An Opportunity for Churches
The attendance rate for churches has been dropping for the last few decades and more Americans now identify as agnostic. There are different explanations as to the root cause of the decline of the church, and while many Americans are fine with the demise of the moral indignation pushed by the hardest bible thumpers, we should consider that we are throwing the baby out with the bathwater if we allow churches to become a niche for only the most devout among us.
This may be a difficult concept to accept for those who feel ostracized by religion and can list off the troubles caused by religion. We all know about the wars attributed to differences in deities, or the long-running child molestation scandals, and more. It’s awful, but churches of all religions should play a role in developing our communities.
This does not mean I advocate that you believe a certain thing, or you start arguing with your neighbor about when to eat fish. But instead, let’s stop and think about the demise of one of our greatest foundations and what our communities might look like if we gave broad support to our churches…based upon certain conditions.
I have not stepped foot in a church for years and I’m uncomfortable when I go. The last church I went to believed they had the key to a divine afterlife and all those who didn’t accept their way would earn eternal damnation. That’s all I know of the church and I was disappointed. I had hoped to be part of an organization that looked for people who needed relief from their hard-knock lives and I could be part of that effort.
While eternal salvation and how to attain it is a central goal for churches, they should strive to be known chiefly as servants to the community. Historically, churches have been at the forefront of helping those in need. From hospitals to welfare and schools, the church has played a role in the formation of these institutions. All those hospitals that have ‘Saint’ in their name have some religious roots.
I am a libertarian, so forgive me while I blame the government for stepping in to provide all social, medical, educational, and welfare services. It’s my contention that this relegated the church to only selling salvation and camaraderie among its members. Whatever the reason, the church is not where most of us would turn to during our times of distress and that may be the reason for the decline of the church. I can see the good in losing the constant reminders of our eternal damnation, but I see the bad when we accept that churches aren’t expected to roll up their sleeves and give us examples of charity.
When we hear horrific stories spurred on by our collective lack of humanity, it would be nice if we knew the church would make it right. We have homeless people, underfed schoolchildren, and many other people who could use some kindness. I’d gladly donate, participate and advocate for a church like that. Instead, we have flashy, well-dressed salesmen telling us hokey, relatable stories in mega-churches that earn their contributions by assuaging our fears of eternal damnation.
American citizens are known for their generosity, and while charitable giving has remained steady, the share going to churches is dropping. This is a shame, but predictable. We want to see results from our giving and know that the recipient will go after the problems that we’re concerned about. Here’s an exercise: search the web for ‘Church’ and go to the websites of the first five results and look for their charitable efforts. Then line up those efforts with your particular community needs. Do they line up? My search brought me communion and fundraising events and the standard bible schools. There were some scarf knitting for the needy and mission trips, but very little directly impacting my community.
The opportunity for churches is this: realize that your first mission is not to convince those of their pending doom: we’ve all heard that story. Instead, reclaim your role as the organization your community admires for lifting up those poor souls who have lost their way. In your marketing efforts, list the good you’ve done for the community and offer volunteer events for people of all backgrounds. Americans need some hope and will admire those who give it to them. For churches, this is their natural role.