Everybody Panic! – Why We are All Wrong About Church Decline

Unless you live under a rock or only get your news from the Farmer’s Almanac, you have probably heard about the recent Pew Research report detailing the decline of Christianity in the US, and the rise of the ‘nones’ – those who claim no religious affiliation.

Predictably, people are up in arms. Bloggers are writing doom and gloom pieces. People are trying to explain the decline. Some are saying that the decline is the result of lax theology and drifting away from traditional / conservative beliefs and values. Others are saying that liberal mainliners are providing what the ‘nones’ are really looking for, especially what young disaffected millennials are looking for.

Perhaps the only new, but unsurprising, find of this recent Pew report is that Evangelicals are declining too. This contradicts the often lauded trope of the last few years that decline is a mainline thing.

Well I have to admit, that this all feels like a tired rehash of what we already know. But in particular, as a Canadian, I see the panic happening among US Christians as something we felt about 20 years ago. We are a lot farther along the social secularization path than our dramatic neighbours to the south.

And as I have blogged about before, as a Millennial Christian in Canada, the only church I have known is one in decline. I have only ‘heard’ the stories of everyone in town being in church on Sundays… I haven’t lived it. Being a church-going person was the exception among my peers growing up, not the norm. We used to sing the national anthem on Monday mornings in school but we never prayed the Lord’s Prayer. In fact, the idea of one of my grade school teachers leading the Lord’s Prayer sounds absurd.

Yet, the analysis, panic, fear, and explanations of the past few days is not what we are all getting wrong about this decline thing.

I think there are few things that we miss when we panic about a society and culture that is no longer evangelizing for us. And these things should be the first things we name when talking about church decline in North America.

1. The Golden Era of Church attendance in the 1950s was the abnormality.  

So often our discourse on decline assumes that wide-spread socially motivated church attendance is normative. So many church people are used to a world where the question was which church to attend on Sunday mornings, not whether or not one should attend at all. During the Reformation, many protestant groups were born out of the fact that most people were nominally Christian, and did not attend church or “show their faith” in how they lived. North American society in the 1800s and early 1900s was not one that ubiquitously attended church. I think the big bulge in church attendance, church planting and growth of the 1950s was due to a global experience of PTSD following World War One, the Great Depression and World War Two. The church was convenient place to land for a world looking to make sense of decades of suffering. 60 years on from then, I think decline is a correction, rather than a failure.

2. What we are seeing is the death of Christendom… not the Church. 

Conversations about church decline are almost always accompanied by the lament of the loss of cultural Christianity. There is talk of prayer in schools and town council meetings, the 10 commandments on display at courthouses, sports, music and dance happening during Sunday morning worship, the church as community centre and neighbourhood gathering place. And yet, if we took a minute to really consider what that means, we are actually demanding a church that is dependant on empire, that is served by kingdoms and governments. We want a church that needs to have all other activities banned during its worship. We long for a church that needs its prayers taught in schools and that seeks power by influencing political leaders.

Is it really such a bad thing to see the decline of that church?

3. We like to think that we are the ones who can finally do the church in.

As if the church lives and dies by us. Christ’s church has been around for 2000 years. It began by spending 300 years on the margins of a religiously plural world. It was subsumed into being the bureaucracy of the Roman Empire. It has been nearly blown by up schism. Almost over-run by the empires of other faiths. It has crusaded and begun terrible holy wars. It has been cracked and splintered by reformation. It has been challenged to its core by renaissance and scientific revolution. The church has survived all of that, against all odds.

But now our social angst and apathy, and our institutional intractability is going to finally put the church out of its misery? Because we cannot be the church of empire or let social structures do our evangelism for us, the church will just fade away?

Sometimes I think that we tie our attendance to God’s faithfulness. We believe that God approved of the church more when it was full 50 years ago. And now God is frowning at us because we couldn’t freeze time, because the world changed around us and we weren’t sure how to deal with it.

This Pew Research report is nothing new. It is full of things we already know. But maybe decline, the more it gets thrown in our face, is telling us something important about the church – about God’s work in the world.

A declining church does not equal a declining God.

Nor does a full and rich church equal an increasing God.

Maybe God’s work in the world has nothing to do with numbers.

Maybe God’s mission through the church cannot be measured quantitatively.

