CNN recently reported that America is a â€œless Christian nation than it was 20 years ago.â€ There has also been an increase in the number of people expressing no religious affiliation at all, according to the report. What do you believe is the reason or reasons some people are stepping away from the church? And what can do to encourage those people to come back?
People step away from anything, not just church, when they're no longer inspired and activities remain the same.
The past few decades have been more about passionately pursuing material acquisitions â€” beautifully furnished homes, cars, country club memberships â€” those â€œthingsâ€ that give one a sense of accomplishment.
Although God's will for us is to live life abundantly, there are many stories of individuals who have created great wealth and still are not happy. Often, building one's life around materialism conflicts with times religious services/events are conducted, and a choice is made â€” Sunday morning golf with the boss or a weekend business seminar.
When I have asked people who no longer attend church regularly if they believe in God, most answer â€œyes,â€ and they also quickly add that consistent church attendance is not on their list of priorities.
What can we as clergy do to encourage more church involvement?
Within each of us is a deep desire to know and experience our God-connection. One does not have to be religious to be spiritual. Our planet abounds with organizations â€” churches without walls â€” that exist for the express purpose of nurturing one's spiritual growth. Their teachings can be applied any place â€” any time â€” convenient for â€œunchurchedâ€ people.
People are drawn to enthusiastic gatherings, literal or virtual. The root word of enthusiasm is â€œen theosâ€ which means having the divine within. Inspiring messages filled with enthusiasm, offering classes that teach practical day to day applications of spiritual principles along with fun activities and opportunities for spiritual community involvement during convenient times could all be enticing to those who have been considering involvement or re-involvement with a church or spiritual community.
?BEVERLY CRAIG is pastor of Center for Spiritual Living â€” La Crescenta. Reach her at (818) 249-1045.
I do not agree with the conclusion in the recent CNN report that America is a less Christian nation than it was 20 years ago. Today, people of all ages have a â€œhunger and thirstâ€ for spirituality, not necessarily the formal religious structure found in the church of their childhood.
There is a great energy stirring in our country. It is the energy of transformation that is born from the desire of the human heart to experience meaning and purpose in life. They are looking for answers to questions like: â€œWhy am I here?â€ â€œWhat is my purpose?â€ â€œHow can I feel love and fulfillment?â€ Americans (and I believe people in all the other nations on our planet) are seeking a connection with their higher power. They may call this power God, source, infinite intelligence, father-mother or universal law.
Perhaps, we in the clergy (and all religious leaders) need to look at other ways in which we can help these spiritual seekers feel connected to God, other than in the historical churches, synagogues, temples or mosque settings. Let's keep asking ourselves how we can stretch and go beyond the traditional, religious setting. Let us ask how we can provide counsel and support to the many who want a direct connection with their higher power, how they can learn to live a spiritual life, feeling connected with their higher power every day, in all circumstances, not necessarily a religious life where worship is practiced in a building, and at a prescribed day and time.
Those that say they desire spirituality over a religious experience, will find their way. They are on a spiritual path. God is still God and all paths lead to the one.
?JERI LINN is pastor of Unity Church of the Valley in Montrose. Reach her at (818) 249-4396.
Observant pastors did not need the CNN report to alert them to the religious decline in America. Some of us have been fighting it every step of the way. When the builder generation passes away, church life in America will be drastically different â€” less faithful, less attended, less funded. But then, as the boomers continue to age and slip away, America will be as devout as secular Europe. I'd like to be optimistic, but the truth is, if current trends continue, America's religious future is bleak. The church culture is dying in America, not the church (it will never die) but the church culture in America is dying. There are reasons for this:
1) An increasing amount of Americans see no link between spirituality and organized religion, a God-centered community seeking to learn spirituality together.
2) Godliness is giving way to worldliness as power, money and immorality become the new gods of American culture. Secular fundamentalists bully us incessantly, promoting godless values.
3) Too many Christians have bought the lie that â€œfaith is a personal thing.â€ The religious distinctives of our country's founding have been forgotten. Jesus has been largely removed from the public square. In an effort to get along, too many Christians keep Jesus a secret, forgetting that the gospel was meant for proclamation to the whole world.
4) Jesus said this would happen. In Matthew we read: â€œâ€¦Many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow coldâ€.
But all is not lost. I love America and I'm old-fashioned enough to think that Jesus does too. He can revive us again. In a world looking for answers, there remains no substitute for a life radically transformed by the power of Jesus Christ. This is the answer â€” authentic Christianity regularly displayed before an arrogant, unbelieving world. It is my prayer that a holy virus sweeps across America again. It's happened before. Why not again?
?JON T. KARN is pastor of Light on the Corner Church in Montrose. Reach him at (818) 249-4806.