You can hear the cries of desperation from just about everywhere. Churches have been reporting this fact for the past decade, blogs are rehashing the figures, and polls seem to reflect this trend. While there are a lot of symptoms to look at that might suggest the Church is on the decline, there are still some factors that are not being considered.
This is a bit of conjecture on my part, but when it comes to analyzing a whole people group, absolute answers are almost unobtainable. While some may be predisposed to disagree with me, perhaps because they wan’t to use the threat as a rally cry, I think that if we are going to be discerning we have to weigh all of the variables. And there are a lot of variables.
A Spiritual Generation
When older people talk about their past and put it into perspective of what they see today, they tend to view history through rose colored classes. Sixty years ago was undeniably a different time. While the 1950’s had their faults, they were far more moralistic and religious. Fifty years before that, the same thing could probably have been said. Each generation seems to get worse and worse. I think that’s an undeniable truth.
People who grew up in that time period have a hard time viewing the younger generations where debauchery and secularism reign. They grew up in a Christian saturated society where shame was placed on those who sinned. Young men held the door for ladies, children said sir and ma’am, and families had dinner together.
But there are problems with this scenario. Because moral-ism reigned, society had a man-centered view of preservation. Good works were common and people were generally good. So who needed saving? Because religiosity was so highly esteemed, church pews were filled with religious fakes. Those who wished to go with the tide looked at religion as nothing more than a cultural activity people did to fit in with society. I once read about a journalist who traveled to Great Britain and saw the landmark churches which are now empty. He responded by saying that our churches are empty, but full of people.
A Secular Generation
When a young person hears an older person talk about ‘the good ol days’ they tend to role their eyes and tune out. They’ve heard it all before and they disregard everything said because, “This old guy doesn’t know how to relate to the world today.” They don’t have much respect for what happened in the past. To them, that’s all history.
The generations growing up within the digital age are seeing a world that promotes sin and secularism. Science, technology, and rebellion are the primary motivations for their actions. Many have grown up in a single parent home with television as their main source of tutelage. They don’t care what people think of them, and they don’t want to be told what to do.
As a result, they are bored with church. It’s not entertaining enough for them. Even the best behaved kids are more engaged during a :30 second commercial than they are at church. I spent some time at my last church asking all the kids individually what they liked about church and what they would change if they could. I wasn’t surprised by their answers.
There are some advantages to this. Moral-ism doesn’t reign, so society has a gauge to distinguish between spiritual and secular. Moral-ism doesn’t get in the way of the gospel as much anymore because people cannot deny that, based on Scripture, they are sinners. Since religion isn’t the predominating norm, individuals are less likely to attend simply to fit in with society. This might mean that there are less people filling the seats, but hopefully those people are more receptive to the power of the Word of God. We should empower them to go out and preach the Gospel, instead of discouraging them with statistics that make them feel they are on the losing side.
Jesus has said that He will build His church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. I propose that there are plenty of other reasons your church might be dying and society is not the culprit. When we complain about society, and we echo the desperate cry that the church is dying, we’re not really focusing our energy on the problems or the solution. We focus so much on the symptoms, we tend to lose heart. The author of Hebrews tells us to keep our focus on Christ. These other things only become hindrances and weights that prevent us from making a difference in the society that God given us.