December 15, 2017

#1 Reason Why Church Attendance Is Down – Really?

Caprese_Pizza_ 012No, the number one reason why church attendance is down is not pizza. I did think however, that the story of a fictional iMonk pizzeria might help us understand the flaws in the stated reason and proposed solutions that are detailed later on in the post.

Imagine you are a neighborhood pizzeria owner.  As the proprietor of iMonk Pizza you are concerned.  Sales are down, profits are down and your business seems to be in decline.  You hire an expensive business consultant who examines the data from your frequent  purchaser club (buy 10 pizzas and get the next one free!)  Several weeks, and several thousand dollars later he delivers (no pun intended) his results.  The reason why your sales are down is because…

People are purchasing less frequently!

He explains it this way.  Most people in your frequent purchaser club used to come in at least once a week.  While many of them still do, some are purchasing once every couple of weeks.  Others, just once a month.  Still others are only coming in for special occasions, like purchasing pizza for their child’s birthday party.

The resolution to this difficulty, according the consultant, is to get people to come in more frequently, and he has five strategies to help you achieve this.

  1. Tell people how important it is for them to eat your pizza.  Tell them about the care that goes into making each pizza.  Tell them about the special way that you prepare your crust.  Tell them how filling it is.
  2. Make sure people understand what the frequent purchaser club is all about.  Require them to read the 15 page terms and conditions document before they get their first punch card.
  3. Get the members of the frequent purchasers club more involved in your business.  Have fliers on hand that they can hand out around their neighborhood.
  4. Extend your business hours so that customers can order when it is convenient to them.
  5. Monitor who is coming into your business, and when.  Send them a card when you haven’t seen them for a while.

Unfortunately, while the consultant was right that the number one reason that your business was in decline was because people came less frequently, he completely missed the real reasons why people were coming less frequently.  By talking with your customers you discover:

The recession has hit your customers hard. Susan lost her job.  She used to buy from you every week, but now only can afford to buy once a month.

John still has a job.  But his job has him commuting 3 hours a day.  Because he gets home so late, he eats in the town in which he is working.

Steve and Bob are college students and the pizzeria down the road has transformed itself into a sports bar with the requisite pub food and big screen TVs.  They still like your pizza, but would rather hang out and watch the game at the other place.

When Ted was on holiday he tried a pizza with a lobster topping and absolutely loved it.  Although he still drops in from time to time, Ted has switched his loyalties to another pizzeria in town that carries that topping.

Charlotte just came back from Chicago where she experienced authentic deep dish pizza.  She swears she will never try regular pizza again.

Fred is helping take care of his dying father across town.  He is usually over there feeding his father at supper time.

Mary has gotten tired of your pizza.  It hasn’t changed much over the years.  While she still comes in, her visits are not as frequent.

Alexander has been having his lunch at the new “Pita Surprise” that opened up down the street.  He believes it is a healthier alternative to Pizza.

And speaking of healthy alternatives, Mike has discovered that over the past year he has put on 30 pounds eating iMonk pizza.  On Doctor’s orders he is now on a pizza free diet (though he does manage to still sneak in once in a while.)

You realize that your consultants report isn’t going to do much to increase pizza purchases at iMonk pizza, and you need some real solutions to address the real problems…


Quite often items from friends come into my facebook feed that make me raise an eyebrow. Most of the the time I will let it slide, people have passionate views about things, and stating a contrary view doesn’t do much to build relationships. There was however, a recent share of an older post that I just couldn’t pass up.  According to Thom Rainer, the President and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, the number one reason why church attendance is down is…

People attend less frequently!

He also proposes some solutions:

  1. Raise the expectations of membership. You may be surprised how many church members don’t really think it’s that important to be an active part of the church. No one has ever told them differently.
  2. Require an entry class for membership. By doing so, the church makes a statement that membership is meaningful. The class should also be used to state the expectations of what a committed member looks like.
  3. Encourage ministry involvement. Many members become less frequent attendees because they have no ministry roles in the church. They do not feel like they are an integral part of the church.
  4. Offer more options for worship times. Our culture is now a 24/7 population. Some members have to work during the times of worship services. If possible, give them options. One businessman recently told me that he changed congregations to a church that offered a Saturday worship time because his job required him to catch a plane on Sunday morning.
  5. Monitor attendance of each member. This approach is often difficult, especially for worship attendance. That is why the traditional Sunday school approach of calling absentees was so effective. Perhaps churches can incorporate that approach in all groups. Members are less likely to be absent if they know someone misses them.

Here is the problem, like the pizza consultant, when your solutions don’t address why people  are actually attending less frequently, you are likely to end up with the wrong solutions.

Take me for example, for a number of reasons, I am very close to burnout.  When I hear words like “active”, “committed”, “involvement”, and “monitor attendance”, it is going to produce the opposite of the intended effect in me.  If I hear these words from the pulpit on a Sunday morning, I am going to be less likely, not more likely,  to attend the following week.  I am burnt out and you want a larger commitment from me?!?

Seven years ago, when we searching for a new Pastor, our church surveyed our community.  When asked the number one reason why they didn’t attend church, the top two responses could be summarized as:  “Too tired”, and “not enough time.”

What I need to hear, and they need to hear is:

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  – Matthew 11:28-30 (NIV)

I know there are many who will read this who attend church less frequently than before.  Many of you attend different churches than you attended previously, i.e. your frequency of attendance at the previous church dropped to zero.  Your reasons are likely to be different to mine.  What are some of the real reasons why your attendance became less frequent, or you dropped out of that church altogether? What prospective solutions could have been offered that might have made a difference?  As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.

Comments

  1. My wife and I switched churches quite recently. Our main reason was the exact opposite of most of the ones listed in this post – the church we were attending (a mainline church that shall remain nameless) is set in its pre-1960s ways, has few (and shrinking) opportunities for community service, and seems dead-set (pun intended) to keep things exactly the way they are until they die of attrition (congregation is 66%+ grey edge of Boomers). The few folks who can see the slow-motion train wreck coming talk about the problems, but have no control over the course of the congregation. And the pastor is burnt out and departing, and there’s no telling who may replace him.

    We wound up attending an “emergent” church whose pastor taught an evening class at our old church, and while it took some getting used to (and their congregation has issues of their own), they at least recognize the problems besetting the American church and are striving to confront them in their own little community. That is enough for us, for now.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > they at least recognize the problems besetting the American church

      In short form, what do you think those are?

      Depending upon one’s perspective there appears to be several baskets to choose from. I’m curious if people choosing different `exit strategies` are expressing a difference in perspective as to what the “problems” are; or if exiting just tends to look different in different environments.

      • A focus on numbers and buildings over discipleship, an unreflective middle-class-centrism, selective moralism (what the focus is being a function of the “denomination”), and insisting that the current church culture is just fine and either insisting newbies get with the program or making cosmetic changes (like worship music and PowerPoint) to become “relevant”. There problems transcend the “evangelical/mainline” divide in a matter almost comic, if it weren’t a tragedy.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          I doubt you could drag me into an Emergent Church if I was bound – but I generally agree with your description of the problem. That is encouraging.

          I do have doubts about “discipleship”; I increasingly struggle to define that in a constructive/concrete way. It is an idea and a criticism that gets a lot of stage time, but the answer frequently seems to fade into “bible study”. And the new looks a lot like the old.

          > an unreflective middle-class-centrism, selective moralism

          +1,000.

          • MelissatheRagamuffin says:

            You’d definitely have to tie me up to get me into an emergent church. As a friend of mine puts it, “Poop is emergent too.”

    • “Our main reason was the exact opposite of most of the ones listed in this post ”

      Try not to take the analogy too far here. I am not taking aim at any particular church or tradition. The main point I was trying to get across was that people leave for a multitude of different reasons, and unless we know why they are really leaving we won’t have any real solutions.

      • And, in my opinion and for what it’s worth, I think the reasons people leave may not really be related to reasons why others stay. I also believe they are very far removed from why people attend in the first place. Like your pizza place analogy, would business improve if all the “problems” as defined by those who left were “fixed” or at least addressed?

        To draw another analogy, every single one of those “problems” listed by people who leave are faced by McDonald’s as well. Yet McDonald’s is not only thriving but growing and branching out. It continues to do a phenomenal amount of business with limited menu alternatives and a bland sameness no matter what location you attend. How is it possible for them to fix none of the problems the pizza place faces, but still thrive?

        That’s the analogy we need to look at – how do some churches maintain a healthy congregation while seeming to do none of the things that the “problem fixers” say need to be done?

  2. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    > What are some of the real reasons why your attendance became
    > less frequent, or you dropped out of that church altogether?

    The cynical churchite would describe my primary reason as “his needs weren’t being met”.

    But the core reason was I looked at the church, looked at my life, looked at the church, looked at my life – and really…. they seemed irrelevant to each other. The church increasingly sounded like it was discussing a world I couldn’t find, it certainly had little to nothing to do with the world I lived in or all of the inhabitants of the world that I met day-to-day. And sometimes it would make incredibly ugly statements which I felt I was expected to just go along, to just nod-and-smile, but I didn’t want to. And as time went on I wanted to less and less and then much less. And there was no discussion, no recourse. I learned trying to talk to pastors was a complete waste of time, they are so buried in their own little world they are oblivious that they are not talking about a world anyone else lives in.

