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Church bears some responsibility for membership decline

Posted: September 4, 2012 - 11:07pm

Opinions vary as to how much, depending on who you ask, but most major religious surveys agree on the over-arching (and somewhat alarming) data that shows church attendance is in rapid decline. This trend is no respecter of denominations, as the mainline Christian church across the board continues to decrease in numbers.

I find this data alarming indeed, but not for reasons one might expect from a pastor.

Among the many reasons “experts” offer as the cause for this decline are a shifting morality in our culture, the abundance of negative influences and the overall decay of societal values.

What makes the decline so alarming for me is our reluctance to admit that we in the church might be part of the problem. While all of the reasons stated above may well be true, the church itself bears some of the responsibility. Most of the people who fall into those statistics are what we often refer to as “de-churched.” That is to say, they have had some kind of interaction with the church sometime during their lifetime, but at the present are not currently affiliated with any organized religious group.

At the top of the list of things people cite as being wrong with the church is an attitude of condemnation and judgement. There is a story in the New Testament that brings such an attitude into clear focus. A woman was caught in the act of a terrible sin (of that, even she had no doubt.) For her sin, she was nearly stoned to death by the religious types who were armed with their rules and rocks.

They had already judged, and were well on their way to condemning and executing her when Jesus stepped in and offered an alternate solution. He loved her, most likely embraced her, and then extended to her life-changing grace and forgiveness.

Two very different responses, with two very different outcomes.

I don’t know all the reasons, in some cases excuses, people have for leaving the church. I am, however, willing to acknowledge some of their reasons are very legitimate.

The church is a strange mix of the divine and human. The sacred and the profane come head to head inside the walls of the religious institution. For all the good the church does, and there is much, it also gets it wrong sometimes. When we get it wrong, it often results in people getting hurt.

Such is the potential when a perfect God is represented by an imperfect people. I am sure I have contributed to the hurt along the way. Sadly, with our humanity we sometimes build barriers that hide the holy.

That story I mentioned earlier offers an important lesson. When the time comes that a person senses a desire to deal with his or her shortcomings, there are two responses that potentially can change the outcome of his or her life.

As the faith community we can choose rules and rocks or love and grace. If we choose the latter, more people might be willing to give the church, and thus God, a second chance to love them. The church has to offer love and an authentic, meaningful worship experience that has relevance to a person’s life if it hopes to stop and reverse the downward trend.

Thankfully, there are some faith communities out there that understand this and seek to demonstrate it. It is my deepest hope that people don’t give up looking for one simply because they have found too many that don’t.

(Randy Monk is pastor of Covenant United Methodist Church in Evans.)

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soapy_725

The "life" question

Do sinful humans need to be confronted with their sin? Do sinful humans need to be embraced and accepted in their sin? The story of the woman caught in adultery is so often used without the full extent of her encounter with Jesus. The religious leaders knew she had sinned. Jesus knew she had sinned. The woman knew she had sinned. There was a written message from Almighty God that stated the life choices that separated God from sinful man.

We cannot find forgiveness of sin without acknowledgement of sin. Disobedient to God's will and purpose. Everyone is not in agreement with the biblical process to please God.

Once humans came to "church" to find peace with God. To hear the Word that generates faith. To accept or reject the Word. To become a disciple of Christ or not.

Now it seems that a lot of "churches" are merely social gathering where sinful humans can accept and forgive each other without the Word. Without acknowledgement of their sin and need of repentance. The Word that leads to a life everlasting experience.

Maybe the church has become just like the "sinful world" and therefore does not offer a difference to those seeking the truth about salvation. Instead of a "light" that shows evil as barrier to God, gray shadows of tolerance and a hiding place for sin exist. I'm okay, You're okay has replaced "thus sayeth the Lord".

The woman, met Jesus, acknowledged her sin, was forgiven by Jesus and told to "go and sin no more". Jesus did not say, "Where are your human accusers? Okay, since all of the other humans are sinners and none can accuse you, you must be okay". We all love and embrace you.

The Good News of Jesus Christ cannot be proclaimed in its full power without message of "you must be born again". You must accept God's way even it it hurts your flesh in this life.

We are talking about churches that prepare humans for eternity in the presence of God, right?

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