Maybe what God is doing can only be experienced qualitatively. The Good News is not about winning souls by filling pews. The Good News is that Christ’s death and resurrection is our death and resurrection too – and this fact transforms who we are.

So maybe, just maybe, this declining stuff… this dying stuff that the church is doing… is just what always comes right before empty tombs and being known in breaking bread.

What we get wrong about decline is that we rarely consider that it just might how God is doing God’s work, in and through us – God’s church.

How did you respond to the Pew Research report? Can the church survive decline? Is the best thing to happen to Christianity in a while? Share in the comments, or on the Facebook Page: The Millennial Pastor or on Twitter: @ParkerErik


84 thoughts on “Everybody Panic! – Why We are All Wrong About Church Decline”

  1. I’m living in the US. It’s the loss of my personal rights I am missing. I was not allowed to wear or display any Christian quote in my office because a Muslim was offened but HE could have his Muslim “anything.” Now a man and a wife who owned a bake shop in the US are being brought before the US Supreme Court because they wanted to live within their own conscious rights. With regards to the decline? I believe the church used to be the only source of entertainment and financial help for the family. Now add in extra perversions of society the decline is on the move.

    With your posts I enjoy the first reading and the second reading I take apart as good Bible Study. Thank you so much for your blogging😇

    A Fan from Texas🚜


    1. Thanks for the comment! I am not up on the particulars of how religious liberty laws are applied in the US, but I can say that here in Canada my experience is that the more secular society is as a whole, the more balanced each religion is treated. My observation is that Christians in the US have a hard time separating their deep connection with American society in the past, from how to be fair and equal today, while respecting all peoples and their beliefs.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. I am being asked to not express my beliefs and to ignore my beliefs and do things against Gods law. It’s not about not giving bothers their rights. It’s about our community being told we have to give up our rights.


        1. No, you are NOT being asked to ignore your beliefs or not express them. That’s complete and total BS, and I’m calling you on it. You ARE being asked to recognize that both you and other people, with other beliefs, are allowed to express those beliefs to the extent allowed under our Bill of Rights.

          Liked by 4 people

        2. sanhbc you are just an hypocrite bigot, self delusional and with a delirium of persecution. you are trying to justify your homophobic bigotry, but it just doesn’t work. Educated people, especially younger generations are capable to perceive the hate you spew out disguised as religious doctrine. You are not allowed to discriminate over black, jew, muslim, and gay… just get over it. If 1 of your religious dogma goes against the human rights and the law of the land, then the state wins… if you do not like to live in a secular state… just go to live to vatican or iran, where the women can’t be equal to men, have to be silent and just stay at home to make children and care for them. If you so desire a teocracy state, then go to live in one of them.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I understand the strong feelings expressed here… But your comments are very personal towards sanhbc. Keep it cordial going forward please, Dremor.

            We get a lot of US news here in Canada… And I follow a few Facebook groups that provide a lot of local news in regards to these Freedom of Religion issue and LGBT issues.

            In Canada we have had same-sex blessing for 10 years, the federal government made it legal everywhere in 2005. Since then, no church or pastor has been forced to do anything they didn’t want to do, or believe anything they don’t want to believe. A lot of the fears expressed in the U.S. Seem overblown to me. To be honest sanhbc, I think you are being duped by political and patriarchal leaders masquerading as religious ones. There is no conspiracy to limit Christian belief. However, Christian privilege is rightly being challenged. Jesus never promised us privilege. Quite the opposite.

            Liked by 3 people

            1. Are you going to get rid of the most egregious mixing of church and state in North America; Ontario’s support of private, parochial schools with taxpayer money?


        3. That’s what kills me about Christianity…….you want it to be within “your rights” to publicly discriminate in the marketplace against gays or anyone else you don’t approve of, then you wonder why people associate Christianity with hatred and judgment. It’s no wonder the church numbers are dropping like a lead weight. Given Christ’s proclivity for associating with questionable types, you must believe that you’re really one-upping him by not baking a wedding cake for that gay couple. Yes, every time you put up a sign in your restaurant “gays not served” or refuse a service to a gay couple, i’m sure that Jesus’s heart just swells with pride at his smug self righteous little follower.

          Liked by 1 person

    2. The church being seen as a form of entertainment is exactly why many congregations are in decline. That misses the point of church entirely.

