A quick skim of the newspaper on a Friday in September reminds me of other correspondence I had seen earlier in the week.
• A Wall Street Journal report quotes the Pope who warned against increasing apathy toward religion in Germany. “We are witnessing a growing indifference to religion in society,” he said in Berlin.
• A column appearing a few pages later chronicles and decries efforts of the Obama administration to promote sermonizing by rabbis on such topics as the President’s jobs bill, the impact of budget cuts on the poor, and the country’s need for “raising revenue,” that is, increasing taxes. “The mandate of religious leaders is to convey to their communities spiritual encouragement and the wisdom of the ages,” wrote Tevi Troy, a former White House Jewish liaison. “For the other stuff, there’s cable news.”
• An e-mail earlier that morning came from an Ohio Christian church leader declining my request to write about the state of the church in America. He said he’s pretty sure people don’t want to read his opinion. “The church will continue to decline in the U.S.,” he wrote. “More small, traditional churches will be closing. The megachurch will continue successfully until it wakes up and realizes we’re not producing disciples but consumers.”
• And then I thought about a Web conference I had attended just the day before. Spokesmen for Faith Communities Today (FACT) highlighted their latest research study, “A Decade of Change in American Congregations: 2000 to 2010.” They noted some encouraging trends (for example: increases in innovative worship, adoption of new technologies, and growing outreach to racial/ethnic congregations). But these were overshadowed by the negatives: financial stress, high levels of conflict, aging memberships, declining attendance, and an across-the-board decrease in spiritual vitality reported by leaders from all kinds of U.S. churches.*
You and I know more than one congregation not described by this litany of losses. Their preachers have not given their pulpits to politics. They’re in no danger of closing their doors. Their members are not indifferent about faith.
But we dare not discount which way the wind is blowing in our country. Observers everywhere have noticed the eroding influence of the church on our society.
Sometimes the church says this is society’s fault. But, increasingly these days, church leaders themselves are admitting they can no longer ignore how much of the world is ignoring the church, the church’s programs, and ultimately, the church’s Lord.
*See FaithCommunitiesToday.org for details and much more information.