Well, America, we are becoming less religious. As the millennial generation moves into adulthood more and more members are displaying less religious fervor. They are sick as business as usual and find the church to be defined by hypocrisy. About 30 percent of people believe they can find God outside of the church and 20 percent reported feeling that God is missing from church, Barna research found. Some people who once loved their church are seeing disgruntled and leadership falling into decay despite the elaborate buildings and programs. This is not about loving God—this runs deeper as His representatives on earth are losing the very essence of the Great Commission. More people over 18 are moving towards being unaffiliated. The main drop off in Christianity has been driven mainly by declines among mainline Protestants and Catholics. Each of those “large religious traditions has shrunk by approximately three percentage points since 2007,” the Pew Research Center found. Between 2007 and 2014, the Christian share of the population fell from 78.4 percent to 70.6 percent. About 78 percent of people who once identified with Christian groups like Protestants, Catholics and Mormons have switched religions because they feel those traditions are no longer serving them.
Just as followers started getting out of the legalistic churches, legalism was replaced with a focus on church growth. With this, secularism crept into the sanctuaries. What started as an ideological focus of growth has turned the church into a cash cow. What blinders are we wearing? Where did we miss it? George Barna, the founder of the Barna Research Group, unearthed that success is one of the reasons for the mess the church is in. There are 5 categories that summed it up when pastors where asked: “How do they know that their church is successful?” The answer was “Attendance, giving, number of programs, number of staff, and square footage.” If the goals are not met, just like in the corporate world, it begins to fail. Let’s rewind here a minute. If we don’t make these quotas the church is a failure? Do we need to go to the Book? Yes, the Book we preach from and read from called the Bible. There is the 5-fold ministry that is to prepare God’s people for works of service so the Body of Christ may be built up until we have unity with Christ. In Ephesians 4:11 the 5-fold-ministry called for some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists and some to be pastors and teachers. This certainly wasn’t listed in the answers pastors provided Barna, nor does it say for the church to be wealthy. Jesus did not even have a home and ran a ministry. Paul was a poor minister as well. He was not a failure. If they were here today the definition would be different.
Pastors are not to be blamed here, either. Some of them are trying to survive on a shoe-string budget. People are demanding better worship, entertaining sermons, and teachings that are very non-confrontational. Messages on sin are not popular, and so leaders have scaled back. We’ve become focused on greed and made man a focus, not God. Another reason organized religion is more divisive is it does not unify. Some believe that no one religion has it 100 percent correct. Some shared that they can pray anywhere, and don’t need a domination. Other explained that they will pray to God in their own way, since many of the religious do not live by example. Also formal religion makes many people uneasy.
Church is run too much like a business and we are paying the price. There is nothing wrong with keeping the lights on and wanting to see church growth. “The hierarchical nature of religious groups, several people who think religion is too much like a business and others who mention clergy sexual abuse scandals as reasons for their stance,” Pew reported. Church has been secularized. You walk in some churches and it feels like you’re in the middle of a rock concert. The teachings are more on prosperity and there is no emphasis on commitment or sacrifice. Jonathan Walton, professor of Religion and Society at Harvard Divinity said in an interview with CNN, "When you have pastors thinking of themselves as CEOs, it's hard to tell the difference between a pastor and P-Diddy." He also was concerned how the “American evangelical communities are breaking down and Christians have been quick to embrace franchised, mega-church model."
What does the future look like for the church? If young people are not attending, how can the church survive? Culture is changing frantically and church needs to adapt, but in the midst of it all, it’s important to keep Christ at the center. We can understand the Christian concerns for the church with atmospheric forces of sin waging against us. We are supposed to counter-culture and unhealthy trends. What would Christ do? Honestly we don’t know. However, the church is in a state of emergency that needs rescuing and all of us are to blame. We need to admit as believers that we have succumbed to the same snares as the church. We no longer look to God for significance but look at self-aggrandizement. Maybe we need a Moses to come down to slap us with the Word of God as he did with the 10 Commandments. However, there is good news. We can make a change. Jesus talked about the narrow gate in Matthew 7 that leads to life. “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” The narrow gate is never popular. This is what makes us the salt of the earth and what happens when we as Christians and the church as a whole loses its flavor? Like any other unfinished chapter, we will all find out the ending. As we move into the New Year, let’s reflect on our triumphs, but also where we are going as believers.