      Liked by 3 people

    3. sanhbc, I get what you are saying, and certainly agree that there seems to be an imbalance when it comes to expression of faith. However, I would encourage you to remember that, as Christians, there is no need for wallhangings, billboard shirts, or anything else in order to profess and proclaim our faith. Love God, Love Neighbor is a way of life. The joy we have as forgiven and redeemed children of God is that we are changed people. And as changed people, we will live differently.

      There are numerous stories and examples of folks who worked or lived in a time or place where they could not speak of Christ directly. But through their actions they communication a Christlike love and service to those around them. Through this, conversations were started.

      Is it fair? Certainly not. But Jesus never promised us fairness, He promised us grace.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. It seems that Canada currently has a decent balance. Yet there are questions in the US regarding freedom of speech that have far larger implications than wall hangings and t shirts. The question is, Can a person be compelled by law to produce speech that violates their conscience? It is a question that cuts across the boundaries of religious freedom. In the US, some Christians have refused to produce artistic products that endorse views with which they disagree and some non-Christians have refused to produce products with overtly Christian messages they find offensive. Unfortunately, US courts have not been consistent in their rulings on these matters, some favoring one side whose views they find more aligned with preferred public policy (political correctness). Of course we have this little thing called “freedom of speech” in our Constitution which we value. So While there are those of us who agree that Christians need to get over their privileged status in society, we’re also concerned about government overreach in compelling so-called “moral” or “just” behavior (Whose morality is it?). US politics is not quite as tempered as Canadian; we don’t trust our government all that much.


        1. If us law treated all religions equally we’d be fine. Currently it does not. Any Muslim religious custom can be used as an excuse or basis for special treatment, at any company in a America.


    4. I’m sorry, but I am an American and I can’t understand your story as anything other than a one-off story. Muslim “anything” allowed but Christian not? In Texas yet?! Leaving aside the fact that I think displaying religious quotes in an office environment sounds odd, ( in-your-face piety?) I’m sure that coupled with your anger it is not helping our Christian cause.

      BTW, nobody is being “brought up” before the Supreme Court (because that is not how it works) but we are having a national conversation about the constitutional lines regarding religion and discrimination in our courts. And I hope the Supreme Court decides that religious decisions may be made in the heart and within the church, but not in every moment of commerce. What’s next? Refusing to sell a little girl the shoes for her confirmation, because you aren’t Catholic and don’t want to support her “idolatry.” Its silly and small and no good comes from this sort of behavior.

      And the “extra perversions?” Love that. One can only guess. But I’m glad we can no longer hold slaves or discriminate on the basis of gender and race. A few of the great things we’ve seen pass.

      Liked by 3 people

        1. I don’t think pgladys comment sounded angry at all. Made some great points. There is definitely a divide in the US. Rev Parker made a good point: “Christians in the US have a hard time separating their deep connection with American society in the past, from how to be fair and equal today, while respecting all peoples and their beliefs.” In our country, God’s Law does not rule over the law of the land when it comes to the public and I think many Christians are going to have trouble accepting that. Especially as Millennials continue to gain control and move away from the church.

          Liked by 4 people

          1. Here in Canada, we are further down this road… and it has been tough for Christians to separate the idea of being the religion of empire (meaning that Christianity is the natural default belief systems AND moral system) and becoming just one voice among many. This doesn’t mean our convictions are reduced or we change the way we engage the world. But it does mean that we cannot expect others to be like us.

            Prayer in school and Sunday morning sports, for example, are often to changes that heralded the decline of church attendance. Yet, there have always been sports on Friday nights (the time when Muslims and Jews worship). There are not 5 prayers times for Muslims in school and nor is everyone expected to eat Kosher because Jews do.

            Yet, when these privileges of Christian Empire (of having the government do our evangelism for us) are lost, we feel attacked. Never mind the fact that most public school teachers today are woefully ill-equipped to teach the Lord’s prayer and its meaning. Never mind the fact that we are the only religion who had laws against shopping and sports during our worship.

            Think if Friday night Football was cancelled for Jewish Sabbath and Muslim prayer? So why should we cancel sports during our worship?

            If people only come to church because there is nothing else to do on Sunday mornings or they only pray because they have to in school, are they really embracing Christianity?