    > What prospective solutions could have been offered that
    > might have made a difference?

    Honestly, I don’t really know. And part of me feels that it just isn’t my problem to solve, if the professional clergy class are determined to steer that ship in a particular direction…. have a great time [but that thundering sound that is growing louder and louder…. meh, whatever, they are convinced it is Gabriel’s drummers].

    I’ll keep my loose affiliation with the Romans, who’ve been in this world much longer and seem much less confused about what it is and how it works. But probably not much more than that, or at least I can’t see that now.

    I am confident that the concepts of Slow and Place, along with current demographic trends, will ensure that a sane remnant of The Church survives; life boats are already arriving at the piers. Don’t panic.

    Whatever “might have made a difference” [past tense] didn’t happen. As always our current situation is the result of a l-o-n-g sequence of choices made by clergy, politicians, and the zeitgeist. So it will take a long time to change. The assumptions of the previous age are built right into the brick & mortar of our lives [which the ideas of Place now let us articulate more effectively]. Change will come as things [actual things] change, and things [actual things] will get changed because of change. I intend to enjoy the show.

    • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

      But the core reason was I looked at the church, looked at my life, looked at the church, looked at my life – and really…. they seemed irrelevant to each other. The church increasingly sounded like it was discussing a world I couldn’t find, it certainly had little to nothing to do with the world I lived in or all of the inhabitants of the world that I met day-to-day. And sometimes it would make incredibly ugly statements which I felt I was expected to just go along, to just nod-and-smile, but I didn’t want to.

      Wow, that sounds painfully familiar.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > Wow, that sounds painfully familiar.

        Thank you.

      • Suzanne says:

        Yes, that hits the proverbial nail on the head. Far too many churches are spending untold amounts of effort and money fighting an enemy that doesn’t exist. So many sermons I’ve heard over the past few years with the theme of how much the world hates us. Rather, I think we are so far off most people’s radar, they can’t even work up a strong dislike. We are mostly irrelevant and people don’t hate irrelevant–they ignore it. So, we fall to gimmicks, fake culture wars, fear-mongering and emotional appeals just to get attention.
        I sense so much fear among Christians of anything outside their protected world; fear of getting to know those of another race, creed, or culture, fear of exploring writings and beliefs of those outside of the Christian sub-culture. The Christian community seems overflowing with misconceptions of anything and everything that is not us.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          > Rather, I think we are so far off most people’s radar

          +1

          > We are mostly irrelevant

          And where we are relevant it is mostly as an irritant. Finding the church sitting at the table participating in creating solutions…. a rare event. When the church is even in the room it is typically in fear of how any solution my infringe on its turf – “Okay, so we don’t do much to help the poor and we don’t have even a fraction of the resources to address those problems, but it should be us doing it, so you guys shouldn’t be involved in that, that is our mandate… by you know, when we get around to it.”

  3. William Martin says:

    My church attendance is down. I loved my church more than any I have ever attended. I have learned so much. Not so much because of anything being preached but at times inspite of. I have gained because of messages because of a good word and the opposite. The opposite having a profound effect because it stuck in my mind for a long time and I will never lose it. Lately I go to worship to pour out my heart in song and give my gift then I leave. I hurt a lot since my sister has past from cancer on her birthday this year and our church preaches a lot of divine healing. She believed in the Lord with all her heart and she and her husband never said goodbye because they were standing on her healing as was I. She attended healing prayer many times and many prayed for her. I am disillusioned. I have no answers. I seem to be stuck. I don’t know how to reverse the trend and my tears are many. I don’t want to preached at. I need Him to try and help me in this time. I don’t know where to go. I believe in Him. He has always helped me but at this time I feel alone and more times then not I want to be. I’ll take any advice here I can get.

    • My heart goes out for you William.

      Perhaps I could gently suggest taking a look at some of Michael Patton’s writing. Here is a sample:

      http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2013/04/writing-from-my-brokenness/

      • William Martin says:

        I appreciate the link. I have started reading it. I wonder at times of the genie in the bottle thing. I really don’t have any wishes these days. My sis prayed for me and God answered her and I am still here. I never really liked it here that much. I have to leave here and she set an example for me and one I will never forget. Church going right now just isn’t getting it. I know He loves me and in a way I am growing closer to Him. I have no place to go as my life left very few stones unturned so gratitude of His grace is great within my heart. I wouldn’t want to leave my sister down. I looked to him everyday just like always but I want to be left alone. Mostly I want to be alone with Him and maybe that’s selfish. I so hope it changes someday and maybe it will be even better. I wonder of this poison thing as I have seen it some and been aware of something not quite right for awhile now. I do need His help through this. I will keep looking because He said I would see and that is my hoppe.

        • By the way on a totally unrelated topic. My great grandmother was a Martin. Ancestors immigrated to the U.S. from Switzerland (of German stock) in 1727. So good chance that we are distantly related. Also have a lot of Freys and Hersheys in my family tree. (My great aunt was a niece of the founder of Hershey’s chocolate.)

          • William Martin says:

            Nice. I live 20 minutes from Hershey and have worked there quite often. Yes we have been here for awhile in Pennsylvania. Thank you for your response.

    • Scooter's Mom says:

      William, I have been going thru the exact same thing since my sister died of breast cancer Jan 5, 2013. It is not getting easier. I don’t seem to know who God is anymore. I used to, I thought. Now I just cry at the drop of a hat and find no one who truly understands my hurt. The regular short practiced answers do not help and in fact, are insulting. I no longer have the energy to keep holding onto my faith. It is there but barely. My world has been turned upside down and I don’t know what to do. I pray but I don’t know if I have enough faith left to have them heard.

      I also believed in my sister’s healing. I didn’t question it. Then when she died, I was crushed. Still am.

      I will also read the writing that Michael suggested for you and see if that helps. In the meantime, I have a picture of Christ holding on to me as the water rises up to my neck. I look at that and remember that no matter whether I have doubt or not, Christ is always holding on to me.

    • Peace From The Fringes says:

      I’m sorry to hear of your loss. We lost my sister last year through similar circumstances. Personally, I believe the concept of “Divine Healing” is deeply false and poisons those it touches. It’s a form of magical thinking that prohibits people from honest thought and clear communication. The misty-eyed conviction and platitudes of its adherents makes me want to scream and slap somebody. (Sorry, but did you notice I feel very strongly about this? 🙂 ).

      It is a perfect storm of victim-blaming. “Well, you must not have prayed correctly…..you must not have believed enough…… look, Susie-Q was healed, so it must work!” AAUURGH!!! Meanwhile, all opportunity to make peace with mortality and give your loved ones the gift of honest talk and practical action is lost forever.

      • Peace, I believe it is a denial of what comes to us all in the end, as well as a sure-fire way of avoiding the whole grieving process – that it only makes things MUCH worse for everyone goes without saying.

        William and Scooter’s Mom, I am truly sorry for your losses as well as for what you’re going through. I think grief counseling (provided you get with someone good) might be helpful, and i’m sure that good grief counselors are all too familiar with the kinds of situations you’ve been in re. insistence on healing that never comes. I’ve been around some of that in my lifetime, and it *is* poisonous, as Peace from the Fringes said.

        (btw, I’m speaking of “secular,” professional counselors, not anyone associated with a church or specific denomination.)

        • I meant to say that “a sure-fire way of avoiding the grieving process”” = the grieving process is much harder when it comes, because it is complicated by all the expectations and guilt and everything else that comes from that kind of magical thinking.

    • William, I am sorry for your loss. I would like to recommend you try a program called Griefshare. It has helped me through the death of my parents and spouse. Here is a link: http://www.griefshare.org. It is Bible based and meets all over the U. S. in various locations with trained counselors as facilitators. There are short films, a workbook and sharing time all incorporated in the main program which meets once a week for 13 weeks, as well as daily encouraging emails you can chose to receive or not. I hope it can be a blessing for you and aid in healing your broken heart and spirit
      .

  4. T.S.Gay says:

    There seems that there once was a time when people all lived with the same people their entire life. The other was held as different in that situation, and the Christians of that time seemed to really follow Jesus approach to reach out to them( which involved going). I believe patriarchy to be appropriate in that situation because the older men had literally fought to keep the values of the group intact. But as societies we left the so-called dark age to one probably most influenced by the printing press. One could read the Bible and so much more on one’s own. We rightly evolved to groups that followed a value scheme of what seemed an inner equilibrium( in the later cartoons of that era you would see a devil on one shoulder an angel on the other). In that situation Christians tended to relate to the others as similar but behind the curve in respect to Christian values. Today, however, things have changed even more. Friends, acquaintances, co-workers, others, even family are for but a season. We are with others shoulder to shoulder. One noticeable aspects of others is that despite no Christian identity of their values, we all lead lives with values( one prominent atheistic placard is “good without God”, somewhat missing the point about sin, but emphasizing the liberal Christian orthodoxy from the beginning about original sin but not original guilt( and it pushes me toward the liberal side of a pew when guilt is so often a sermon approach- actually I lied there- it pushes me out of the building). When you experience life with so many changes in the people around you- it is an existential existence. The values that were appropriate for the group in the past aren’t the same, the future will certainly not be the same. I really think, in the example of many, the words of the basketball player Kevin Durant were most appropriate for today. He said the real most valuable player was and is his mom. And I believe the need for others( and Church) is a more matriarchal approach. That is a nest where appropriate values and love is experienced. It can’t be a pew. That is why I resonate with Chaplain Mike’s ideas about a meal fellowship. I don’t want a place that sells me pizza. I want a place to sit down with others, be truly accepted as I am, be encouraged to explore and develop my gifts, and have some pizza served appropriate for different age( or mature) palates. Recognize that places like that have people who go who are a blessing in the workplaces and activities of the places they live. To me that starch, veggie, and some protein they get in the “nest” are the glue of their broader place. And I want homemade pizza and not some generic frozen chosen. And I wouldn’t mind if a good wine was offered. I live in the Grand River Valley wine region of Ohio.

