Decline in church attendance

I have just read Martin Marty’s latest essay in his series “Sightings.” The title of the essay is “America’s decline in church attendance.”  Marty sites another recent article in The Christian Century entitled “No shows: The decline in church attendance” by Lovett H. Weems, Jr.

In his article Weems notes the trend in mainline Protestant churches toward older and aging congregations (the first Baby Boomers will reach 65 in 2011). He notes that mainline churches have not attracted younger members to worship very well:

The other side of this dilemma [aging congregations]  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.” Read the article

I can see the truth of these statements in my own beloved parish,  St. Margaret’s. At the same time I know that many are working diligently to invite (key word, invite) others into relationship with Christ through the worship and work of this congregation. I know that these efforts are made because of the heartfelt knowledge (not always articulated) pointed to by Martin Marty:

Some readers may wonder why in columns like this, which are to be about “public religion,” we talk about church and synagogue (etc.) attendance and participation–aren’t their institutions part of “private religion?” Emphatically no. They are the bearers of traditions, the living expositors of sacred texts, the tellers of stories, the troop-suppliers for voluntary activities, the shapers of values fought over in the political realms.

Why are they declining? Certainly not because a few atheists write best-sellers. I always look for the simplest causes, such as rejection of drab and conflicted congregations and denominations. Or changes in habits. I watch the ten thousands running past in Sunday marathons or heading to the kids’ soccer games and recall that their grandparents and parents kept the key weekend times and places open for sacred encounters. Oh, and “being spiritual” is not going to help keep the stories, the language of ethics, and the pool of volunteers thriving. Their disappearance has consequences. Read the entire essay

I care because I do indeed believe that declining worship attendance does have consequences. My statement of faith. I believe that the God who saw the misery of the People in Egypt, who heard their cries, knew their suffering and chose to deliver them (Exodus 3:7-8) is the same God who promised to be with us always (and act in the same manner set forth in Exodus in issues both large and small if we would respond “Yes”).

May we listen more carefully, speaking words of Good News, and doing those things which bring people together in the love of God, a love we know and trust.


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