            Liked by 3 people

            1. You do realize that the Constitution protects against an official religion in the US?
              It protects everyone equally while equally disallowing any endorsement of a particular religion, faith, or creed. If in fact what you say is true, you could report it to HR or get a lawyer or the ACLU to represent your grievance.
              I think Pastor’s comment was spot on, many Protestants are having problems with the fact that there is no longer religious and cultural hegemony in the US.
              I think you are someone who wants cultural and religious hegemony as long as it is YOUR faith.

              Liked by 2 people

          2. American Christianity and American Culture have been one and the same in many people’s eyes. The church needs to align with the kingdom of God and not the Kindgom of popular culture. Tonight I give my recurring talk on forgiveness at a chemical dependency treatment center. It is true joy for me to have this privilege and for those present to hear how much God loves them. They begin the process of forgiving themselves and others, and begin to experience the freedom found in the kingdom of God.

            Liked by 3 people

            1. Radical forgiveness, as I call it, is totally awesome and life-changing. I admire your sharing in it with hurting people who need it the most.

              The apokatastasis of Jesus Christ needs to be the message we take into the world, without judgement, fear, or shame (we already do that to ourselves, and it just perpetuates the pain & sorrow).

              Love and forgiveness is what it’s all about.

              Liked by 2 people

      1. You do realize that a court case has to be brought up to the Supreme Court before a law can be challenged? http://mobile.wnd.com/2015/05/persecuted-u-s-bakers-urge-brit-counterparts-to-fight/ . Freedom of conscience is what is being upheld. But considering your mud slinging of”hold slaves or discriminate on the basis of gender and race” towards me is absurd. Perversions? Yes , gay marriage as the Bible states it is a perversion. You can take that up with the Lord and not me. The government should not force someone to do something against their conscience.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. The government protects ALL people against discrimination and bigotry.

          The bible also says women are to be silent in Church. Do you keep total silence there? I doubt it.

          Interpretations of text have always occurred and always will occur. Your bigoted hate speech will one day sound as backward as support of slavery sounds to us today.

          You can discuss that with the Lord after you ask him about Matt 25:31-46. I think His answer might surprise you, and not just because Jesus speaks Aramaic.

          Yes. I am snarky, but sometimes that is what you need to reply to bigots. Even Jesus had snark and a sense of humor… 😉


          1. I’m not a bigot. Im still not sure while you feel the need to insult me. Mathew 25 brings comfort and I’m perplexed on why you think it would hurt me. Quote me where in the Bible it says that women are to be silent. 1corinthians 6:9-12 is just one area where homosexuality is mentioned. It’s like any sin we are to stay away from. Gluttony is mine to work on. May Gods peace be with you.


                1. I love how some people just read the parts of the Bible that allow then to justify their hate and shame while judging others.

                  Paul wrote a lot that isn’t about forbidden sexual relations… it’s really good stuff. Maybe you should read it .

                  Liked by 2 people

                1. Well, since I read Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic, I am sure I get the real meaning… also the archaeology and cultural anthropology I know help me know what they really mean. You could go to a library, talk to a Rabbi or read about it… but since you can’t even really read your Bible, you won’t do that will you? It might interfere with your bigotry and hate. Couldn’t have that could you?

                  But here’s a hint: Paul was talking about sexual slavery and rape of children – male minors. No one is saying that sexual slavery or forced sexual acts are good or right. Consentual sex acts are NOT what Paul was referring to. As I said, many books and commentaries cover this. Do some research.


            1. Yes, you are a bigot.
              Just because you can name your sin – gluttony you say – doesn’t give you the right to throw stones… remember, NO ONE stayed around to throw stones.
              Thinking you can glibly act like a Pharisee totally makes you a bigot. You also might want to check up on how Jesus felt about Pharisees… straining out gnats and paying tithes on mint, dill, and cumin while neglecting the true meaning of the Law and all that…


          2. I find it interesting that you feel like you can carry on an intelligent argument just by labeling everyone with whom you disagree a “bigot”.


    5. If that is true, you are being discriminated against.

      Get a lawyer, talk to your HR dept., and contact the ACLU.


    6. I am not going to call you a liar, but there is something that you are not telling us about your workplace situation. You say that your religious displays at work have been forbidden, but those of others have not. That is illegal, and if it is the case, you need to contact HR in writing and then talk to a lawyer if you are not satisfied.

      I suspect that you have not done this because you have not told us everything. Or maybe you haven’t told us anything; maybe the events you describe didn’t happen at all.

