By Rev. Mark Creech
Christian Action League
June 11, 2021
In my hometown, prominently sitting high on a hill, is an old and empty Episcopal church. No one attends there anymore. It’s a historical edifice, which serves no purpose for the community except to reminisce about the way things were. For me, that old church depicts both a reminder and a warning.
In an interesting article for The Atlantic, Jonathan Merritt writes about “America’s Epidemic of Empty Churches.” Merritt says:
“Many of our nation’s churches can no longer afford to maintain their structures – 6000 to 10,000 churches die each year in America – and that number will likely grow. Though more than 70 percent of our citizens still claim to be Christian, congregational participation is less central to many Americans’ faith than it once was. Most denominations are declining as a share of the overall population, and donations to congregations have been falling for decades. Meanwhile, religiously unaffiliated Americans, nicknamed the ‘nones,’ are growing as a share of the U.S. population.”
Merritt’s assessment matches a recent report by Yonat Shimron, a Religious News Service reporter, who notes a study from the Center for Analytics, Research and Data, affiliated with the United Church of Christ. That study says “that in the decade ending in 2020, 3,850 to 7,700 houses of worship close per year in the United States, or 75 to 150 congregations per week.” Shimron added these figures are expected to “double or triple in the wake of the pandemic.”
Many reasons could be offered as to why such declines are occurring, but most of them, I believe, would only address symptoms and not the root cause.
In an article for ChurchLeadership.org, Dr. Richard J. Krejcir makes an astute observation:
“What we hear as responses from most of our church leaders are the excuses of ‘cultural decay’ and ‘changing values’ and that ‘the average American views the church with little regard.’ These are authentic factors, but they are just symptoms. The bigger question seems to be what led up to these ‘symptoms?’ What led to the problems of cultural decay and the downgrading of moral absolutes? There is more to it than changing values; after all, a change in values has a root cause. A symptom is usually caused by a systemic disease or an explicit psychological problem.”
It may sound like an oversimplification of the dilemma, but I believe the real issue has to do with the sincerity and earnestness of our love for Christ.
In Revelation, chapter 2, is recorded Jesus’ letter to the church of Ephesus. The letter commends the church’s good points, such as their labor, patience, intolerance of those who worked evil, and their discernment of religious fraud. Nevertheless, said Jesus, “I have this against you, that you have lost your first love” (Rev. 2:4).
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Source: Christian Action League