The Death of an American Church

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TylerR's picture

Editor

From the commentary section of this YouTube video:

I grew up in this type of church. I haven’t been back in since I moved out and don’t really plan on going back. It was nice and worthwhile but the value people used to get out of church doesn’t seem to resonate with my generation. Our parents focused on us getting jobs and going to college and left little time for us millennials to have a family of our own. We didn’t need church to feel satisfied, instead it was with jobs and wealth. The world is so competitive now days that it seems impossible for us to settle back into the old ways. Churches used to serve a purpose but that no longer seems relevant today.

Another comment:

Churches need to evolve and change in order to keep on existing, it's how things are. I grew up in church, still attend sometimes, and know from experience it can be both great and difficult, enriching and problematic. Having said this, I'm deeply moved by this man's devotion to his faith, his ministry and his wife. God bless them!

And another:

Church was an important part American life and now the need to go somewhere each week to meet with your neighbors for a higher purpose is vanishing with people moving around more for work. It’s a sign of the change of the times and I for one am glad this stuff is going the way of the dodo

The mania for "relevance" is so very strong today, especially in the Pacific Northwest. There are two ditches to avoid:

  1. a pathetic, craven urge to do any and everything to be cool to the local community
  2. a stubborn, petulant devotion to a particular cultural expression of Christianity

How do you thread the needle between these two ditches? A man who recently left our congregation told me that "the worship is so bad it'll drive young people away. No young people will want to sit through that!" What is our music like? We sing hymns and some contemporary stuff, with one leader at the front directing the congregation. In short, we just sing songs to worship God. Why is that not good enough? This consumer mentality is so depressing to me. The sampling of comments, above, are representative of that mindset - from believers and unbelievers alike. It also gets to the question of the primary purpose for gathered worship on Sunday - edification of the congregation or for evangelism? I think it's the former. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Darrell Post's picture

...but that might be a bit optimistic among many people who wear the label 'Christian.' So perhaps its better to pray for vival, as the re- assumes spiritual life that isn't there. In other words, we need an awakening. 

Bert Perry's picture

What's lost here is what happened before the church got to this point.  You've got the factors that Tyler mentions--the church in the video seems to be veering towards the latter--and I'd add that there's at least a third category, devotion to a particular church building.  I can see a bit of that--no sense building new when you've got something that still works--but look at the church that's dying.  It's immaculate, and  the furnishings appear to be at least 50 years old.

Now imagine church-goers' response to a small child running through this--or imagine parents contemplating bringing a small child in there.   See why there are no young families?    Even if the older generation was willing to work nursery or Sunday School (my experience is too many are not), if people are afraid of a kid running around.....

Another related thing; look at the proportion of evangelicals who are not actively making disciples from the other article.  About half confess to not even trying--that doesn't even include the proportion who try and make a hash of it.

There are a number of ways a church can get to that place--not reaching out to young people at all, or running the same programs 30 years after they stop working both come to mind--but it suggests that a church can reverse the trend if they recognize how they got to this point.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

pvawter's picture

George's Creek Baptist church used to be in Georges Creek Texas but the town has long since died. The only reason to go to that specific location is to attend church. That's why it's dying. This type of thing is happening all over rural areas that are becoming less populated by the yearl

There may be entirely non-curmudgeonly reasons why this church is dying.