      But if something like that happened, then I suspect the quote was something cherry-picked from the Bible that your coworkers found hostile. You obviously don’t care, but they have rights, too. I also wonder why you refuse to provide any detail about your coworkers Muslim “anything.” Is it even religious, or is it just a cultural artifact from his homeland? Can you even tell the difference?

      I don’t know if you’re a bigot, but you certainly sound like one.

      Liked by 1 person

    7. I think that the laws keeping Christians from discriminating against their neighbors can do nothing but good for Christianity. Nobody wants to go to church or affiliate themselves with a bunch of haters and judgers.


  2. One of the best articles about the current problems with Christianity. It reads as smoothly as if I was reading a food blog. I’m happy to read this text from someone like you. It feels refreshing to hear the same critique from a clergyman as from atheists. Your approach can move debate further and possibly show the peoples’ way how to adapt their belief in God to their own modern stances. Thank you for that.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. While what you say is true to a point, I believe that you are missing a major point. That is the movement of the Holy Spirit. All of the reasons you give are quite mundane and have noting of God in them at all. Like many of today’s churches. Each filling of the pew was the result of revival… true revival is driven by the Holy Spirit, just as the next one will be. If churches and Christians as a whole turn to the Spirit, revival will happen and the Good News will spread.


  4. I feel that you can love God and live a christian life without ever entering a church. While I do belong to a church body it is not who I am. I think that helping others, reading and studying the Bible,and living as I think God wants me to live,
    is far more important then showing up in church every Sunday. Going to church no more makes one a christian then sitting in a garage will make you a car

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hear what you are getting at Marge, but I would challenge part of that idea. I don’t think being physically present in a church makes you a Christian. But you also cannot be a Christian on your own. Believing in God is something that can solitary. But being a Christian is by definition being part of a community – a community of the baptized who are made One in Christ.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. But why would the fact that Marge doesn’t enter a church mean that she is living “on her own” and being “solitary”? If she is living out the Word and living in love, prayer, and service, and presumably doing so in the company of others who share her values, isn’t she part of the Christian community as much as anyone else? I think we as Church People (and I am one, professionally, so it’s a world I’m familiar with) can be a little too quick to equate the institution of Christianity with the beliefs and values and small-c community of Christ.


        1. Perhaps that is where we are saying the same thing. I would contend that being a part of the community of fellow believers is being a part of the church. As a Lutheran, we confess that wherever there is an assembly of believers, there the Word is preached and the Sacraments rightly administered, there is the church. The institutional church is not always the church, nor is the church limited to the institution. But it is always in community that we experience the Church of Christ.


  5. I find it interesting how people who proclaim to be followers of The Son of God (Jesus) find this disturbing, surprising or even interesting.

    Jesus taught the road to the father was through him, narrow and many would not find it. Why does it surprise anyone that brick and mortar churches would decline as we draw closer to his return ?

    Most red-letter followers I know (those who study primarily the teachings of Jesus) realize that WE are the CHURCH and that is is not a place where we go…

    That said it is simply my very humble opinion that too many listen to the pulpit preacher rather than the anointed teacher. (Jesus)

    Why would anyone follow a man rather than seek a personal relationship with Jesus, The Father and The Holy Spirit is hard for me to wrap my head around.

    Brick and Mortar Churches often press tithing, bake sales, special offerings and other unique new ways to increase revenue and do little in the community other than try to recruit more donation minded people and increase their financial base…

    Many home churches have thrived because they do not have overhead, are smaller and become close like family and do help in their communities without the selling point of avoiding Cesar (tax deductible, mindless, we will do it for you and you get a tax break) to fuel their missions.

    I think Rev. Mark Loder put it best above…

    QUOTE: There are numerous stories and examples of folks who worked or lived in a time or place where they could not speak of Christ directly. But through their actions they communication a Christlike love and service to those around them. Through this, conversations were started.

    Is it fair? Certainly not. But Jesus never promised us fairness, He promised us grace. (END)

    How we let our light shine…
    How our lives reflect the teachings given to us by THE SON and how we are blessed and have peace given to us through the good times and trials because we are obedient to THE SAVIOR / TEACHER and his instructions… THAT is EVANGELIZING !

    We become part of THE CHURCH OF CHRIST when we share that example and others see it in our actions day to day not by attending a brick and mortar building and mindlessly accepting teaching from a pulpit and entertainment…

    THE WORD is alive… When we share it through example, share it through testimony and discuss it with those who ask the questions…

    Why are you always happy, nothing gets you down, your so kind and loving, your life seems so complete… How do you do it ?



