The church was fundamental to my life growing up and the only reason I am who I am today is because of it. For as long as I can remember my relationship with God revolved around being in the church. From the time I was old enough to be a part of the children's church and youth group, I was at the church at least two nights out of the week. In high school, our church was my second home and I was there closer to three or four times a week. I know I am most likely the exception and that most teenage girls do not want to be at the church as often as I was but to me that was the safest and best place to be. It was a place where I felt most connected to God. As I got older and my responsibilities become greater, I was not able to be at church as often but that feeling of belonging still stayed with me and does to this day. That is not the case for many believers that have experienced pain, judgment, or ridicule in the church. Their relationship with the church has been broken by the sinfulness of the people who run the church.
I have seen firsthand how important church can be in one's life and as such I find it very discouraging to read that US church membership has fallen under 50% for the first time in record. According to a study conducted by Gallup, (U.S. Church Membership Falls Below Majority for First Time (gallup.com)) membership at churches in the US has been on a steady decline since the early 2000s. Previous to that, church membership held steady at around 70% dating all the way back to the 1940s. In the study, they found that church membership is strongly associated with age and as such the older generation was more likely to be members whereas the younger generation is not as likely to join a church. As the older generation died out, the younger generation did not join the church at the same rate causing the numbers to fall. The study also found out that there has been an increase in people who state they don’t have a religious affiliation across all generations. In fact, that number has almost doubled since the turn of the century. I find this very sad that people are not in the church and that people are turning away from religion as a whole. I believe that it is our job as believers to be in the church and to be the hands and feet of Jesus in building and maintaining the church. It is not our job to save people but to create a community that is safe and kind to believers in all ways of life. Romans 12:2, reminds us that we have to be different than the world, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” We go to church to renew our minds and to recharge our spiritual batteries for the times to come.
In my opinion, this study directly indicates how our country is pulling further away from the Lord when we need Him most. I find this decline incredibly disheartening as I believe that the church membership and attendance are fundamental to our relationship with God. Although we can set aside time to study the word of God I don’t believe we will experience much growth without being a part of a church that teaches us weekly. When we attend church we gain different perspectives and learn from those who have dedicated their lives to studying the word of God. That means that we cannot expect to have the same growth in our relationship if we are not seeking out knowledge from the church. For example, if you buy a beautiful flower at the store and bring it home but never plant it in the garden it can still grow but it will be limited in its small pot. We need to plant that flower in the garden so that it has the space and nurturance to grow big and strong.
They are plenty of great church alternatives that can supplement our time between services, such as books, Bible studies, blogs, and podcasts. I would like to think that My Christian Walk falls into that category as a good source of Christian content, but it is not the church and it doesn’t count as your weekly sermon. When we skip out on Sunday service for whatever reason we are robbing ourselves of having an encounter with the Lord. We are allowing ourselves to limit our ability to get to know the King of Kings better. Hebrews 10:25 says, “[Do]not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Not only do we need the physical building of the church in order to be in the presence of the Lord, but we also need to fellowship and the friendship that comes along with it. The people that I have met through the church have been incremental in my development as a believer. Without both the building and the people a church cannot survive.
One of the main reasons people are exiting the church is the issue of church hurt. I have heard countless stories of people that don’t want to be in a church because of a past event or trauma they endured at the hands of a church. Unfortunately, that is a reality in any organization but it should not be an excuse to turn completely from attending church. Please understand this, if you have experienced church hurt, I am deeply sorry that you had to face that. I personally believe that you have a right to be upset at that church or the person who did that to you but I also encourage you to take that pain to God and allow Him to heal you. Please do not shut out the church completely because of one church or a few bad people that hurt you. Churches are not perfect organizations and they don’t always get it right. They are run by sinful people who need just as much saving as we do. The church is made up of the people who attend there and the people who work/volunteer there and as you know if you have spent any time in a church there is always a need for people to lend a helping hand. This gives each of us the ability to make a change in the church if we see there needs to be a change. I would love to see the church as it is designed to be, the bride of Christ and His beloved. His hands and feet to the broken world and not a place of ridicule or judgment for those who are different.
The question I want to leave you with is this… If you are not attending church on a regular basis, why is that? God is waiting for you weekly at the alter and He wants to get to know you personally. He wants to have a deep meaningful relationship with you individually. Matthew 7:21-23 reminds us that even if we confess with our mouths that we know Jesus if we are not devoting ourselves to Him on a daily and weekly basis He might not know us as He should. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ How well does God know you and how well do you know Him?