  5. A thought provoking article, if not a very good metaphor. Let’s leave aside that pizza shops are in the business of providing a commodity while churches really shouldn’t be “selling” anything, should they?

    First off, I see a presumption that the reasons people leave church and the reasons people attend church bear a one-to-one relationship with one another. If I leave a church because I just don’t have time any more for all the stuff going on, does that mean I will attend another church that has less stuff going on? I’m not likely to attend anywhere, so there’s not really a counter to that argument. I could go down the list of why people leave that you have and point out how eliminating the reasons for leaving (if that were actually possible in every case) would not stem the tide or attract new attendees. At best, the data collected is anecdotal and may or may not be related to actual reasons why people left, but even if it were, it’s even less correllated to reasons why people attend in the first place.

    Second, there are effective methods to offset the reasons people leave. There is a local pastor in our area who has maintained his congregation at a stable size despite the fact that he has greater than 100% statistical turnover of attendees. He does this because he has a core group that is loyal to his family (yes, it’s a family run church), but outside of this group he employs relentless recruiting efforts that involve high-pressure personal evanglism. Sort of like Evangelism Explosion on steroids. It makes no difference how many people leave because the churn rate is so high that he’s able to offset the losses.

    But is that what churches want or need to achieve? It can be done and I’m sure it’s being done all over, but is that what we want?

    Finally, the whole question smacks of applying the tools of the world – marketing, exit surveys, polling, satisfaction indices, etc. – to a problem that should not even be defined in these terms. Church attendence is a symptom, an effect, a consequence of other things. It is not a goal to be achieved or even, in my worthless opinion, a meaningful metric. It is interesting, but only as a corollary to important things. Better to ask what the important things are and do those and let attendance take care of itself.

    • “Church attendence is a symptom, an effect, a consequence of other things. It is not a goal to be achieved or even, in my worthless opinion, a meaningful metric. It is interesting, but only as a corollary to important things. Better to ask what the important things are and do those and let attendance take care of itself.”

      Very good points Rick.

  6. Patricia says:

    I suspect technology may also contribute to the decline in church attendance. Why go to church when one can watch it live online or catch the replay on TV the following week? (Especially if it is a beautiful day for golf or boating?)

    I will keep my rant about the blurred line between church and culture to myself!

  7. Mule Can't Post Under His Own Name Anymore says:

    I don’t think, historically, Church attendance was ever that high, was it?

    in terms of percentage, the high-water mark of American churchmanship appears to be the Eisenhower “attend-the-church-of-your-choice” administration. Prior to that, church attendance was pretty much catch as catch can for a primarily rural population with little opportunity to attend.

    Maybe American church attendance is merely returning to a historic norm.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      I agree. Given the rural/agricultural->urban/industrial->suburban/industrial->exurban/recession->urban/knowledge population migrations and economic mode shifts as well as life span changes, gender role changes, and ethnic migrations comparing these statistics across wide spans of time [or even as little as 40 years] is a dubious practice. Now is not then, many many variables have moved.

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      I don’t have any actual data, but by way of anecdata, I read a lot of newspapers from the 1860s and 1870s in my early baseball history research. I’m not looking for church news, but part of this sort of research is getting distracted by other interesting stuff, so some filters into my brain. My impression matches yours, that there were a lot of people who attended church rarely or never. There is a class element here. As you rise up the class ladder there seems to be some expectation of at least nominal church membership. If you have really made it, you become an Episcopalian.

      • Perhaps a relationship between the presence of communism/redscare and church attendance? Since our version of materialism “won” we no longer have to pray that it will.

      • i wonder where the papers are from? In the area where I live, there are scads of tiny country churches that are either about to die or are well on their way to dying, that were attended by people in little hamlets scattered throughout the area. Around here, the main denominations back in the day (and still) were Lutheran and Methodist, which both have a different take on church membership and attendance than a lot of low church Protestant denominations. (There are also substantial Mennonite, Amish and Church of the Brethren communities in this area, but their takes on church membership and attendance also differ from those of most low church, mainstream Protestant denominations.)

        • Richard Hershberger says:

          I have mostly been working Philadelphia papers of late, with some Baltimore. I have done a lot of New York papers as well. So yes, what I have been seeing is an urban pattern.

          The county where I live, much of which is still very rural, is strewn with little county churches (Lutheran, Reformed, and Methodist being prevalent). Most of these have no good reason to exist today, relying on institutional inertia. But back in the horse and buggy days, they had a real purpose.

          Incidentally, the reason the traditional generic Protestant church in America is either Methodist or Baptist is because those were the two groups actively evangelizing in the boonies and on the frontier. Those Lutheran and Reformed churches in my county are the remnant of German farmers moving down from Pennsylvania. They were already churched, and they built their own churches and sought out clergy. You tend to see a similar pattern with Presbyterian churches in areas with a strong Scotch-Irish (who were originally Scottish) settlement. The Episcopalians had a wide presence, but not a deep one, tending to be the church of the upper class. The Methodists and Baptists were the ones without a distinct ethnic base and reaching out broadly. How churched had these people been previous to that? Very lightly, I suspect.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says:

            > But back in the horse and buggy days, they had a real purpose.

            Exactly. The change is staggering. Up until ~1920 the majority of people died within *20 MILES* of where they were born. You had entire lives lived almost exclusively in a 50 mile radius. Compare that to today! It is a different world.

            The ramifications of this change in mobility are staggering.

          • Richard, the area where I live was settled by Germans (Lutheran and Anabaptist) and Scots-Irish, mainly. So you’ve got mostly Methodists and Presbyterians in the (AFAIK predominantly northern Irish) group there. I’m a descendant of early Lutheran immigrants myself.

            As for not as many people attending churches in urban areas, that’s not surprising to me. Your family and everyone else knows your business out in the country, but in cities, not so much. So the “obligation” part of attendance isn’t there, both then and now.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I remember someone citing a Christianese Culture Warrior source claiming that the Fifties was THE Godly Golden Age because church attendance peaked in 1952.

      “And we’ve got to get ourselves
      Back to the Garden…”
      — Joni Mitchell/Crosby Stills Nash & Young. “Woodstock”

  8. Interesting post. In my own church, we’re struggling with many of the things people have already mentioned — graying population, increasing business of young families on Sundays. It’s also worth noting, however, that someone’s stated reason for not attending church may not be their actual reason for not attending church.
    The temptation for any congregation in decline is to play defense — to focus on what we can do to keep the doors open. In my opinion, this is the wrong approach — we should instead focus on what we can do to get outside the walls and live the Gospel in the community. Every community has people who are broken, hurting, and desparately in need of the healing that only faith in Christ can provide, but too often those people feel unwelcome, and too often we are not aggressive enough in reaching out to them.
    Moreover, I’m not altogether convinced that declining attendance is bad. Obviously, someone who is not coming may be in need of contact and outreach from the church. But our goal shouldn’t just be to get more bodies in the pews on Sunday morning but to draw people into a deeper relationship with God and each other–to make them part of a community of faith, not people simply attending a performance.
    Thanks again for an interesting and thought provoking article.

  9. dumb ox says:

    Maybe the church patterns its business after Dick’s Last Resort, where customers pay to be insulted by the wait staff.

    • You might be onto something there, Mr. Ox.
      Heck, many of us are already used to being hammered every Sunday about how we’re not doing enough for God and falling short of the mark — that’s when we’re not being emotionally manipulated into questioning our own salvation so that we’ll break down and answer an alter call. Some direct, honest verbal abuse might be a refreshing change.

      • Come to church so we can tell you we don’t serve your kind. But feel free to put on a mask and pretend to be the right kind of folk.

  10. Here in So. Cal., the solution has been to ‘give ’em pizza’.

    Or whatever else they want…and to take away all the uncomfortable stuff.

    In other words, to hand them back to themselves.

    Packs ’em in.

    Give them God’s law (and not watered down)…and then the free gospel of grace…and you’ll be lucky to get enough to staff the parking lot detail at those other churches…on a good day.

    • David Cornwell says:

      “Give them God’s law (and not watered down)…”

      When you say that I am never sure what you mean. Give some examples of such preaching.

      • cermak_rd says:

        When I think of God’s law, I think of Torah. You know, don’t cheat your neighbor (use 2 different measures), don’t steal either via violence or subterfuge (land markers), don’t cheat on your spouse, do care for the widow and orphan, do welcome the stranger, don’t kill those who annoy you…

        But I’m not sure that’s what Steve means, because he seems to think the law is so onerous that no one can follow it (never mind Deut 30:11 claims otherwise.)

