Were you at church last weekend?
If so, you are among a shrinking number of Christians in America who believe that weekly worship is an important part of their faith walk. More and more of us stay home on Sunday mornings to pour ourselves a second cup of coffee and tackle that 50-pound weekend newspaper.
A recent Pew Research Center study showed church attendance in the US at an all-time low. Among Christians surveyed, 30 percent said they go to church “seldom” or “never,” and 33 percent attend “a few times a year.” Only 36 percent said they go to church once a week. (Strangely, 1 percent said they “don’t know” whether they go to church. 😊) And the younger you are the less likely you are to be part of the worship experience, with teenage participation in weekly church life at only 11%.
This goes hand in hand with a general decline in organized social activities like bowling or dancing.
In his book Bowling Alone – published in 2000 before social media, iPhones and video games became part of the landscape – Robert Putnam takes aim at television as the culprit most leading to the downfall of American social life. He notes, however, that not all groups have come under the spell of the TV remote (or Facebook!). He holds up the Amish as having resisted the trend. When asked why they continue to engage in such a vibrant social life, one Amish member tells Putnam that the lack of electronic devices in Amish homes is a big reason. He says, “They (electronics) would destroy our visiting practices. We would stay at home with the television or radio rather than meet with other people . . . How can we care for the neighbor if we do not visit them or know what is going on in their lives?” Church is a powerful bonding force in Amish life.
Americans have also gotten busier. Among the pastors, priests and ministers I’ve worked with across the country in the past decade, most of them are losing the battle, with members coming to church less or stopping altogether because of kids’ sports, demanding jobs, and simply being too tired to add one more activity to their week. Kicking back on the weekend is their antidote to overstretched lives.
In this crazy, busy age when believers can worship online – even taking Communion while plugged into a website (check out https://saddleback.com/archive/blog/internet-campus/2014/01/24/take-communion-online-with-us) – do we really need church anymore, much less to come together in worshipping God? Isn’t that so last century?
We are reminded that humans are social creatures. Engagement with others is critical to our wellbeing.
That shouldn’t surprise us since we are created in the image of God. We understand God to be “triune,” three persons who are one in perfect relationship with one another. God chooses to engage with us in prayer and worship and Bible study; and we’ve been created to live in a community of faith, where we come together to worship the Almighty and minister to one another, our community and our world. Church also represents a “timeout,” where we can catch our breath.
Think of yourself as an electric car. Church is your charging station.
We are also reminded that worship of God is a necessity, a way of keeping him in the pole position of life and of drawing closer to him. It’s been that way since the beginning of recorded time as God’s people gathered around primitive altars, desert tents, magnificent temples, humble homes and awesome cathedrals that have represented places where people come together in community to encounter God and be together as his people.
For those of us in that rapidly shrinking demographic of hopelessly delusional regular church goers, Ascension has been that safe place where we worship side-by-side, where we can ask the tough questions of faith and lift up one another when life’s challenges become too great, where we can try out a new skill or explore a new opportunity that promises to make a big difference in other people’s lives. I’ve been challenged, comforted, picked up, dusted off and sent back into the battle of life countless times at Ascension, just like thousands of others who have come through the doors of our church over the past 70 years.
That’s what churches do. That’s what regular fellowship with other Christians does.
Here’s a parting thought . . . On a hilltop in the little town of Montforte d’Alba in Northern Italy stands a medieval church with a tall, slender steeple. It’s topped with a cross. Its bells still ring hourly, erupting in a medley of chimes on Sunday mornings, presumably as a call to worship. Yet the sanctuary has been completely gutted, turned into a makeshift cafeteria to serve attendees of weekend music festivals held in the church courtyard. Like many churches and cathedrals throughout Europe, it no longer serves as a place of worship or of ministry or of faith-filled community. It’s a concert venue. The peal of the bells merely echoes a time in which the townspeople gathered to worship the Almighty.
Is that the future of churches in America?
Some things are worth saving.
© Ed Klodt, 2018
(Views from the Pews are occasional insights written by Ed Klodt. He and his family are longtime members of Ascension. Ed earned his Master’s Degree in Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary, has served as an interim pastor and has been a longtime lay minister at Ascension. Questions and insights can be addressed to him in the blog post on Ascension’s website or at firstname.lastname@example.org.)