we were in the 1990s. It has to be about being where we actually are here and now, living as disciples of Jesus among our actual neighbors, finding a future with hope that may not look like the metrics of success (rising attendance and dollars) we had come to expect in the more recent past-- but maybe, just maybe, looking a bit more like the "holiness of heart and life," personally and socially, that John Wesley and Jesus showed us we could experience because God's reign has drawn near.

Peace in Christ,

Taylor Burton-Edwards

Don't Negate the Role of the Extremes

"Liberal Policies" and "Heavy-Handed Leadership" are extreme polar opposites. We dare not deny the effect of tearing the middle apart as these two extremes pull the denominations in opposing directions at the same time. The fabric is already weakened from the light shone upon scandals within a number of denominations and congregations - most notably the Roman Catholic Church.

As Dr. Weems points out, worship attendance and church membership has been in decline (with a few blips up) since the 1960's. This, also, has had a negative impact that has contributed to our current situation.

My opening comment that began this conversation took no issue with the article provided by Dr. Weems. Indeed, I find myself agreeing with the points presented therein. Nor did he offer the three reasons as an exhaustive list of causes. My offer of an additional cause was presented because I see heavy-handed leadership on the grow, without a great deal of resistance coming forth.

In the news this past month, we have been made aware of an increase in suicides among young people as a result of bullying - in school, on-line, in person. As a faith group, Christians must take a stand to stop bullying wherever we see it. We must especially address it when we see it within our own ranks. Jesus gave us that example on many occasions. Bottom line: Bullying can and does contribute to suicide. Our congregations are committing suicide in the face of heavy-handed bullies who are at the helm.

As I previewed this response, I have apparently offered two possible additions to the list of possible causes for decline: Murder AND Suicide.

Heavy-handed bullies at the helm.

I recently resigned as the Director of Religious Education at a PC(USA) church. I am the second to do so in the past three years. We have also gone through two youth directors and two children's music directors in the same timeframe. The bullies that sit on Session and run that church are chasing all the good people away, and yet they are either re-elected or replaced by more bullies. I heard recently that a forum was called to discuss the reasons behind the decline in church attendance, and so for this specific church I'd like to offer another reason for decline in church attendance: Idiocy

Don't Negate the Role of the Extremes

"Liberal Policies" and "Heavy-Handed Leadership" are extreme polar opposites. We dare not deny the effect of tearing the middle apart as these two extremes pull the denominations in opposing directions at the same time. The fabric is already weakened from the light shone upon scandals within a number of denominations and congregations - most notably the Roman Catholic Church.

As Dr. Weems points out, worship attendance and church membership has been in decline (with a few blips up) since the 1960's. This, also, has had a negative impact that has contributed to our current situation.

My opening comment that began this conversation took no issue with the article provided by Dr. Weems. Indeed, I find myself agreeing with the points presented therein. Nor did he offer the three reasons as an exhaustive list of causes. My offer of an additional cause was presented because I see heavy-handed leadership on the grow, without a great deal of resistance coming forth.

In the news this past month, we have been made aware of an increase in suicides among young people as a result of bullying - in school, on-line, in person. As a faith group, Christians must take a stand to stop bullying wherever we see it. We must especially address it when we see it within our own ranks. Jesus gave us that example on many occasions. Bottom line: Bullying can and does contribute to suicide. Our congregations are committing suicide in the face of heavy-handed bullies who are at the helm.

As I previewed this response, I have apparently offered two possible additions to the list of possible causes for decline: Murder AND Suicide.

My experiece supports reason #1

Our worship attendance grew from 2004 to 2008. Since then, we have seen a slight decline. We track who is attending worship, and the only thing I see is that people are attending less frequently. I have not noticed a trend of many people who have walked away.

I am curious if other churches have seen a decline since the recession began. I am wondering if people are staying away, because they don't want their church family to know about the loss of their job or financial distress?