      • God’s law is not only the 10 Commandments…but any demand that our existence places upon us.

        And, of course, since God is perfect…His demand is perfect. Jesus said it. “You must be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect.”

        And then the question can be asked of us, “well…how is it going? How are you doing?’ Not too well? Then the Lord has something for you. Then one hands over Christ and His forgiveness.

        Law/gospel.

        • +1 steve.
          I wholeheartedly agree.
          Law, then Gospel.

          Sadly 99% of US churches are teaching a series on 5 steps to a better you, or some other similar psycho-babble. People don’t want or need a polished speaker, a 5 point alliterative “message”, or a “do more” “try harder” sermon.
          The mainline church teaches a theology (pardon my lack of proper terminology) that your sins are forgiven up to the point that you are saved, then you it is up to you. People are worn out by this drivel and by trying to make it. The Gospel is for Christians also, and we need to hear this Good News on a regular basis.
          When the topic is more about the completed work of Jesus, and less about me me me, people will come.

  11. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    Give them God’s law (and not watered down)…and then the free gospel of grace…

    Is that your solution for EVERYTHING?
    Like “Increase Political Consciousness” in the crumbling USSR?

    • cermak_rd says:

      “Oh, Rico, chainsaw’s your answer to everything!”

      Quote from one of my favorite programs these days, “The Penguins of Madagascar”

      • Radagast says:

        I hate to admit that it is funny, I hover when the kids have it on…

        • cermak_rd says:

          With references to MacGuffium (a MacGuff is a movie item that moves the plot along but itself is not important (like the Maltese Falcon or the Crystal Skull)) plus references to classic movies like “The Godfather” and “King Kong”, what’s not to like!

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        I’m always skeptical about the Quick One-line Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything.

        Other examples of Quick One Size Fits All answers:

        The Christian Radio “Counseling With a Purpose” where the only counsel given — no matter what the problem (including serious abuse) — was “PrayTheSinner’sPrayerAndAcceptJesusChristAsYourPersonalLORDand Savior” (which ALWAYS happened at the end of every segment).

        The Cage-Phase Calvinist answer to everything: “CALVIN! CALVIN! CALVIN!”

        The Cage-Phase Eastern Orthodox answer to everything: “ORTHODOXY! ORTHODOXY! ORTHDOXY! (string of Greek theological/technical minutiae)!”

        The Fringe Catholic answer to everything: “MARY! MARY! MARY!”

        The Apple Mackinista answer to everything: “Mac Is The Superior System! Apple Akbar! Apple Akbar! Apple Akbar!”

        • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

          As long as you recognize that Mac is the superior system…

          • In “the business,” it is reportedly said: “The suits use Windows, the talent uses Mac.” There is a reason for this.

          • Well, which hardware costs more? I’d be an Apple user if I could afford it.

          • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

            The standard response, numo, is that you can’t afford not to. 😉 Didn’t mean to derail the thread, tho…

          • Danielle says:

            One word: Linux.

          • Mine is putting out before I’m even done paying for it. Numo, unless you’re doing professional music, audio editing, graphic design, film or photography, I really don’t think it’s necessary. I got mine as part of a grad school loan, and it has been an invaluable aide to my work with music, enabling me to many things easier and faster than I’ve ever been able to on windows. I won’t be able to return to windows now, but I also have no idea how I’m going to replace this thing in the next year or two.

            My point is, yes, they’re wonderful, but if you can afford not to, don’t. I’ll probably be going with one of the mini’s next, with a chrome book or some sort of tablet for portable productivity.

          • Miguel, I wish I could somehow scrape together the bucks for a Mac, because of music and related projects. As for the rest, Windows works ok, as you said.

            As for the thread veering off, hey, it had already happened elsewhere… 😉

  12. After 5 years of severe financial difficulties I am just too tired, mentally and emotionally, to find attendance very compelling. I STILL go, every Sunday, but I find it less and less vital. Here are a few of my symptoms:

    1) There is no one in the church that I spend social time with outside of Sundays. We’ve been attending the same church since 2000 and the few people that we socialized with have moved on and we rarely see them now. It takes effort but I just don’t want to put out the effort.

    2) I have stopped singing. I used to LOVE singing and sang in a choir and small groups. When we began attending this church I enthusiastically sang during worship times but as the worship leader moved through different stages of his life, marriage, children, work load, etc., the songs changed. In MY opinion some of them are unsingable or the lyrics are too amorphous to mean much. He is an extremely talented and humble man but it takes too much energy to learn the newer stuff and the lyrics just do not reflect my emotions OR my mindset.

    3) Since I stopped teaching Sunday School I have a hard time getting motivated to attend. Sunday School was becoming a chore and although I got a lot out of the preparation for class there was little in the way of feedback that encouraged my to continue. I felt as if I was wasting my time.

    4) As I said earlier, I am so burned out with trying to dig out of a financial hole that my enthusiasm for life itself has dwindled. There is no hope, actually. I am 63 with no pension to speak of (why don’t we hammer into kids’ heads the necessity of saving for the future?) and although I love my work I am beginning to see that I may not be physically able to continue too far into my 70’s.

    These reasons may not appear on anyone else’s list for falling attendance, but they are on MINE!

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > 1) There is no one in the church that I spend social time with outside of Sundays.

      Been there, I agree. When there is no social integration attendance acquires many of the attributes of a chore. And if there is no social integration the idea of church as a community….

      > 3) … Sunday School was becoming a chore … I felt as if I was wasting my time.

      Ditto, I was very enthusiastic about this once upon a time. But when nobody around you shares your enthusiasm that is hard to sustain.

      > why don’t we hammer into kids’ heads the necessity of saving for the future?

      This happens. Maybe that offers you at least a little vicarious hope I believe many kids get this message loud and often – at least these days [or at least middle class kids do] Not so much when I was younger, but it was almost a daily lecture of my grandfather to save for “when it all hits the #*&^$@ fan, because it certainly $&@*&%$ will”. However rough and uneducated he was he also had a startlingly clear understanding of how things worked; I miss him. I’ve been contributing to a 401k since I turned 20.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Your grandfather grew up during the (First) Great Depression, didn’t he?

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          Actually both my grand fathers were adults in the GD; and both prospered. Before the days of regulation of “insider trading” one grand father got himself a job at the bank so we could keep his ears open as to what bank was healthy [back then there were MANY smaller banks] and moved his money into those, then he used his money to buy bank stock of the banks that were going to be rescued by the government – you could buy bank stock at the time for next to nothing. Those banks recovered, split their stock again and again. I sold the last of that stock around 2006. They were very different men, by grand fathers, but both were clever and resourceful in their own ways. My favorite grand father proverb was: “If at first you don’t succeed … get a bigger hammer.”

        • I still marvel that my grandfather, who just passed two months ago, managed to have saved enough as a small-scale dairy farmer by his mid-50s that his bad back allowed him to retire, if not in material comfort, then with financial security….for the next ___35 years___. He was within shoutin’ distance of 90.

          I’m also about Adam’s age, and I too take what Granddad knew about money pretty darn seriously.

    • You have lots to build on here, Oscar. 1) You like social interaction, but it’s hard right now; 3) You like Sunday School, but find it dry, but think it should have value; and you are concerned about the well-being of kids in their futures. You care.

      How about trying not to bite off so much? A change of venue, maybe. Start small: once or twice a month go somewhere else, do it on a sunny day; start a conversation with the guy sitting behind you. One Sunday it’ll be a bust; another Sunday you’ll think it was worth the effort. Pieces will begin to fall into place and you may find a venue that works better for where you are in life.

      I’ve had a similar set of economic circumstances, but believe the glass is half full! Remember, God is right beside you; knows where you are and is journeying with you. You’ll soon see the glass is actually overflowing with something you never saw before.

  13. Richard says:

    > What are some of the real reasons why your attendance became
    > less frequent, or you dropped out of that church altogether?

    My wife moved out nearly 4 years ago now, because she’s a lesbian. She’s reconstructed her life, but I’m still feeling stuck with fancy promises nobody wants to listen to. It may be that divorce is an essentially excommunicating experience… I certainly know that as time went by I felt less and less connected to a family oriented parish I had loved and attended for 15+ years. The liturgy became a thing I did, a thing I held on to, when all else was lost. Choir was a mathematical exercise.

    And I found myself becoming increasingly cynical about love, since everything tangible that resembled love had left my life. And so I looked desperately to the church to supply that need, since they’re always talking about love. But it wasn’t helping, so I walked away.

    The rector is not very approachable, so I went to talk to the curate (associate pastor), and while the meeting was comforting, it was not ultimately useful. I was also, at his suggestion, involved in a small study group, but the mix of people in that group were unable or unwilling (I’m not sure which) to deal with my issues of loneliness, divorce, and the death of my father. Every time I left the building, I was sadder than when I had arrived.

    > What prospective solutions could have been offered that
    > might have made a difference?

    I find myself wondering what kinds of issues the clergy are competent to help with. I had always thought that, if things got bad, they would be an entry into the safety net, and would at least find me some help if they couldn’t provide it themselves. In the actual event, it was not so. Perhaps for want of me knowing how to ask.

