According to a Gallup poll, less than 40 percent of Americans “say” they go to church weekly. As it turns out, however, less than 20 percent are actually in church. In other words, more than 80 percent of Americans are finding more fulfilling things to do on weekends. Furthermore, somewhere between 4,000 and 7,000 churches close their doors every year. Southern Baptist researcher Thom Rainer, in a recent article entitled “13 Issues for Churches in 2013,” puts the estimate higher.

He says between 8,000 and 10,000 churches will likely close this year. Between the years 2010 and 2012, more than half of all churches in America added not one new member. Each year, nearly 3 million more previous churchgoers enter the ranks of the “religiously unaffiliated.” Clearly, there are changes taking place in today’s Church. My feeling is that churches will always be here. But, as I see it, there are 7 trends impacting churchgoing today.

The demographic remapping of America.

Whites are the majority today at 64 percent. In 30 to 40 years, they will be the minority. One in every three people you meet on the street in three to four decades will be of Hispanic origin. I think it’s safe to say if you are a church leader and your church is not reaching Hispanics, your church’s shelf life is already in question. Furthermore, America is aging. Go into almost any traditional, mainline church in America, observe the attendees, and you’ll quickly see a disproportionate number of gray-headed folks compared to all the others. According to Pew Research, every day for the next 16 years, 10,000 new baby boomers will enter retirement. If you cannot see where this is headed, then let me spell it out. Since most churches today are comprised of mostly retired or older persons, where do you think it will be in ten or fifteen years?


Technology is changing everything we do, including how we “do” church. Yet, there are scores of churches that are still operating in the age of the Industrial Revolution. Instead of embracing the technology and adapting their worship experiences to include the technology, scores of traditional churches, mainline Protestant, and almost all Catholic churches do not utilize the very instruments that, without which, few Millennials would know how to communicate or interact. As a consequence, in my consultation with church leaders, I strongly suggest to pastors and priests, for example, that they should use social media.

Even in worship, I encourage them to grab their smartphones and, right smack in the middle of a sermon, ask the youth and young adults to text their questions about the sermon’s topic that, as they do, you’ll retrieve them on your smartphone and, before dismissing worship, you’ll answer the three best questions about today’s sermon. When I suggest something like this, most of the ministers just stare at me as if I’ve lost my mind. What they should be more concerned about, however, is why the Millennials have little or no interest in what they have to say.

Leadership crisis.

Enough has been written about this in the past. But you can be sure clergy abuse, the cover-up by the Church, and fundamentalist preachers and congregations have been driving people away from the Church and continue to drive people away faster than any other causes combined. Every survey of the American church-going public, including those who’ve left, suggests that one of the chief reasons is that people no longer want the church to tell them what they have to believe or face eternal damnation if they don’t.


People have more choices on weekends than simply going to church. Further, the feelings of shame and guilt many people used to feel and church leaders used to promote for not attending church every week are gone.

Religious pluralism.

Speaking of competition, there is a fifth trend impacting the decline of the church in America. People have more choices today. Credit this to the social changes in the ’60s, to the Internet, to the influx of immigrants and minorities, and with them, their faith traditions; the fact is, people today meet other people of entirely different faith traditions, and many of them are compassionate like Christ but not followers of Christ.

The "contemporary" worship experience.

This, too, has contributed to the decline of the church. It’s been the trend in the last couple of decades for traditional, mainline churches to pretend to be something they’re not. Many of them have experimented with praise bands, the installation of screens, praise music, leisure dress on the platform, and, well, you know how well that’s been received. Frankly, it has largely proven to be a fatal mistake. Of course, there are exceptions to this everywhere, especially in those churches where there is an un-traditional look already, staging, and amphitheater-style seating, as well as the budget to hire the finest musicians to perform for worship.

In traditional, mainline churches, however, trying to make a stained-glass atmosphere pass as a coffeehouse gathering has met with about as much success as a karaoke singer auditioning for "The X Factor." Contemporary worship works in contemporary settings and, even then, only if done very, very well. My point is, however, in traditional settings, it has not met with much success at all. I would suggest that Church leaders recognize that they should improve their traditional worship, not just move furniture around on the pulpit or think that a karaoke band is going to rescue their dying worship experience.

Phony advertising.

There’s one more trend I’ll mention I believe is having a devastating impact on the Church and most certainly contributing to its decline. You cannot tell Millennials that your church welcomes everybody -- that all can come to Jesus -- and then, when they come, what they find are few mixed races or no mixed couples. You cannot say, “Everybody is welcome here if, by that, you really mean, so long as you’re like the rest of us, straight and in a traditional family.” In the words of Rachel Evans, a millennial herself and a blogger for CNN, “Having been advertised to our whole lives, we millennials have susceptible BS meters.”

In other words, be authentic and be yourself. If everyone is not really equally welcomed to the table at your church, stop advertising that you are open to anyone. That is not only untrue, but Millennials can see through the façade, and they will not stay in such a church. These are just a few of my reflections.

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