No Shows

It is true that young people have lost confidence in religion. They have not, however, lost desire for authentic spirituality. Sadly, most of us who are boomers and older experience "church" as a building to which persons come. For young people, "church" is what we are called to be 24/7. Those of us who seek to have and to hold our physical facilities, deserve to see attendance decline right along with that of many other traditional service organizations. Those who are engaged in the world as Christ's body will not count attendance but will report conversations and relationships with pre-Christians.

The 2001 Factor

I noticed the huge difference in the '90's and the first decade of the 21st Century. I remember reading that the Sunday of highest worship attendance in the country was the Sunday AFTER 9/11/2001. On that Sunday, people flocked to the churches seeking solace and meaning in the tragedy. But within a month attendance was back down to the "normal" level or lower. I wonder if people came to the church looking for some meaning but were somehow disappointed or even put off. I wonder if this experience confirmed for them their nagging suspicion that the church really was irrelevant to "real" life.

attendence

I think the lack of attendence is 2 fold; people schedule many other things Sunday mornings and there's inherent conflict; and second: many people lack a sense of who God is, and what their relationship with him might be; ie. they lack any sense of the reality of God's love. Very little in the average church service addresses this thirst.
I have been practicing christian meditation and lectio divina for many years. Both of these traditions can lead one to a sense of God.

Just speaking for one person, me

My friend, who is a Methodist minister, shared this article with me via facebook. I can understand why church leaders - and probably many members - would be highly concerned about this downward trend. Like you, I would like to know the reasons.

I am 55 and stopped going to church when I was 40. I was active at the time in a Unity Church and sang in the church's variety show. I turned my song, "Cabaret," into a teasing tribute to our pastor. Afterward, I learned the good Rev. was leaving ... and that the board had run him out. That was the final straw for me in my "religious" life.

Although I was raised Catholic, my Lutheran husband and I joined a Lutheran congregation when I was pregnant with our daughter (now 31). After being a passive Catholic, I became an active leader in that church. My first husband and I divorced; he got custody of the church, and I found a Presbyterian church. I loved the Lutheran church, but ran into heavy politics in the Pres, church. My next (and last) stop was the Unity church but I also became disillusioned by its politics (when they ran out the pastor I really liked).

So, politics is one reason. Another is I found attending church services to often be a lonely experience as a single adult. Maybe that's part of this trend, since (what?) 50% of marriages end in divorce.

That's my perspective. I am perfectly comfortable saying I am "spiritual, not religious" and do not belong to any church. People still minister to me, and I still minister to people.

By the way, my daughter married a member of the B'hai faith in 2002 and decided to join him a few years later. She said she was tired of Christian hypocrisy. I agree with her, but have not followed her, because I don't want to belong to any religious organization.

I hope this helps.

Leaving the Christian faith because of hypocrisy in it

If there were a "perfect" religion or church it would be because Jesus had returned to earth and was leading it. You will never find perfect. There will be disappointment and hypocrisy. Do not turn away from Jesus because of that. Satan has just won the battle when you do that. Maybe you have to change churches, and maybe you have to be the "change" within the church you are at. Do you need to hear the Gospel for your faith to grow? Yes. Do you need to be among other believers? Yes. The answer is not in disowning Jesus as your Lord and Savior. The answer is in finding a church that still teaches from the Bible where people make up the congregation and forgiveness is at work 24/7. My Lutheran church will never be perfect, but God is alive and well at it! When we actually practice forgiveness and agape love it takes the importance off of me and what I think I should have and puts it right back at sharing the Gospel with the World. Trinity Luteran Church in Roselle Illinois ROCKS - Jesus is King!!! Gail Kab

two factors I rarely hear in these discussions -

One of the resources I've found to be very helpful to understanding this is the sociological research of Robert Putnam, which can be explored at www.bowlingalone.com and in the book, BOWLING ALONE: THE COLLAPSE AND REVIVAL OF AMERICAN COMMUNITY (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000).