    I don’t honestly know what kind of a community I’m seeking. I was involved in one 40 years ago at college, but really not since, though I’ve attended a series of churches as I’ve moved from city to city. I was nearly 20 years in this parish, was married there, sang in the choir there. And I’m not sure the rector knows my name.

    Perhaps the answer is as simple as having some guiding person in the small study groups, who would be alert to personal problems and invite a pastoral response.

    • Richard,
      I’m sorry for your pain. I had a similar situation nearly 20 years ago. At the time I was active in the church. During and after the divorce I felt really isolated and alone when I attended church. Eventually I got into a Divorce Recovery Group at a different church – my church had no such program or ministry. Not all the folks there were divorced or getting divorced. Some were struggling with a separation.

      I’m RC and the church with the program was Congregational. The small group I was with really clicked and we were a support for each other – everything from phone calls to helping someone move. A number of us are still close and we get together frequently.

      At one point I brought my pastor to one of the weekly large group meetings to see if we could set something up at our church. He made the comment that he had never been in a room where there was so much pain.

      Until I got involved with that group I hadn’t been exposed to non-RC denominations. I was surprised at how much they loved God. Occasionally I will still attend their service instead of mass. We tried to set up a program in our parish but it never took off. I finally realized there was no need to because the Congregational church already had such an effective ministry.

      Hang in there. Eventually things seem to change. You’re in my thoughts and prayers.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > Hang in there. Eventually things seem to change.

        +1. I’ve been way down, assumed my shambled life was running to a gray conclusion. No way forward. But it went forward anyway, they gray passed. It does happen.

  14. Radagast says:

    I don’t know… in my neck of the woods churches go through lifecycles. In my particular faith tradition we do not hunt for a church, we go because on Sunday’s we worship. Our churches are susceptible to the socio-economic trends,or whether the community itself is aging – because if there is no new blood then attendance will drop over time (children growing up and moving away, parishioners dying etc.). I don’t necessarily consider this a bad thing because there are lots of Churches around. I don’t need to go to a certain Church to feel a sense of community or being fed.

    Sometimes a new non-denom church plant will come into the community, with a new look, a new formula, and will target other protestant churches and steal from their pots, then come for the disenfranchised in my tradition and so we will lose numbers that way too. Again, so be it.

    If the answer from Church Leadership is that folks are not involved enough – (everyone I know is engaged in all facets of life up to their necks), then I think they are not paying enough attention. Maybe people need some place to be silent once in a while – like leave the church doors open during the day and encourage people to just come in and sit for a few if they need to…

    • Radagast says:

      And also… why is Church attendance down…. folks don’t consider it a priority anymore. Johnny has baseball tournaments, Mom and Dad are working, no time to go (we have 5 Masses on the weekend, you figure one of them might work) and yet there is time to go down to the local restaurant/bar- it’s a shift in priorities. Do we even talk about God in our homes anymore or is it relegated to the folks at Church to take care of that duty?

      So I am going to dive into the culture war thing for a moment… If we allow our kids to spend all their time with secular theology (TV, etc) and spend every waking and sleeping moment (when they sleep with their smart phones next to them) with social media, and then never talk about our faith as part of the daily conversation… what do you expect is going to happen? When we spend most of our time telling our kids their happiness is the number one thing and anything they do is acceptable, and pander to their every whim… well… you get what you create…

      • Radagast says:

        Oh … I see my cultural rant has moved on from purgatory….

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Johnny has baseball tournaments, Mom and Dad are working…

        I remember being told once about constantly driving their daughter from Soccer Practice to Music Practice to After-School Special Activities to her Psychiatrist. That says it all.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      “If the answer from Church Leadership is that folks are not involved enough – then I think they are not paying enough attention. ”

      This.

    • Maybe people need some place to be silent once in a while – like leave the church doors open during the day and encourage people to just come in and sit for a few if they need to…

      I really miss the days when Catholic churches did this as a rule. I used to sometimes slip into one during the day, just for the quiet and because it provided the space/time for reflection. It’s sorely needed in today’s overscheduled, overpressured, high-gear 24/7 world.

      As for whey people don’t go to church (or Mass, at least), most of us don’t even get enough sleep at night these days, and many people don’t have family meals at home during the week due to all the kids’ activities and working long hours and… it’s no wonder people feel a need to relax and blow off steam with an evening at a restaurant and/or just getting away from everything that feels like an obligation.

  15. StrangerTides says:

    Maybe the pizza box is empty. Seems like it’s at least worth considering that pizza purchasing… I mean, church attendance, is down because younger generations have concluded that religion is human-created mythology, and any benefits of being in that community can’t outweigh the fact that the teachings are simply not true. Isn’t that the elephant in the room?

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > Isn’t that the elephant in the room?

      No. The data doesn’t support this hypothesis. When interviewed Nones do not express such clear criticisms or skepticism, nor are they in their attitudes fundamentally hostile to religion. Nones seem often to see the same disparity between the church and `real life` that many express here.

      • StrangerTides says:

        Hmm, I see your point in that many of them still claim to be religious or spiritual in some way (http://www.pewforum.org/2012/10/09/nones-on-the-rise/) but that article also notes that: “With few exceptions, though, the unaffiliated say they are not looking for a religion that would be right for them. Overwhelmingly, they think that religious organizations are too concerned with money and power, too focused on rules and too involved in politics.” So my hypothesis about their stated reasons may be too strong, but I still wouldn’t rule out the growth of group as a reason for lower attendance.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          Agree, they are not going to be a contributing group – – – unless their attitudes change. Intra-generational attitudes are not static.

          ” they think that religious organizations are too concerned with money and power”

          Yep. We’ll see what happens. I am confident there is a ‘revolutionary’ anti-institutional meme inherited from aspects of the over-culture are work here. This type of statement has been made by many many groups who ultimately end up being very institutional [of course! institution are how humans do things at scale]

          The millennials, who constitute the majority of Nones, face economic challenges which have slowed their integration into society in some ways. With integration will come comfort with institutions – as they will realize those are institutions ARE THEM.

          • Radagast says:

            “With integration will come comfort with institutions – as they will realize those are institutions ARE THEM.”

            Kind of what happened to the 1960’s anti-establishment crowd… who are now the establishment.. and now look at the mess we’re in…

            “I’d like to teach the world to sing… la la la…”

            I think too that a lot of the younger folk want a faith that is individualistic and tailored to their tastes and/or their lifestyle. Will those that stay longer with their parents begin to change this trend? From what I have observed the parents are moving in this direction as well, or at the least are no longer making time for faith.

          • Radagast, those same young people might feel differently (or not) when they start having their own families.

  16. cermak_rd says:

    I’ve left a few churches in my time.

    The first was my home town church. It had a holy priest, Father N. who was The Catholic Church to me. I mean, I knew there was a Bishop, we prayed for him every week and a Pope who we prayed for as well, plus he was on TV sometimes, but Father N. was the one I talked to and got counsel from.

    But I had to go to college. There, I got plugged into an awesome small Mass community. I stayed with them till my senior year. But I had to graduate.

    After graduation, my attendance got a lot more iffy. I still attended at least monthly and made my yearly Lenten obligation. I was busy building my life. Got a job, an apartment, a dog, later on a partner. Working 8-10 hours M-F plus at least an hours commute each day meant Sat was for errands and Sunday for R&R and sleeping in. After college, I never again had the luxury of a parish with an evening Mass opportunity.

    After finding my partner, I did start regularly attending church at an Old Roman Catholic Mass (it was a convenient afternoon Mass). Unfortunately, the priest moved and there was no replacement provided.

    So I had become more of a morning person and started attending my local parish again for a few years. Then loud voices in the Catholic blogosphere started arguing you couldn’t be a Catholic and vote for Kerry and the local Cardinal started getting involved in local political disputes and I began to realize I did not agree with several of the political viewpoints of the Church. So I left and found a lovely Episcopalian church to attend. Their Rite II was very close to a Catholic Mass and they were a lovely, welcoming community.

    But by this time, I had started having doubts about essential things in Christianity. Not small things, but big things like Jesus and the meaning of sacrifice. So left (in a friendly way, I still have a relationship with the priest) and did research on just what religion would fit me. When my father suggested Reform Judaism, I did a little research on it, determined it would indeed be a good fit and found a local shul. It’s been close to 10 years I’m still there. Ask me in 20 more years how it’s gone and we’ll see if I have a similar trail of shuis and am on to something else!

    So–to summarize an already long post: life stage changes (going to college, graduating from same), wanting to sleep in (inconvenient worship times), political disputes with Church leadership, and simply changing ones mind on essential truths.

  17. Peace From The Fringes says:

    My reasons for no longer attending church are three-fold. Greatly simplified, they are:

    1. More and more I realized that the words and sentiments I was repeating in the creeds, hymns, verses, etc. no longer held any genuine Truth for me. As I chanted the Apostles’ Creed and heard myself saying “only son……..born of the Virgin Mary…. rose again…..” it dawned on me that I DIDN’T actually believe that. Repeating it out loud among my fellow men felt inauthentic and false.

    2. I have lost ALL patience with the trappings of *Christian* culture. The slightest hint of christianese group-speak, verse-quoting and the bizarre political/cultural/religious/patriotic hodgepodge of Evangelical Christianity makes me squirm with disgust.

