There has been a steady flow of religious commentary sweeping the headlines responding to the Gallup poll released last week that revealed just 47% of Americans reported belonging to a house of worship, down from 50% in 2018 and 70% as recently as 1999. https://news.gallup.com/poll/341963/church-membership-falls-below-majority-first-time.aspx The responses have ranged from attempted explanations to all out calls for God’s final judgment. https://www.gracechurch.org/sermons/17450 No matter how we try to explain it, it simply boils down to this: Religion does not satisfy. Over the past 30 years we have experienced a movement in the pulpit. Not the spiritual kind, but the secular. The reason people are moving away from organized religion is that we, in the western culture, are coming to the end of what happens when churches move from a personal relationship with God through confession of sin and acceptance of Christ style of preaching and replace it with a group experience of overcoming the obstacles of life through Christian principles. People want to be associated with a movement, an emotional experience, and that is what we saw happening in the late 90s in the explosive growth and interest in the mega church. An emphasis on production, style and message shifted the purpose away from traditional calls for repentance. People invested their emotions in the movement but not themselves. It goes to explain why people today, with no real vested interest in a cause, all of the sudden appear to go all in with their resources in support of that cause. We see these people and organizations contribute millions of dollars and hours toward a cause that they, for the most part, have no real connection with. They just don’t want to be left out or they enjoy the surge of emotions in the moment to be associated with something of perceived importance.
But we have also witnessed these same individuals, when their experience with the cause falls short, so do they. So goes to explain, in part, what is happening at the local church level. Religion never satisfies, but when you make the experience personal then there is a great chance of having a lasting effect.
Churches have done a great job helping people with their marriages, their careers, their children, their leadership and their relationships with others but, by and large, we have taken the focus off life transformation and soul winning preaching and it is beginning to show. The average sermon delivered by ministers at our nation’s largest churches could double for a secular motivational conference. For the most part, true to what the Bible teaches on the subject, but no real call to personal responsibility in addressing one’s own sin. So what are we to do? We change our nation by looking in the mirror. We see throughout the Bible there is only one remedy to reverse the judgment of God: repentance that produces a spiritual awakening. Pastor Shane Idleman puts it this way, “Church services often lack spiritual power, prayer is glanced over, worship is designed to entertain, and the Word is neatly sandwiched between a funny anecdote and a softly spoken message, if it’s preached at all. If we truly want America to experience a spiritual awakening, church stages must become altars again.”
Organizations and movements run their course and unfortunately we are seeing that happen in organized religion. Ministering to a more educated and socially connected society, people have choices for their “attention.” Religion no longer satisfies and people have the means and ability to explore something that might. Church as a whole needs to return to Christ centered ministry. We cannot abandon the programs that draw outsiders in, but we can’t continue to just address their felt needs. After 30 years of religion people are waking up and realizing just talking about the issue will not make it go away. Maybe the church needs to come to this conclusion too and alter our approach. Let us not fall into the trap of Laodicea or give into culture as warned by Paul in 2 Timothy 4:3.
Not many should become teachers, my brothers, because you know that we will receive a stricter judgment. James 3:1
Serving the Savior,
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