I read an article yesterday with a compelling title: “Losing their religion: why US churches are on the decline.” It gave a sobering look at the state of the church in America as it provided data on the American church’s demise.
As I read the article, I shook my head in affirmation. I wasn’t surprised by the data. I’ve seen it first-hand and observed many of the causes. It’s like a doctor who observes a patient who is dying of diabetes that refuses to give up binging on sweets. The connection between behavior and sickness and eventual death is clear.
So why is the church in America dying? Honestly, we have no one to blame but ourselves. Self-professed Jesus-followers are the reason for the seemingly inevitable demise.
We proclaim that we are people of the Word. But our Bibles collect dust throughout the week, and so many struggle to stay awake on Sundays during the preaching and teaching of the Word. Of those who don’t nod off, little attention is given to incorporating the truth into their lives. Also, as we listen to so many of those men and women in teaching positions in our churches, it’s obvious that they typically wait until Saturday night to cram in study time for their lessons. They’re bored with Scripture, and so their lessons are boring as well.
We say that the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation. We say that people who die without trusting in Jesus will spend eternity in Hell. But an overwhelming majority of the people in the churches across our land will never, ever share the Gospel with anyone in their whole life, not even with their family or closest friends. Don’t believe me? Then take a mental note of the baptisms that take place in your church (if your church actually needs to use the baptistry) and try to discover who led that person to the Lord. Almost certainly, it’s the pastor. Unfortunately, most church members just don’t share their faith.
We talk about the power of prayer. Yet so little time is spent in prayer throughout the week. Polling data reveals that the minutes spent in prayer each week could probably be counted on two hands. And if you want to virtually guarantee that attendance at one of your services will go down, call for a prayer meeting (where significant time is spent actually praying). Most of your congregation won’t show up.
We talk of the splendor of Heaven. Yet we fail to realize that the Bible clearly proclaims that our God is the one who makes Heaven, Heaven. His presence, and our happiness in His presence, are what will make Heaven so incredible! And yet, while Heaven is where we will enjoy an unbroken relationship with the Lord, so few self-proclaimed followers of Jesus enjoy Him in this life. Ask them to talk about sports, their hobbies, their favorite theme park, or anything else, and they’ll get a gleam in their eye and a smile on their face. But ask them to talk about the Lord, and the gleam in their eye fades. They say that they will enjoy the Lord in Heaven one day, but they aren’t enjoying Him now.
And most ministers could tell you that what the average church attender sees on Sunday morning is not what it’s like behind the scenes. There’s always at least one person, typically someone who has risen to a position of great influence in the church, who is misbehaving badly behind the curtains of ministry. Sometimes, it’s a church member with great influence, a deacon, a staff member, or even the pastor himself. So what you see from the pew on Sunday mornings is just a show. It is an act that hides what it’s really like behind the scenes. It’s nothing short of hypocrisy, and God despises it.
We could go on and on about how the actions and the hearts of folks in the churches across our land do not match with what their mouth proclaims. So why would unbelievers be attracted to this? Why would the children currently in churches want to be a part of this? Why would God bless such wayward churches? The church in America has no one to blame but itself for its demise.
But there is good news! First, so many churches ARE doing a wonderful job! They aren’t perfect, but they love the Lord, they love His Word, they love the Gospel, and they love their communities. So even as so many churches are dying, many churches are being blessed by God and doing an incredible job!
Is there also good news for churches that have a fading heartbeat? Yes! A thousand times, Yes!
2 Chronicles 7:14 (CSB): “Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.”
The best years of the church in America could be ahead of us. But we must each take specific, biblical actions for that to occur. We can’t do much about the churches across our land, but we can take responsibility for our own congregations. Will you be Jesus’ hands and feet in your church? Will you prayerfully and diligently work for its spiritual and missional vitality? I hope and pray that you will.