The gist is the social balkanization of human community, such that we are all disconnected from each other. The church, Putnam asserts, is the #1 creator of social linkages between people, so declining worship attendance is both a cause and a result of this problem. Another key to understanding Putnam's observations is that they are not about human interactions or volunteerism or relationships via social media - they are about the decline of relationships where there is an ongoing, consistent commitment required.

This leads to a variety of doom prophecies ... the most interesting one I've found is mentioned in an address in 2005 by a Barna research associate predicting a massive exodus - if I understand it correctly - of 2/3 of evangelicals from worship attendance or any church involvement by 2020 - not the mainline.

If so, it's likely that what "everyone knows to be true" about church growth is no longer true.

Explanations of the explanations

Thank you Lovett for focusing our attention on the data with a hopeful new way of expressing what is happening in mainline churches. The term "worship recession" is an encouragment to work at turning the recession around by digging for the reasons behind that data. Here are some additions to the conversation from my experience as to why these explanations have had such an impact on attendance.

People are attending church less frequently because of overcommitment & other priorities, and because of discouragement and even disgust with organized religion. I see four areas where congregations and denominations often fail to honor biblical teachings: failure to provide hospitality to members and visitors, failure to challenge members to grow spiritually and in practice, failure to provide or coordinate life-changing mission experiences, and failure to acknowledge and respond to moral failures/misconduct of church leadership and other traumatic community events. It is not only the Catholic Church that has lost integrity by perpetuating harm against church members. When leadership makes it clear they will not lead, members often vote with their feet.

Or, sometimes members "dig in" and hostility becomes a factor that undermines the growth of churches from within. Or is it rigidity or fear of change that contributes to "closed congregations"? Many churches with aging constituents welcome young people and new ideas, yet as many are unwelcoming to outsiders, undermine any efforts to modify worship or update financial practices, and decline to "go forth and make disciples." Such negativity will ensure further decline.

I agree with the writer who said or implied that interest in spirituality is high. It is organized religion that turns people off. Long gone are the days when one goes to church because that is what "good" people do. The churches that are growing are more concerned about opening up pathways for spiritual growth, constructive fellowship, and mission opportunities that encourage people to come to meaningful worship designed to celebrate God at work in our midst.

No Shows

I have read all the comments and agree with many of them. The management by UM Conferences, pressure on the clergy that they do have, high apportionments, etc. I just want to inspire some hope. Our church has a group of young parents that wanted good religeous education for their children and came up with a fabulous corriculum. With their enthusiasm, committment, the backing of the congregation young AND OLD and pastors that are open to new ideas and internet communication savy we now seeing a growth of young people with children. They do not bring in much stewardship committment and actually cost a lot to support BUT they are bringing life and excitement to our church. We also are having singles of a certain age, not young/not old, and they too are excited about the little children and all the ministries available in our small loving church. They have felt the freedom to start new ministries that touch their hearts. I think the important thing to do is encourage new ideas, provide support and give room for the new type of Christian to grow in faith and someday be the leaders of the church. Stick with same old, same old and we will eventually close down.

the end of the Enlightenment

One aspect of decline in church membership rarely mentioned is the impact of movement away from the Enlightenment into Modernism, Post-Modernism, etc.
The Reformation was a product of the Enlightenment which held up the individual as more important than the community, believed that everything could ultimately be explained by reason or science, that scientific law was immutable, that humanity was on a trajectory of increased goodness, etc. We now live in an era where we know from particle physics that scientific laws are not immutable; the community--the parish, neighborhood, nation, world--has an impact on other communities and is necessary as we no longer live in extended families and often spend hours before a computer; the universe will never be understood, but is infinite, beyond our grasp; and, sadly, we continue to have genocide and war--we are probably the same as we always were.
What is Protestantism in this new era? Where is solid ground to stand on as everything changes at exponential speed? Why aren't denominations looking at the ways in which their ethos can continue in strength--what can be emphasized, what needs to be shed like old skin? Until we are able to hold meaning in the midst of this extraordinary change, I fear that we will continue to diminish.
People in their 20s and 30s are remarkably absent from our pews. Yet there are many points of connection--an increased interest and comfort with mystery, and an ability to live without answers to every question being two which resonate with some approaches to worship. How do we hold meaning for people in their 90s and these people of a different time, a different world. It is a challenge, but one that we need to address.

