One of the sobering realities of this pandemic is that we are seeing a growing lack of interest in church attendance and participation. Though most churches have pivoted to offer other forms of church participation like live streaming or drive-up church, the reality is most people have stopped connecting to their church altogether. I’ve read the statistics from several sources, and they all say about the same thing:
- One-third of regular church attenders have remained faithful to their church either in person or through live streaming.
- One-third of regular attenders have chosen to stream a different church’s service other than their home church.
- The remaining third has stopped participating in any church service in any form.
And the news doesn’t seem to have a happy ending. Many of these researchers believe that more than a third of pre-Covid church attenders will not be coming back when the pandemic is finally over. Jason Koon, an SBC pastor in North Carolina, recently wrote an article for baptistnews.com and made the point: “Whatever justifications we use to soften the blow, the fact is that we will likely never again see thousands who used to sit in our pews every Sunday. They have no plans to come back to church, and they’re probably not going to miss it.”
Koon then goes on to make a couple of observations that I think are worthy of consideration. First, he considers that fact that many of the people leaving the church really weren’t very committed in the first place. I would argue that this could be a sobering reality check that many of our church attenders might not have an orthodox understanding of the gospel or haven’t experience the glory of Christ in a way that leads to deep commitment and faithfulness. In other words, there may be many people in our pews on a regular basis that really don’t have saving faith. This is a very scary thought.
His second observation actually deals more with the church than it does with its members who are walking away. He asks several questions that should cause us to consider the ways we are doing church.
“Instead of blaming those who are leaving, we could step back and take a long, agonizing look at the expressions of faith they’re leaving behind. Why don’t they miss it? What about the way we do church falls so flat that committed Christians just don’t see the point anymore? Is it possible this exodus is not a culling of the churchgoers who are walking away, but an indictment against the expressions of faith they’re walking away from?”
Whatever your opinion about the current state of the church, I believe that our current situation is highlighting a problem that has been festering under the surface for many years. Churches have been losing ground slowly and steady for a couple of generations, but the decline has been slow enough not to ring any alarm bells. This pandemic has sounded the alarm. It has given people permission to finally make that decision they have been considering for some time. It is time for us to respond.
Finding the answers to these issues is much more complex than a short blog post, but I offer a few thoughts to at least get the ball rolling. One, churches need to preach the gospel. Much of our preaching either swings too far towards legalism or works based approval by God or too far the other way that features self-actualizing, self-help advice to help you live your best life now. The only message that changes a persons life is the message that Jesus Christ lived a perfect life, died on a criminal’s cross, and rose again on the third day to secure our forgiveness and to become our loving King. Two, those of us who are committed to Christ need to start living like the gospel really does change our lives. We need to be the friendliest, kindest, most helpful people in our communities. Too many times, we are known for our self-righteousness and exclusion. Third, we need to start being obedient to Jesus’s commands to go out and ‘make disciples.’ The number of Christians who never share their faith would shock many of us. There is nothing more important for the Church than to fulfill the mission for which we were organized.
The one thing I know about this church is that we want to be faithful to Christ and His calling on our lives.
Maybe this is the wakeup call that we all needed to reorient our lives around the one thing that truly matters as a human being – fulfill our humanity by reflecting the image and glory of God to the ends of the earth. If we work together, I know we can truly be a light in this darkness.