    3. This is probably closely tied to the first two, but going to church and participating in church events felt like a lot of effort to no real end. Making a nice breakfast for my family, reading the paper and gardening with my husband was 100% more fulfilling and affirming, both personally and spiritually.

    Oddly enough, I now read the Bible, and other books, more often, speak of spiritual matters more and pray (after my own fashion) more often as well. Odd, but true. It has been wonderfully freeing and I’m sorry I didn’t realize it earlier.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > the bizarre political/cultural/religious/patriotic hodgepodge of Evangelical
      > Christianity makes me squirm with disgust.

      I’m there. The disgust is passing mostly because I’m just tired of being disgusted, but I’ve also learned to be more effective at avoiding it [which takes some artful skil in the midwest].

      > participating in church events felt like a lot of effort to no real end

      Yes, I still wrestle with this.

  18. Why did people go to church more in the past? Probably for the most part because that is what nice people do, and being nice is how you get into heaven when you die. That’s okay temporarily for young Sunday School kids, but increasingly not for thinking adults. I am not convinced that Jesus was a regular church goer, unless you count getting up before light and going out where no one is likely to find you to spend time with God.

    I am not convinced that God is keeping attendance records, nor that it is required that we worship religiously regularly for brownie points. That would seem to be an inheritance from the Jewish church in Jerusalem and the Jewish culture in general. I guess cultural expectation beats being questioned about your non-attendance with a red-hot iron. Apparently there was a time when the Sabbath was intended as a day of rest. Too often today church attendance is regarded as a chore, and mostly is.

    After a twenty year hiatus, I am again exploring church attendance. Of the three available locally, I am most comfortable with the tiny ELCA Lutheran, but comfortable is a relative word. I endure the singing and the sermon to get to communion, The liturgy is a vehicle to connect with God and make a difference if I hop aboard rather than mouth the words. The church appears to be slowly dying with no young people, and perhaps my attendance might turn out to be something like hospice ministry.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > Why did people go to church more in the past?

      Maybe it was a convenient readily available epicenter of social activity; so people gravitated towards it. The church played an important role in the day to day life of a community; it has lost that role, and various churches apparently can’t seem to decide if they want it back or not, and if they do how to move back towards that role.

      • David L says:

        If anyone is still reading this post…

        As someone who grew up in the 60s / early 70s. The US “church” lost most of it’s influence with my generation by publicly getting into politics and backing people who were hypocrites.

  19. We (as a family … my wife and 3 kids) still do attend the church we have been members of for somewhere around 7 years (of the 8 coming on 9 yrs living in VA), but have certainly wavered especially over the past year or so with probably several months of not attending whatsoever. Over that time of not attending, we received several emails from the pastor asking how we were doing and a card from a wife of one of the elders but not much else… we didn’t feel AT ALL connected to the body of Christ there, just going through the motions of attending Sundays. We had previously been part of some small groups with some of them being very fruitful and developed some of the best relationships we have with folks there. We used to be involved in some ministries but had become burned out, and that was exacerbated by asking us *several* times to get involved in them after already being burned out (to the point of having to make it more than abundantly clear to staff to “stop asking”). There are a few folks there that we are pretty close with, and have similar sentiments about our church family. We pretty much only get together with those people outside of Sundays.

    I think the only two cents I can throw in is two things: 1) I see many that don’t feel they are cared for within the church body. I can’t lay that blame solely on the pastor(s), but do wonder if there shouldn’t be more development of shepherds among the body to care for others? What specifically comes to mind is the usual “small groups”, but it need not always take that form. Those that care would I’d hope naturally reach out to folks that just stop coming… and in my mind, not with the goal of bringing them back to “their church” but to really care about how they are doing, no matter what. I’ve never been fond of the push for passing out fliers for our church… but if someone is interested in a church, I’d tell them about the one we go to. 2) spiritual development … which to me, feeds into #1 (at least personally for me). I have too often seen this only be let’s do a survey and see in what way you can serve in a ministry; I’m not talking about that. I more mean true spiritual growth, one isn’t going to get this fully just from a Sunday sermon, they might with some “small group” (but in my experience, not usually). I have seen some “deeper” services mid-week that were intended for just this purpose, and those in the church that were members attended (but it wasn’t expected for new families).

  20. Thom Rainer’s list is exactly the attitude that caused me to leave church. Here is another guilt-list of the sort always provided when trouble hits. Even #4, offering more services, is merely sweetener for the other demands. The “solutions” are only 5 but manage to cover the complete life. One wonders whether Rainer et al believe they are God’s very own Direct-Line. But nope, they have little to do with the Magnificent Love who slowly draws all parts of ourselves to Him/Herself. Prime evidence is that these “solutions: are blind&deaf to the character/lives/needs of people.

    Why on God’s green earth would I want anything (more) to do with people who call it godly to mix batches of endless anal demands? I have no interest in a pseudo-community, where all members lose themselves to the personality/concerns of one or two individuals. That is also hyper-individualism but with the addition of human sacrifice. Pffft.

    We need fewer rather than more narcissists in our society. I do not understand how, in the face of Jesus and his life, a religion could come to believe that we are to submit to the narcissists among us.

  21. Radagast says:

    It’s almost lunch and that pizza looks good….

    My cultural rant is stuck in moderator purgatory at the moment (or as the Orthodox say, its in the purification stage of purgation/illumination/union) so I’ve had a chance to read what others are saying here….

    Why do my wife, family and I attend church every week without missing…

    1) We’re Catholic and that’s what we do

    2) It is a chance for us to be together as a family

    3) I actually enjoy it (no, really, I do)

    Make up of my Church –

    1) the choir is terrible

    2) Our pastor is a good homilist, but since he runs two parishes we usually have a sub, an old priest who looks like a dried up raisin, can barely stand and is helped by a deacon.

    3) The church itself is not pretty since it is in a temporary space in the school (no longer a school) that became the permanent place…. we do finally have stained glass though.

    Maybe there is something flawed in me. There are times when I go to other Churches, usually because of time conflicts with a service, but I have no desire to wander, to fit in. Is this a Catholic thing, (as it does not seem important to me)?

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      One thing I very much appreciate about my local Catholic church is that the music is mediocre at best, and nobody makes much of a fuss about it.

      Another thing is that I bump into people I’ve met other places. That makes conversation, etc… less forced, easier.

      And the wide spread of socioeconomic rank makes me comfortable; I’ve moved through such ranks in my own life and never feel quite comfortable when one group is concentrated. I was there, now I’m here, which can be discomfiting.

  22. Christiane says:

    when I was in my teens, our parish built another sanctuary some distance from the old church. The new sanctuary was huge and filled with light and beautiful. It was a show-place and there was nothing about it that I did not love.

    Then I found out something strange about myself: in spite of the new sanctuary being more convenient to my family’s home in distance, and far more beautiful than the old Church (which for a time, we called ‘the Chapel’), if I needed to make a visit for prayer, I drove down into town to the old ‘Chapel’ . . . made of grey stone, cool inside, and rather dark compared to the new building . . . and there, in the quiet, I could light a candle, and then go and sit down and pull out one of the kneelers and pray for a while . . . really pray.

    Sometimes we do things that make us wonder about our choices. The old building seemed to draw me back . . . not its lack of ‘beauty’ in the sense that it could not compare to the new building, or its cool darkness where the lit candles had more presence, or certainly the old worn kneelers that were cracked and creaked, no. It was something un-tangible and comforting, in a way that the new building could not yet compete with, in spite of all its great beauty.

    True, I found the lovely new Church inspiring. But it was the old familiar worn chapel that best restored my inner calm. I suppose that made all the difference at an age when so much was already changing in my young life.

    • Radagast says:

      Yes Christiane, yes. And, by the way, there is nothing like a dark church with light streaming in from stained glass, seeing the dust particles in the rays of light and a few lit candles… and silence.

  23. We stayed at a church for 10 years that in many respects was just plain strange. Third wave pentecostal, strange signs and wonders with a thorough dose of emergent thought. After it was all over I asked Why?

    here is what I concluded:
    1) There was a recognition that there was problems with ‘church’ and it needed to change
    2) Clergy let go of the reigns and allowed people to do meaningful things
    3) There were some very mature believers on the leadership team.
    4) A recognition that individual believers needed to have an ongoing and deep relationship with God.

    But the biggest thing was that we got involved with others to the point that we had significant friendships and social ties. Because of this we experienced great spiritual growth

  24. Cincygirl says:

    Some Random Thoughts:

    1) There are just more options on a Sunday morning than there used to be. My husband and I are in our early 50s. Growing up in rural central Ohio in the 60s and 70s you would be hard pressed to find any place to go on a Sunday morning EXCEPT church. Many stores and restaurants didn’t even open on Sunday but even the bigger department stores and malls in Columbus didn’t open until noon. It was unheard of to have any type of school-related event or youth sports on a Sunday.

    2) Weekends as a time of recreation, leisure and “getting away” is a relatively new phenomenon for the middle class. Many around us were farmers who rarely went anywhere. Houses at the lake,boats, golfing, weekend ‘mini-vacays’ etc were for “big wigs” or “people whose money was burning a hole in their pocket”. Most average Americans did not have the resources for these things and those that did ( my parents, for example) would have considered them a foolish waste of good money which should be put in the bank. Today, our upper middle class neighbor feels like a ghost town from Friday evening through Sunday night, especially in the summer.