Why worship decline?

Three things tend to bring people to worship (members or seekers): big visions, credible leadership, and a real opportunity to change the world (or at least the neighborhood). I'm a consultant who has worked with churches of all denominations for 20 years ... and see a decline in all three. Compare the INCREASE in volunteering for non-profit organizations (and yes, faith-based non-profit organizations).

Why worship decline?

Each of your three points are totally valid. However, the number one thing that brings people to worship is ... other people. Yes, the truth is that an invitation from another is still the number one factor in increasing attendance. Relevant ministry (including sermons), and integrity in everything are foundational for effective ministry. I fear that these two key ingredients are what is missing from congregations that are dwindling. I, too, have served as a consultant, and as a pastor with a record of growing "difficult" congregations. If we provide ministry that is relevant in an environment of integrity, people will go out of their way to be invitational. They will be open to new ideas. And they will step aside from leadership roles upon which they have held a death-grip to make way for new, younger leaders to care for their treasured church. The church will experience growth.

passing on the faith

I'm a 40 year old ELCA pastor who grew up in the denomination and served many years in several congregations and a camp ministry. I can not explain the time frame of these attendance changes any better than the article author or those who have already contributed. But as for attendance decline in general, I would say it was inevitable. The majority of participation/attendance I've seen among older generations has been on the basis of duty, cultural expectation, a sense of obligation. In the midst of years of this, their children were (for the most part) not handed a vibrant living faith or compelling Christian beliefs, devotion, etc. WIth a decrease in cultural expectation to participate/attend many have realized no one else cares if I'm involved -- & asked themselves: 'why would I want to be?' They didn't come up with a good answer/reason.

We may need to invite people to worship, but the bigger more important question is to the active members: what am I inviting people to? What will they find here that they want to be part of? Are we living out Christ lives, Christ faith in such a way that anyone will find our community and ministry compelling, life giving, world changing?

re: what are we inviting them to?

That is the essential question.  Too often, we'd be inviting them to a place where the pastor is acting out his Reformation reenactment fantasy, and the people are there out of duty, but nothing spiritually dynamic is happening.  Yes, unless you're born into it or have a sense of duty and tradition, why would you go to such a place?

IMHO

I only scanned the comments but all the complaining about bishops and new fangled theology point, IMHO, to the real culprit – everybody else :-) Couldn't be us? Couldn't be that mainstream protestant clergy are completely irrelevant. Nobody wants to listen to us. I know I don't.

Interesting that it all started after 2001...

No Shows

I have read and agree with much what what is being said here but, I think, the comments are skirting the real issue which is: We are taking God and His Spirit out of the church just as surely as the secular world has done.

From the Bishops acting like the Pharisees (according to a lot of the comments) to younger folks not finding what they need to fill that empty spot in their hearts (according to other comments) is because the Good News of Christ and the Kingdom of God is no longer being taught in the churches. And...well...this is what you wind up with, dropping attendance.

The truth of this statement can be readily seen, at least in the Methodist Church, by how few members actually bring their Bibles to Church. This because they know they won't need them. We have effectively taken the Bible (God's Word) out of their hands. Very few actually pick up the pew Bible during a service or one at home. God's Spirit, the thing that binds Christians together, the thing that gets people excited enough to tell other people they should come to their church is slowly ebbing out of our churches.

Dropping attendance is in direct proportion to the dropping of God's Word. His Spirit, the glue that holds everything together for maintenance and increase, simply, is leaving it. People are not being filled with what they really need, what they came hoping to find in the first place. And thus churches are slowly becoming worldly social clubs which are easy to leave or unchurched people seeing the lives of increasingly worldly church members deciding not to come.