    Rev. Mark S Phillips

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This reminds me of that great quote ascribed to St. Francis (though I don’t think it’s really his)–“Go out and preach the Gospel. If necessary, use words.”


  6. I remember a story told about a Mennonite leader’s comments concerning church decline in the early 70s. Someone approached him in basic panic wondering what they would do, how the denomination would survive in the face of apparent mass exodus? The specific question, ‘where will we be in 10 years?’ The leader’s answer, ‘stronger than ever’. Sort of the same reason as the strength of the church in areas of persecution.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. The true church is built by Christ and the Sovereighn will of God. The gates of hell will not prevail against it. It is flourishing.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Dear Pastor: loved this essay, and thank you. Way too many mainliners here in the States are hyperventilating about “decline”, and your essay is a fresh dose of common sense. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. “3. We like to think that we are the ones who can finally do the church in.

    “As if the church lives and dies by us. Christ’s church has been around for 2000 years.”

    Amen! This is what I have been saying. Well, not in those words; but Jesus said the gates of hell itself cannot prevail against his Church. So how could secular culture kill it off?

    I agree that this is a great opportunity to clarify our relationship to culture and to refocus from an obsession with numerical growth (something I can only assume we picked up from the secular, modernist culture’s faith in limitless progress) to humbly discerning and doing our best to follow God’s will.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Thank you for a helpful article.

    Over the last 2000 years different churches have come and gone; at the moment ‘decline’ is seen in the western world. I’m currently in Turkey. Last week I visited Harran and Urfa, welcomed by Moslems at sites strongly associated with Abraham. When asked by some Syrian men, very close to the border, if I was Moslem, I replied that I was Christian; no problem – despite what some news broadcasts might lead us to expect!

    On Sunday I was back in SW Turkey leading Pentecost worship, outdoors in the mountains, for a group of Christians of several nationalities and many denominational backgrounds. Some drive for several hours so we can come together for prayer and fellowship, then sharing a meal before going our separate ways. Early June I’ll be preaching in the UK. God is here with us – wherever ‘here’ happens to be. Sometimes being in a minority actually helps us focus on what is really important – our faith and love of God, rather than a particular building or set or rules.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. Many of the “none”s are actually people who have a faith or spirituality, but who are hesitant to share it with others, esp. pollsters.

    There are many who will not share their “type” until it’s clear they will be accepted and treated with respect. Faiths I’ve encountered as a Chaplain that are hesitant: Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Chinese Native Religion followers, Native Americans, Pagans, Heathens, Wiccans, Druids, Sikhs, Zoroastrians, Aborigines, Shinto, Shamanists from Korea, Cao Dai, and Christians who came from abusive or fundamentalist backgrounds and are figuring out who they are and what they believed in the context of therapy and healing.

    One of the most insensitive things I have seen is “Christians” treating persons they label as “other” as people to marginalize, ridicule, or otherwise mistreat under the assumption that “this is a Christian nation” and that only their faith deserves respect and freedom of practice. This was particularly apalling for me within the context of a major medical center where I saw people discriminated against and treated harshly to their face. This is why I think increasing secularization and greater public awareness of different peoples, languages, ethnicities, and faiths/religions can only make this a better place and a more compassionate world.


  12. great article. Full pews don’t necessarily mean anything except full pews. In the bible, Jesus spoke a lot about how his followers should think and act, and what the kingdom of God is. Nothing about ‘lots of churches with full pews’ in there

    Liked by 3 people

  13. Thanks Eric. Good stuff.

    As someone who grew up in the States (I’ve been in Canada for almost 30 years now), I believe that an additional contributor to church attendance in the 1950s and 60s was the Cold War. If one wanted to demonstrate one’s patriotism, one went to church to show that one wasn’t a “Godless communist.” (Or should that be “godless Communist”?) 🙂

    That was the era, remember, when the phrase, “Under God,” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance. And that wasn’t added because the country had become more pious!

    Being perceived as patriotic was, I believe, one of the social perks of participating in church at the time, a perk which no longer exists (one of many which has disappeared).

    Thanks again, and keep it up!