    3) We have four grown children who, between them, live in three states. None of them live in Ohio. We do not have a parent or sibling living with-in a two hour drive of Cincinnati. Now that it is just hubby and I, we often take weekends to go visit the kids and grand kids. When I was growing up I had one set of grandparents who live an hour away..and it felt like they lived on the moon. I went to school with all my cousins, my aunts and uncles were our only babysitters and other set of grandparents lived 5 minutes down the road. Today many extended families only have the weekends to see each other. And that often means being gone on Sunday morning

    4) In my little small town everyone could have told you which church the town doctor, lawyer, bankers, and all the school teachers attended. Even if, in the case of the doctor ( who attended our church), they only showed up at Christmas Eve and Easter. There was a huge social stamina attached to not “having a church”. And, for a professional or business person, there could easily be economic consequences as well.

    5) I think it is important to keep in mind that a lot of the people who build the “evangelical” churches in the 30 years are not former fundies but former Main-liners who were often attracted to the big, shiny new mega church for all the awesome programs for the kids ( Deb sheepishly rises her hand). The expectation of “we are in church every time the doors are open” has simply never existed for many in that context. When the kids were around it was important to go every Sunday because we wanted them to know that church was important to our family. Now that it is just hubby and I, we know that our church is important to us. We are extremely involved and we do attend every Sunday…but we also don’t hesitate to take one or two weekends a month to visit family and friends or just to “get away”. And that shows up in our attendance pattern just like ti would if we were “burnt out”

    • Your # 1 and 2 are a great description of where I grew up, with some of #4 as well.

      Churches and synagogues used to provide socializing opportunities that have gone the way of the proverbial dodo – like the Sunday School Orchestra (one of many in the area) that my grandfather belonged to when he was a young man, back in the 1920s and early 30s. it was a *large* ensemble, maybe 35-40 people, and had public concerts to which all were welcome (and which were advertised in the local newspaper). Ditto for ice cream socials and the like.

      I’m not saying things were *better* then, necessarily, but they certainly were different. And I wouldn’t mind in the least if someone around here revived the Sunday School Orchestra concept. It would be a lovely opportunity to get together with others just to play music and hang out. (Of course, the whole thing started – back in my grandfather’s time – before radio caught on. People tended to play music both at home and elsewhere because there weren’t than many other opportunities to hear music, short of the Victrola and the many furniture stores that sold them.)

  25. Vega Magnus says:

    My primary reason for not attending is a lack of anything new being preached. I am a life-long Christian who homeschooled with A Beka video classes, which of course included Bible courses throughout the entire education, so I’ve heard all of the typical stories and sermons over and over again. But that is what your standard SBC preacher preaches. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to do that and I understand that churches like the SBC that are very conversion-focused are going to do it that way, but it just isn’t very enlightening to a long-time believer who has heard these stories over and over. In fact, I was listening to some recorded sermons from the church I used to semi-regularly attend, and the pastor said that people who are looking for a “deeper” (You could hear the implied sarcastic air-quotes in his tone of voice.) message just need to get the basics down really really well and then they’ll start deriving “deeper” meaning from them. Perhaps that will work for some people, but not for me. Of course, the obvious solution is to ditch the SBC and find a different denom that is more catered towards veteran Christians, but I don’t really care enough to do so.

    • david brainerd says:

      Is the issue really the repetition or the length of the sermons? I mean, if they were to preach these sames stories and things over and over but do it in 10 minutes rather than 45, would that make a difference?

      • James the Mad says:

        I can’t speak for anyone else, but as one who has sat through many a sermon whose purpose was little more than a lead-in to another altar call I find your question to be dismissive and demeaning. Hopefully that wasn’t your intention, but that’s how it comes across to me.

        Very little of my personal growth has come through my local churches. Most of what I know came from a combination of radio programs and personal study. One of my favorites was a weekly program featuring a wide variety of conference speakers, covering a variety of topics. I think I learned more from that one program than pretty much everything else combined. Over the years I have learned very little from the churches I’ve attended.

        Whether the sermon is 10 minutes long or an hour makes no difference. If it’s something I’ve heard a dozen times before, whose purpose is just to lead in to another altar call by a pastor who has little or no respect for members of his congregation who want a deeper walk with Christ, it’s still a wast of a Sunday morning.

  26. CrazyChester says:

    In every church I’ve attended, there’s a huge drop-off after high school. I don’t think the young folks leave because of tiredness or being burnt out. The reasons I can think of are: they have undergone changes in their belief system, they deem church less important than other activities, they’re no longer under obligation to their parents to attend church, they long for community with people who are outside church, especially those in their age group.

    I think many of the above reasons may be applicable to those of us who are well beyond high school age. Our beliefs continue to evolve with our life experience. Our priorities change as we age. We may find we attend church because of our service responsibilities, and when we disengage ourselves from those obligations, we find little to keep us at the church. We may find a lack of genuine community among the congregation.

    Sometimes, our “tiredness” is a result of being trapped in contradictory positions. We have heavy responsibilities at our church, yet those responsibilities give us a sense of fulfilment. We may attend a church with beliefs we don’t agree with, yet we enjoy the music and fellowship. We may attend a church every Sunday for decades and wonder if our attendance is merely by force of habit. Sometimes we resolve such problems by taking a lengthly or permanent break from the church.

    • cermak_rd says:

      “As long as you live under my roof, you’ll go to church!”

      I’ve heard that sentiment expressed by various parents I know. And it wins them the argument with their minor children. At that time. But the other side is that when the first condition is no longer met, the action no longer has a reason to be done. If parents are going to state that, they should probably also provide another reason to go to church other than because I said so, because, if all goes well, eventually that will no longer matter.

    • Rick Ro. says:

      We’ve been discussing the post-high school drop-off at our church for a while now. Not sure what the answer is. We’ve been tossing around the idea of periodically mixing the teens in with adult Sunday school classes (like once a month) to let them know there’s a place for them and people to interact with when they reach adulthood. Kinda like promoting a multi-generational concept.

      • Suzanne says:

        I think part of the post high school drop off stems from the dire warnings many churches issue about the big, bad world and the depths of it’s hatred for people of faith, and on and on. Then the kids move on in the “real world” and discover the world is full of good and maybe some not so good and that the people are very much like you or me and much of it is nothing at all like they were led to fear. So, they feel they’ve been fed a bunch of lies for years, move on, and never return.

  27. Mike Budd says:

    I know exactly why I stopped attending church.

    First, I moved to another town, so my old church was too far away.

    Second, when I tried other churches in the new town, I found one of two problems:

    1) The people did not seem welcoming and accepting of me, and/or

    2) The worship service was from a dusty old hymnal full of lullabies.

    I finally found one church that had a worship service I liked and a community that seemed friendly. Then on my third week of attending, the pastor spent 45 minutes of his hour sermon declaring solidarity with a Texan pastor who was being sued for having preached against homosexuality. While straight myself, I have friends and relatives that aren’t, and when I looked around to check audience response, it was all nodding heads.

    So I quit attending, and stopped looking for a church altogether.

  28. Rick Ro. says:

    There are a lot of sad stories here in this thread, a lot of “lost hope” and “lost light” due to life circumstances and poor church/religious experiences. My heart goes out to those of you struggling right now.

    When I went through my 5+ year spiritual desert in the late 90s/early 00s, I was very tempted to skip church. Sunday upon Sunday of muddling my way through classes and worship, singing songs I didn’t really feel like singing, questioning the lyrics, etc. The only reason I kept going was a deep trust that I’d someday feel God’s presence again. It was disappointing to NOT feel His presence at a place where I assumed one SHOULD feel His presence (aka church), and clearly other people here have had the same experience. If you can’t feel His presence at church, what’s the point of going? And if church is a representation of God and doing a seemingly rather poor job of it, then why God and why church?

    My spiritual desert taught me a few things about both church and God. Don’t go to church with high expectations about “feeling” anything, just go to worship and meet with friends. Don’t hold God too accountable for “feelings” and “circumstances.” Life sucks, and its “suckage” is going to cause doubts and anxieties. Those aren’t of God.

    The only reason thus far I’ve left a church is because we moved too far away to make the drive every Sunday (let alone any other activities we wanted to be involved in). Our current church has had many, many changes since we’ve been there (23 years), some good, some bad. We’ve seen many, many friends leave. One of the primary reasons I’ve seen people leave is this: someone gets offended by someone or something, they raise the offense to leadership level, the issues isn’t resolved to their satisfaction, so they go church shopping. Some of the issues have been valid, some of them pretty petty. Nonetheless, OFFENSE is a huge motivating factor for church hopping, or just plain dropping out completely.

  29. The better question is, why WOULD I go to a traditional church?
    It probably all started for me with reading Pagan Christianity by Viola and Barna. (I highly recommend it.)
    I do not at all believe that church attendance is a requirement (we can go there with the Heb 10:25 verse if anyone wants).
    No you don’t get fellowship or much relationship in church meetings (hence the reason for home groups, so why not just have home groups?)
    I found that by studying on my own and being led by the Spirit, I was learning more Gospel and less religion.
    After being out of the traditional church for a while now, when I find myself in that environment I get sick at my stomach. I see the “aping” that I didn’t see before. People acting and speaking like each other in order to fit in. There is SUCH a focus on self in the US church, and little focus on the completed work of Jesus. Do better, try harder. Bleck! There is little good news taught, and not much difference from every other performance oriented religion in the world.
    Being a Christian does NOT equal “going to church.” We ARE the church.
    I could go on, but that’s a start.

