Why Don’t People Go to Church Anymore?

This morning, like every morning, I checked my Facebook to see what people are up to. I have “friends” who post daily and others who rarely post anything at all, but I see that they’ve “liked” the same things that I have so I know that we’re still in the same circle.

I am amused when I have a friend from high school who shares the same meme as my neighbor down the street. It shows me how we’re all connected. Likewise, when I see that I have two friends who are also friends, but I cannot figure out how on earth they could possibly know each other.

The latest craze is for people to post their Wordle results. Today I saw that two friends who normally are very good took four tries. “I’m doomed!” I thought! But I also managed to get it in four tries and now I have a healthy sense of accomplishment for the whole day!

What does this have to do with church? Everything! I don’t need church anymore to feel like I’m part of a community.

It’s not just social media.

Throughout the pandemic, we have gotten to know our actual neighbors better, and when my family was isolating last week, it was my neighbor who picked up some groceries for us.

All of the kids’ and youth programs that the church did well in the 20th century is done better by secular organizations today. Between my kids’ elementary school and our HOA, all of our social needs are met. They have movie nights, they have collections to support various charities, and they have people in my same stage of life that I can build friendships with.

If I’m worried that my kids need activities to prevent them from getting into trouble, they can choose from every sport imaginable to occupy every moment of their free time, and those people will become their “youth group” and the parents will become the people I spend the most time with.

Any programs that the church can offer, I can find better outside. How did this happen? Many of these kinds of programs were started in churches to address needs, but churches chose not to adapt to the changing culture. Instead, they went to war with it and church became irrelevant.

Last week, there was piece in the Washington Post, “American secularism is growing — and growing more complicated“ that caught my attention. Secularism has been demonized by some circles in Christianity. It has been the enemy for several generations, having been equated with Communism and Atheism, but recently it “…is becoming more organized around liberal priorities on climate change, environmental protection, immigration and social welfare.”

Those sound an awful lot like the kinds of priorities Jesus had, but a person would not know that by going to church in America in the 21st century. They certainly wouldn’t know that by listening to the rhetoric that comes out of many of today’s churches.

We have free, public education because of missions’ programs begun in churches almost 300 years ago (that thing we call Sunday School was created to teach the kids who worked in factories how to read). Caring for the sick and poor were once things that only Christians were known for doing. It was the Christians who went into plague ridden cities when everyone else fled. It was the Christians who started hospitals to care for the sick and food banks to care for the poor. It was Christians who followed the way of Jesus and sacrificed their personal liberty and well-being for the sake of others.

The church was successful in moving such ideas into the mainstream and we should celebrate that!

Secularism is not the enemy of the church.  The enemy of the church has always been the same thing that Jesus taught against: self-righteousness.  That enemy is within and that’s why people don’t go to church anymore.

To become relevant again, the church doesn’t need fancy buildings or youth programs, the church needs to remember who she is and what God requires of her: “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with [your] God.” (Micah 6:8)

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