More to it

Friend, I attend a conservative Reformed church where "dropping of God's word" is not a problem; and yet the church has steadily dropped these past 20 years.  If people don't find something relevant or credible or admirable, they simply won't come back. It has a lot more to do than doctrinal fidelity, I think it's a structural problem about the church's place in the modern world.

Yes, and even more

The words church and modern world almost seem antithetical.  However, there are individual congregations who seem to find a way to meld the two in ways that seem to the preponderance of others to be miraculous.  Christ called we who are disciples to be in the world, not of it.  Churches that are willing to step outside the safety of the box (read church building) to BE the church every day will undoubtedly experience growth.  St. Francis said, "Preach at every opportunity; use words if necessary."  To be relevant in this modern world is to practice this Franciscan calling.  Sermons in the sanctuary have their place, but if they don't inspire the congregation to live their own sermons in the world in which we make our way, they are of no use.  And if the pastor's words are ONLY words, and lack the integrity to back them up, those words should never be uttered in the first place.

Basketball great, Charles Barkley once replied to a challenge against his "bad behavior" that he didn't ask to be a role model.  However, whether or not he asked for it, his place in our world had made him one - for better or for worse.  We who serve as clergy, like Mr. Barkley, are role models - for better or worse.  When people observe our words and actions they look for honesty and integrity.  And they look for these qualities to be lacking, as well.  If we act differently than we speak, we are either leading people astray, or we are driving them away.  And addressing other prior comments, when we fail to remove negative models from leadership positions in the church, we also fail at the all-important integrity.  This is true whether the person is at the lowest level of leadership in the local church, or at the highest level in the denomination.

People will trust and follow a leader with integrity.  Part of the problem today is that betrayal of integrity has made the issue of trust more difficult to prove.  Only time and consistency will earn that trust - which must, then, never be betrayed.  It is this high level of integrity in bringing the good news of Jesus Christ into the world that will arouse enough curiosity - and eventually connection - to again fill our places of worship, and eventually fund and staff (volunteers are staff, too) the ministries to which God has called all people of faith.

Why not follow Europe?

It's common knowledge that the world is getting smaller and cultures are blending, especially throughout the western world.  The U.S. has long been the holdout of 1st World countries with respect to belief and church attendance.  It's coming to an end, folks.  The number of non-believers is rising quickly (and not just the under-35 crowd).  Science _can_ explain the origin of the universe (see Lawrence Krauss) and a casual historical lookback confirms that the origin of our "God" came from fear and ignorance (and only after ~thousand years of polytheism). People are fed up with all the "faith-based murder", which still continues today, how many years after the Crusades and witch trials?  Reject silopsism and own your life -- a very compelling and liberating message.  The churches that motivate with fear will hang in there for a while but eventually rationality will win over dated mythology.  Better get ready...

Internet and Cable Tv

I have often wondered about the correlation of mass media and the decline if religion in America. Before the onslaught of the media, people believed, through faith, what their minister or preacher said. Country people, who lived in the hollars and hills, were taught the same thing for hundreds of years without any reason to doubt. Now look at today.. Christian beliefs are persecuted and ridiculed on TV programs and news...everyday we are bombarded with shows about doubt or that God doesn't exist... Ancient Aliens...Our Inner Fish... Programs that teach that we evolved without any God. Kids born in the 80s have been exposed to this their whole life and probably have young kids -- all if whom are bit showing up on Sundays. This is just my opinion though. From someone who was saved and a dedicated Christian, at 50, and having been exposed to this myself, I am consumed with doubt. It's a sad situation. I have tried to turn it around but I think there's just too much doubt there anymore. It would be nice if someone could find some correlating information to see if there is any connection. Thanks

Join the Conversation via Facebook

To post a comment, log inregister, or use the Facebook comment box.