Why Is Church Membership in America on the Decline?

"The decline in church membership appears to be primarily a result of more Americans expressing no religious preference....Most of the rest of the drop can be attributed to a decline in formal church membership among Americans who do have a religious preference.... Those in older generations who were likely to be church members are being replaced in the U.S. adult population by younger people less likely to join institutions." - TGC

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dgszweda's picture

Many people that I know are abandoning the church because of the non-religious extremism that is growing in the church.  Whether it is anti-vaxxers, conspiracy theorists....

Bert Perry's picture

It may not be as deep as we're seeing now, but I'm guessing that we saw a peak in the 1950s (go to church because we're not Godless Commies!), a trough in the 1960s and early 1970s, a relative peak during and after the Reagan years, and a trough around now.  A lot of this is simply people who never were in the faith, but were there because of societal pressures.

And yes, there are a lot of people who are "showing up as empty pews" because they are disenchanted with what's being preached, and because they don't like some of the applications.  That noted, we've always had some of that, too.  So our goal is, or ought to be, the same as it ever was; preach the Gospel and apply it faithfully, and ask God to help us see where our "convictions" are actually just social conventions--and then reform what we're preaching and teaching, apologizing where necessary.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

dgszweda wrote:

Many people that I know are abandoning the church because of the non-religious extremism that is growing in the church.  Whether it is anti-vaxxers, conspiracy theorists....

That really doesn't sound all that different from excuses I heard as a teen in the 70's: "The church is too full of hypocrites, I'm leaving" (or not coming, as the case may be).  People always find reasons to leave churches or to not attend, no matter how true those reasons are.  As Bert said, all we can do is just preach the Word, do our best to apply the Word accurately, and make changes when we find out that's not being done well.

Churches will probably always have some members whose beliefs are off in one way or another.  All that can be done is to try to teach the truth.  However, if the church itself is preaching politics or conspiracy, then run away as fast as you can...

Dave Barnhart

G. N. Barkman's picture

I forget who said this, but it bears repeating.  Wouldn't it be strange if people criticized hospitals because all their patients were sick?  Churches are hospitals for sinners.  Why do people criticize churches because they are helping sinners get well?

G. N. Barkman

dgszweda's picture

dcbii wrote:

 

Churches will probably always have some members whose beliefs are off in one way or another.  All that can be done is to try to teach the truth.  However, if the church itself is preaching politics or conspiracy, then run away as fast as you can...

I agree that churches will always have sinners in it.  I think the biggest issue is that the narrative is being pushed harder and even in the pulpit.  More and more people are turned off by this extremisms.  To be honest with you, I am having a harder time at church because of this constant conspiracy theory peddling amongst the membership.

Mark_Smith's picture

The problem I see all too often is people at First Church thinking they are the doctors and not the patients. That's why I left the church I most recently attended. I admit I have not found a new one yet due to COVID.

Bert Perry's picture

Mark_Smith wrote:

The problem I see all too often is people at First Church thinking they are the doctors and not the patients. That's why I left the church I most recently attended. I admit I have not found a new one yet due to COVID.

Had a nice smile when I read this--yes, we all too often think we are the doctors and not the patients.  As sinners, yes, we're patients.  At the same time, we're also--priesthood of all believers and all that--the doctors.  No?

For me, the rub, per what David is noting, is that all too often, we do confuse Biblical theology and our cultural habits and views.  It has, in my view, gotten especially bad during the COVID epidemic, and there are times I just don't know how to refute these things--sometimes it's so obvious one can easily point to an outside reference we all agree on to refute it, but generally the "fertilizer-mongers" are more clever than that now.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

M. Osborne's picture

I've heard the saying as, "The church is a hospital for sinners and not a museum for saints." I think what it's trying to communicate is spot-on but of course the analogy breaks down.

I think the beauty of membership is that we are all in a sense both doctors and patients.

When we reorganized our services for in-person / at-home, we streamed the service itself but started a live chat (Jitsi) after the service, and one of the biggest blessings I have as an elder is to watch and listen as believers contribute to each others' lives, and to mine, with their biblical insights and experience. Even elders benefit from the saints-as-doctors.

Michael Osborne
Philadelphia, PA

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

I've heard our pastor use the analogy that when members of a church bring people into the church or minister to others in the church, it's not those who have "made it" helping those who haven't.  It's one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.  We absolutely can help one another in many ways, but we're powerless to deal with our main problem, which is being destitute outside of Christ and his fellowship.

And as to finding another church during Covid, it may depend on your local laws, population, etc.  Our church has actually picked up a number of new members this past year, either in spite of Covid, or at least in a couple cases because our church was open and ministering (legally) when others were not.

Dave Barnhart