We've all known that the last 50 years of religious participation in the U.S.A. has been in decline. That's been our common, discouraging experience.
Local Churches and regions may have seen some localized growth, but over all the pattern has been depressing. It's been filled with shrinking membership, budget cuts, staff layoffs and growing facility maintenance needs.
We've seen alarming trends in worship frequency, lower rates of young people participating and dropping donations.
The chart below puts the last 50 years into perspective. Were it to be extended into the 1920's on the left and to 2018 on the right, it would illustrate what we have really faced: An unusual "bump" in the level of religiosity in the United States.
In fact, our nation has experienced three "Great Awakenings" before this when religiosity rose to high levels and then fell back again. (Unfortunately, polling was not available to measure their relative strength.)
So we've had these massive rises and falls of religious participation pretty regularly.
Are we doomed?, or we can see this as a "glass half-full" opportunity?
Within a 1/2 mile walking radius of most churches, 70% of the population is uninvolved in religious activity, according to recent MissionInsite polling data.
AND 40% of that population report that they are lonely, and have few, if any close friends.
This can be seen as a failure on the part of the church, or it can be caused by the forces of a highly secular, consumer society training people to "cocoon" and isolate themselves out of fear, anxiety or a false sense of material wealth. Maybe it's both.
Instead, this can be seen as a golden opportunity for the church and it's unbelievable gift of great and meaningful relationships with God and with others.
The Good News is that the Realm of Heaven has come near! And that we are all invited to become Citizens of Heaven, right now! (Phil. 3:20)
With this in mind:
- Perhaps the local church can reclaim it's position in the neighborhood as a "mini-community center?" It can offer many activities and "neighborhood focused" gatherings.
- Perhaps the local church can be the place where people come as individuals and leave as friends?
- Perhaps we can encourage people within that 1/2 mile radius to get out, walk a little, meet neighbors, make new friends and at the same time discover a deeper meaning to life!
Relationships are the historic "GOLD" of our Chrisitian religious communities and now is the perfect time to offer these riches to those around us.
Let's grow "small" in order to grow vital once again.