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Yes! Finally! –I see hope in the “death” of the church as it is now –embedded in institutionalism, colonialism and capitalism. If the death of those things is decline –well… I’m all for it. Thank you for a humble, humorous and right on lil’ article. God bless you!


  15. As a pastor’s wife in Northern NJ for 31 years and a Lutheran deaconess student, I say, “AMEN” to this article. Thank you for clarifying what I already know into words I couldn’t express.


  16. So much in the comments here and the article was a good perspective as well. There are two interesting works I’d like to point to at least to help church leaders to better understand the minds of the “dones” from their own points of view. Thom Schultz of Life Cafe’ and Group Publishing put out a documentary called “When God Left the Building.” It is a very well done documentary whereby Thom follows the life of several declining churches that were in decline, watched and filmed how the people of those churches felt and what they did over a number of years. It is very well done.

    The second is a book written by two sociologists named Josh Packard and Ashleigh Hope called “Church Refugees.” This is a very important book that gives voice to what people are trying to see from the PEW reports. They interviewed nearly 100 once very active church going Christians and asked the tough questions about why and what are they doing now. Many of these were ministers in their churches and many more were in leadership of various degrees in their congregations as well. It is important to know how these people think and also know there is much our still active and thriving churches can do to prevent folks of faith from leaving the church.

    I, myself, have been quietly gathering millennials who may not trust the church for whatever reason and also whatever “dones” I can find back to fellowship, worship and service. The Word of God is very much alive. The message is clear. And people of all walks want to know more about Jesus.

    In regards to American politics and the hegemony of American Christians I will refuse to speak to. But I do have this one comment and I will leave it as it may: Any law that takes away a right of one citizen in order to favor the right of another is a bad law. Unless every single person benefits from such laws, it should not be passed. The scientific community should not be able to pass laws prohibiting the religious community’s ability to instruct their children in the ways of their belief and the religious community should not be able to pass laws that restrict the scientific community’s ability to instruct their children in the ways of their belief. The law should simply stay out of it.


    1. Religious communities can instruct their children in their beliefs – there is no law against that in the US. Constitutionally, though, the government pretty much cannot take part in this religious education and so it should not be done in public schools – and this is good for everybody. *You* want to be the one teaching your community’s beliefs – you don’t want a government worker being responsible for that!

      It’s also worth pointing out that the “scientific community” and the “religious community” are not separate – many of the scientists that I know are deeply religious, and many of the religious people I know work in and around science (not to mention benefit from it greatly). Science and Christian theology are NOT competing belief systems, one of which must win out – they are just different modes of understanding the world, and the one of them (science) that does not favor or support any religion in particular is something that governments in the US are able to (and should) teach.


  17. Panic. yes. But due to the urgency of what’s at stake.
    “I see dead people”, was the saying. And how jokes abounded.
    Billions wait now in silence of “doing”. Billions will soon follow.
    Do I care about what “Church” is? NO! Do I care about the death of billions? YES!
    I see people fainting (literally) because of what they are asked to endure for a buck. I see children killing their entire lives before they are 14. I see filth and decay glorified, as if it were something.
    Do I care about the numbers in the “Church”? How can I possibly care about something so very trivial, when so many die, even as they live.

    Your post is useful. Your post is correct. What men call the church, has become rather useless if it does not spill out into the ungodly streets.
    Perhaps, that is what God is doing.
    Perhaps, he says, “Forsake moldy religion. Embrace ME!”
    Perhaps, if that is true, we should expect to see a vibrant attack of truth against a mob of unholy men.
    But, alas, I look and do not see this either.
    What I see are a people who call themselves Christian, yet do not have the fearless abandon to confront the world around them.

    Weeeeesh….. so much to say. So utterly useless to speak.


  18. Erik, thanks for another thought-provoking article. I was just trying to explain ’empire’ to my husband yesterday. Being so connected to culture and power has made church members more passive, waiting to be comforted rather than looking around the community to see what life is like for others. I eagerly long for and work toward more depth and engagement with justice and interfaith issues in the church. The emphasis on numbers mimics corporate goals instead of growing in discipleship as individuals and communities.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Right, wrong, history paints a very dirty picture, and anyone that likes the picture will be subject to ridicule and rightfully so. The Inquisitions, Witchtrials, Crusades and Holocaust were not just isolated incidents from pretend christians. News story after news story tells a sordid tale and the people that dont want to hear the real christianity can take a long walk off a short pier.


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