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Omaha, Nebraska, United States
I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Let's imagine a creative future with God and each other together. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Decline of Christianity in the USA

Jon Meacham of Newsweek has a pretty good article on some recent stats involving religious involvement in Christianity in the USA. Pretty much 25% of people, centered mostly in the Northwest and Northeast parts of this country have no interest in Christianity...Meacham concludes, and I think rightly, that America is finally starting to live out the dream Madison and Jefferson had for this country 200 years ago. Note that still 3 out of 4 people are Christian in this country, and that is no small percentage, however, at the rate of declination from the past 20 years, by the time I am dead (hopefully about 40 years from now) Christians should be in the minority in this country...
The question for us Christians is this: is this a good thing or a bad thing? Or, another way to ask this question, is it God's intention for everyone to be Christian? (Or, at least like Moses and other Jewish people have some kind of ancestral relationship to Christianity?) Is that really what God wants?...
One of the things I find interesting about Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ of God, is that he had a large following, but they way he did it was so simple...he healed people, fed them when the were hungry, and had compassion for them, which many experienced in his stories and speeches...He never added any laws, rules, or regulations to his religious followers, but rather asked them to take seriously the ones they already had..."I have come to fulfill the law and the prophets, not abolish them..."
He didn't attract people through laws...he didn't do it through miracles and signs...(although many people wanted him to do it that way, and apparently thought he could)...yet when Christians today try to atttract people to Jesus we often choose laws, miracles, and signs...the very things HE rejected...
This is why ministries that seek to attract people to Jesus are ultimately doomed to fail...even if they "succeed" for a few years or even decades...they cannot sustain because they are not the way of God in Christ Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit...God calls people by mission not attraction...We are called to sustain and steward the world through mission, not manipulate it through attraction...
Congregations often get this wrong...They try to "attract" people to their ministries by being relevant, or offering something people "need" (like child care or events for senior adults)...they use worship to attract people rather than engage people...and that might work for a while. People might find that need useful...they might find that worship lively...they might find themselves discovering God as if for the first time...and those congregations might grow, but it cannot last because it is not the way of Christ, not the way of God and the Holy Spirit...
What Christians celebrate this week is a way of suffering (the via dolorosa, the "road of sadness.") But here's the thing...according to those recent polls most people don't want to celebrate sadness, don't want to acknowledge the truth of the cross, the power of suffering to transform death into they don't...and Christianity me the amazing thing about the USA is not that there are less Christians than before, but that there are actually...
any at all...


Beth said...

I so miss you. A lot of times with our new church leadership I see changes being made to "attract" rather than to serve. And how does one handle the plaqueing doubt that our church foundation is the part suffering. Or perhaps that is an all too human doubt that is self-serving instead of God serving.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if I used to attend the same church that Beth does--or did? Yes, I think so. 'Used to' being the key words.
I personally became turned off from 'church' buildings due to things that happened in that church.
Things that didn't feel Godly.
Treatment from the 'leadership' that was not Godly.
It felt more and more like a stage show or concert, then the baskets were passed around to collect money.
The sermons were about giving more money and less about teaching the Word of God.
Favorite old time gospel songs were replaced with more 'upbeat, feel-good' music. Not that the new songs aren't nice--they are--but it seemed geared for attracting.
The "little church that could" grew and grew.
It doesn't look like it can any more.
It seems to have become a business far more than a church and place of worship. The ship is sinking.
I am no longer bitter--though I was for a while. The church that once was a haven--a home-- to me has long since dissipated. I have, however, in this painful process learned that God loves me no matter what, and it does not have to be centered around a church building. Frankly, I have rarely stepped back into a church since departing that one. I can go out and be a Christian in my daily life and worship God without that building. I can let Christ's light shine through me wherever I am!
Praise be to God!

Miss you Scott, very much. Your sermons spoke to me.