We are told by the news media that we are living in a post-Christian world. Church attendance is down and the number of Americans claiming to be Christian is shrinking. There are those outside the church who do not attend, but there is also an alarming number of young adults who are leaving the church — or so we are told.
I’m always skeptical of statistics that are assembled and analyzed by groups with an agenda. Much like political surveys that gear questions to arrive at a conclusion favorable to them, I think much of the information about church attendance is spun for similar reasons.
Before I go on, let me share with you that Arlene and I are active and enthusiastic church members. We are believers in God and followers of Jesus Christ. That’s my full disclosure and it would matter if I was going to talk about faith in America today — but I am not. Instead, I want to talk about church as a different purpose.
Early American settlements were built around churches. Church was the gathering point, serving as both a house of worship and community meeting place. It was forefront and center of community life and was the place where we all came together in communion and as a community.
The American sense of community has changed.
There’s an African saying that Hillary Clinton used to fashion a book: “It takes a village to raise a child.” I believe it’s true. A household with two married parents has a tough enough time raising children in this new electronically connected environment. A household with a single parent is exponentially more challenging. Our three kids grew up in a church. The members looked out for each other but also looked out for each other’s kids. I remember the day I received a phone call from a church member telling me of one of my children’s reckless driving. I was grateful for the call and I can name numerous instances where fellow church members looked out for our children and we did the same for theirs. I believe when you come together with others under the common bond of faith, you feel the calling to be of service to each other.
Arlene and I are members of a small group. Our church offers and encourages the opportunity for members to meet in a home with a small gathering of other members. We named our group, “The Band.” We meet on Sunday nights and talk, eat and laugh. We discuss the sermon of that week and talk frankly about our life struggles. I truly do not know what I would do without “The Band.” I know in time of tragedy or need; I can count on them and they can count on us.
If not for our church, The Band would not have come together. I also know I can count on our other church members. There is comfort in knowing someone cares and in today's lingo, “has our backs.”
Are we living in a post-Christian America? I realize it may be different in the larger cities. Churches are challenged in retaining members as well as attracting the new. I live in a semi-rural area and we have three booming churches. We also have a few holding their own and others dwindling, but hasn’t it always been that way? It is up to the church leadership to keep their church relevant and attractive to new members. My church is busting at the seams. It appears we didn’t get the memo that church membership is supposed to dwindle.
Again, I am not talking of matters of faith. Yes, I believe faith matters more than ever, but that’s a subject for another day. I believe and experience first-hand how important the church is as a support group and a place of community. I believe there is a place for you in a church and a measurable advantage to attending.
Some say they’ve lived a life where they would not be welcome in a church. And if that is true, they are attending the wrong church. None of us are good enough, not one. Church isn’t a showcase for saints but is a support group for sinners. All the sins of the world also happen in the church. We aren’t perfect — but that’s the point.
There is a story told … a man wakes up one morning and tells his wife, “I’m not going to work today.”
“Why?” his wife asks in an alarmed voice.
“All the people there hate me. They are constantly criticizing me and talking behind my back. I can’t take it anymore!”
“But you have to go to work,” his wife says sympathetically. “You are the pastor.”
That story really doesn’t fit here, but I couldn’t help myself. I think it’s funny.
I really hope those of you that are not attending a great and supportive church will give a few churches a visit. I am confident you will find a place you feel at home.
Yes, I believe church still matters.