The State of Christianity in U. S.

When I refer to the State of Christianity, I’m not referring to our country itself or even Christianity’s influence, but what is happening with Christianity in the geographic region known as the United States.

Formal figures show a decline of church attendance. And to be known as one who is a church member and attends once was seen as positive, but now being known as a church attender can be negative in some circles or at best, have no effect on how one is viewed.

There are some considerations to keep in mind. Let’s say that church X 40 years ago had 400 active members. At the time being active would have meant in many circles as being present at worship every Sunday. So, the attendance at a Sunday morning worship would have been 400. Now I realize that some people may be unable to attend due to sickness and probably there would be some visitors, but the point is that church leaders could generally count on such a group being there each Sunday.

Now let’s say that a few years ago church X has an average attendance of 200. So only half as many people are attending. But let’s say some further analysis is done–the congregation tracks who comes over a month, which will be four Sundays for the illustration. That congregation may find that there are 400 people, but they only come on average two Sundays out of the month.

Let’s take church X today. The attendance is down to a 100 average for each Sunday. But by tracking attenders it’s found that there are 400 people, but they only average attending once a month.

There are still people who attend every Sunday in today’s world, but commitment to attendance to down overall. So, there is some encouragement for church leaders. You may have an influence on more people than you realize, but the commitment to weekly attendance is down.

Among the reasons would be that a good percentage of people have to work on Sundays. Sports teams for children and teens once did not practice or play games on Sunday, but now many do practice on the Lord’s day. So, parents make the decision that their kids will play on a team and so they are not in church. We can’t count on culture to follow our norms or expectations.

On the drop in the number of people affiliated with churches, there may be a silver lining. We’ve been warned about the rise in the number of “none’s.” The “none’s” are those who are listed as having no religious affiliation.

An article in the July 28, 2022 edition of the Wall Street Journal takes issue with the view of declining attendance at religious services. The opinion piece, written by Bryon Johnson and Jeff Levin show the problems with the polling on church affiliation.

The authors note that there are thousands of new church plants, which are new congregations that have been started across our country.

Also, the way polling has been done. Let’s say you have a poll where you are asked your religious affiliation. You can check off various denominations such as Baptist, Roman Catholic, Episcopal, Methodist and Presbyterian. And the final area you can check off is “none of the above.” Let’s say you attend a non-denominational congregation, so you check off none of the above. The survey includes you among the “none’s.” That’s one of its flaws.

I’m also going to make a personal observation as one who has been a pastor for a number of years. Many of the young people I meet in churches are highly committed believers in Christ. They take Bible study and prayer seriously. From observing I see people who are intently focused on the Lord.

In years past I’ve observed lots of people who have come to church, but it seemed to be mostly social. I realize this requires a judgment that could be dangerous for me, but from conversations I would meet people who seemed to just attend church because it was the thing to do. I even remember one lady in a congregation I served who told me she felt we shouldn’t take all of this (living for God) too seriously. I think many more were not bold enough to say that out loud.

Yes, ministry is tough. But as we look at the challenges, let’s acknowledge the positive aspects that are happening.

“…let us watch out for one another to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day approaching” (Heb. 10:24-25).

Ashton C. Smith, Church Consultant

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