We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Walking Away Without Rancor or Regret

The Barna Group has recently published a study entitled, Churchless: Understanding Today's Unchurched and How to Connect with Them (Tyndale Momentum, 2014), which draws on data collected over the last two decades to examine trends in American attitudes towards church involvement.  In a summary piece, "Five Trends Among the Unchurched," the major findings of the study are summarized as follows:

  • Secularization Is on the Rise
  • People Are Less Open to the Idea of Church
  • Church going is no longer mainstream
  • There is less interest in worship and less loyalty to a single church
  • There Is Skepticism about Churches' Contributions to Society
In a sense, there is nothing new here.  We all know these trends are taking place and have generated a vast literature, which has had no visible influence on reversing them.  Meanwhile, our young people continue to walk away from the church without rancor and without regret.
What I suspect is not happening is that mainline churches that still have a degree of strength make any serious effort to address these issues themselves.  I suspect that the data and reflections contained in the vast literature on church decline are being little studied or discussed in local congregations.  And I suspect that there is a disinclination to do so.  This may be because the decline feels so overpowering that there seems little reason for even talking about it.  It is almost certain that there is little discussion because in many (most?) churches members seldom share with each other on a deeper level.  Church consists largely of a set of activities that they carry out.  Any deeper study or discussions is confined to a few, if that.  Institutional inertia, moreover, is a powerful force and creates conditions where it is all but impossible to deal with the quiet, slow-moving but seemingly inevitable crisis of decline.

We just keep on walking without talking.  Since we don't want to be accused of "talking the talk but not walking the walk," we just don't talk.  Meanwhile the challenge remains and the books and studies and articles on decline pile up.  And churches keep on declining and dying.