    • I feel your frustration with Hebrews 10:25. You’d think there’d be at least ONE other verse to hammer that nail with if it was so damn important. I am always very uncomfortable when Christians make a primary theological tenet out of something the Bible mentions once: it is more likely that the Bible is being misunderstood.

      If Jesus Christ himself is not physically present at “church,” I personally see no reason why getting out of bed on Sunday morning is worth the effort. Viola and Barna believe he isn’t, so there conclusions aren’t surprising or unreasonable.

      I was learning more Gospel and less religion.

      But the scriptures instruct us to pursue that which is true religion. The Gospel of Jesus Christ isn’t supposed to make us less religious.

      little focus on the completed work of Jesus.

      That is indeed unfortunate, though true. …but there is this thing called the “Divine Service,” it’s like the mass but without the re-sacrifice of Christ. If you can find one of these at your local Lutheran congregation, I guarantee you it will be all about the finished work of Christ, as well as his continual work among us creating and sustaining faith and forgiving sins.

  30. Elizabeth says:

    Thank you.

    Just, thanks!

  31. MelissatheRagamuffin says:

    “When I hear words like “active”, “committed”, “involvement”, and “monitor attendance”, it is going to produce the opposite of the intended effect in me. If I hear these words from the pulpit on a Sunday morning, I am going to be less likely, not more likely, to attend the following week. I am burnt out and you want a larger commitment from me?!?”

    Amen, Brother Mike. True Story: When I still lived in Virginia, I worked for one non-profit, was on the board of directors of another, sat on the interfaith committee to address homelessness just to name a few. Plus, I had a part time job in addition to my full time job. But, because none of these things had anything to do with our yearly meeting according to my local meeting I wasn’t involved enough. I have heard many a sermonette on the “responsibilities of membership.” and the harder they pushed the more I withdrew. I believe the Lord called me to those things I was doing, but they would have had me drop all of it to be involved in what was really important like being on the committee to see if we need a committee to decide if we need a new roof or not or something along those lines.

    On the other hand the Catholic Church near where I live is a very large and active parish. I once had a conversation with one of the nuns where she told me, “You can be as involved as you can be or want to be, but if you just show up – that’s okay too.” I think a lot of churches and Quaker meetings lose sight of the fact that for some of us just showing up is a huge accomplishment.

    I also like it that they have numerous mass times on the weekend. We no longer live/work in a M-F 9-5 world. When I was working night shift (in a homeless shelter) I would get off shift and race to the Catholic Church because I was going to be sound asleep come 11:00 when meeting started. Apparently, the Catholic Church thinks people like that have value as opposed to most other churches which seem to think that people who work unusual house can just go to hell.

    • david brainerd says:

      Well, when Protestants got rid of sacraments like baptism being necessary for salvation, they said they went “faith alone” but in reality they moved to a theology of “justification by perfect attendance.”

      • MelissatheRagamuffin says:

        I actually strongly disagree with the RSoF about baptism. While I don’t think being baptized makes you saved, I do think it is an outward symbol of an inward conversion. Besides, if it was good enough for Jesus…

        Can I just add here that I HATE our midweek meetings. It just seems to always devolve into, “We are so great and wonderful because we’re Quakers and our poo poo does not stink…..” I just really get tired of it.

      • Not all Protestants got rid of sacraments, david. Many of them, yes, but a lot of us still believe that baptism and communion are sacraments.

        For me, a sacramental view of both (communion especially) is pretty much a non-negotiable.

  32. According to Thom Rainer, the President and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, the number one reason why church attendance is down is…
    People attend less frequently!

    Am I the only one who read that and thought, gee, wherever you go, there you are?

    What I need to hear, and they need to hear is:
    28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

    Indeed! This is a Gospel word that is the much needed antidote to the Law of “get your lazy but out of bed and go to church like a ‘good Christian’ is supposed to!”

    Aside from the fact that there is no such thing as a “good Christian,” this turns the Sunday morning ritual into a moral obligation. That is the fastest way to suck the joy out of just about anything. Instead, if we understand that we are coming to actually meet with Jesus himself, where He will bless us with His gifts of grace and peace, now suddenly there is a reason to get out of bed! The Son of Man does not come to be served, but to serve, and by His death and resurrection he delivers us a genuine feast through the means of grace.

    We need to remind ourselves of this. Which is why, of course, we regularly sing from hymn #684, which says:
    “Come unto Me, ye weary, And I will give you rest.”
    O blessed voice of Jesus, Which comes to hearts oppressed!
    It tells of benediction, Of pardon, grace, and peace,
    Of joy that hath no ending, Of love that cannot cease.

    Even the boring dull of a dusty old organ cannot restrain the life in those words.

    • MelissatheRagamuffin says:

      The problem is that too many churches think that the reason that Jesus’ burden is like and his yoke easy is so that they can pile it on.

  33. This discussion is really timely for me. My wife, kids and I have been going to the same church for the last 7 years. The kids were baptized and confirmed there. The whole time we’ve attended the contemporary service, which has been like a church within the church. The main congregation numbers in the thousands, although the 3 traditional morning services probably see a few hundred attendees each. Our service has less than one hundred most of the time, often much less. The last 6 months we’ve attended less and less frequently. Fact is I don’t think any of us feel much of a connection to the church at this point. As someone who earlier in life was deeply involved, and almost thoroughly burned out, by church service I’ve been less involved than the other members of my family, but I think they’ve certainly made the effort to be part of things over the years. I really liked what one commenter wrote above about going to church being something to do as a family, and maybe it really could be as simple as that. I’m also thinking that I’d like to go back to a more liturgically based worship experience (ugh, I really hate using that term but can’t think of another right now) could help us focus on what’s most important about Sunday morning, although that might be a hard sell for the wife and kids (I could play the, “oh come on, do it for dad” card). Thanks again Mike for this article, and to all those who commented here, it’s nice to know we’re not alone.

  34. Dan from Georgia says:

    Here is why my church attendance is slack/inconsistent. I work for a company that operates around the clock, and hence there is a need for workers to be there 24/7/265. I don’t get a lot of Sunday mornings off, so wife and I cannot make it to church much. We really do want to, though.

    Now, here is my issue as to why my church attendance would lack even if I had all Sunday’s off. A lack of meaningful church experience. I live in Georgia, and you can’t throw a stone without hitting a baptist church, or worse yet, an IFB (independent fundamentalist baptist) church. Wife and I refuse to attend a baptist church because for her, there was spiritual abuse in the past, and for me, I cannot stomach the “we are the cream of the crop christians” attitude in some denominations. Churches seem so cookie-cutter where we live, and I would love to be in a church that has a strong arts/creativity ministry, but so far no such thing exists. Anyone know of an artsy church in the Atlanta area?

    Also, wife and I are not morning people, and would it kill a church to have a Sunday evening service/meeting time? Why not a Saturday-evening service? How about a service where preacher preaches for 10-20 minutes to minister to those with short attention spans? I am talking about those with ADHD. 45minutes of blah blah. blah. Blah blah. You expect me to sleep Saturday night, get up Sunday morning, and then spend the next 1-1.5 hrs sitting in a chair and stay awake? Can someone “invent” a church for artsy people who may have ADHD? People that can’t stand having to sit down for an hour straight (nevermind the whole stand-up-sit-down routine in some liturgical churches). Oh well, maybe I will start my own church. Hehehehe.

  35. david brainerd says:

    The most obvious solution is do what the Jews do and then you don’t have to pester everyone over attendance constantly, and in sermon “you need to attend more” etc. The real reason the pastor wants high attendance is money. When you attend, you give. When you don’t attend, you don’t. Well how synagogues solve this is you pay a membership fee, then attend as often or little as you want. The moolah is no longer ties to number of times you attend: its static. But the membership fee is the same. Don’t country clubs do the same? Doing it that way you’ll probably end up with more attendance, because when all the sermons aren’t geared towards shaming you for not attending regularly, you’ll probably actually start attending more.

    • david brainerd says:

      They also give members free admission to the big events (Passover, Yom Kippur, etc.) while charging non-members for tickets, and obviously there are only a certain number of seats. So as a non-member you can’t be certain you’ll get a ticket. I wonder if this would work for Easter and Christmas or not. Probably not unless every church started doing it.

    • MelissatheRagamuffin says:

      The local Catholic church actually gives us the option to allow them to automatically draft money out of our checking accounts. No need to put any money in the basket when it goes by!

  36. Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

    It has been good to mull an this and read some responses over the last few days. Good article, and great interaction. However, I have some trouble with the whole premise. Now I know Thom and I are probably worlds apart on a few things, but this whole marketing approach to church just doesn’t fit. Mike is spot on – the responses don’t work (and actually sound like the lazy part of the article, as if all this research was prepared, and then someone sat down for 15 minutes at the keyboard and typed up some standard regurge) – but I’m not sure the questions or paradigm work either. I love going to church! Every Sunday I get up with expectation. Church is a part of following the Good Shepherd. It is where I meet like minded believers to be encouraged and to encourage and serve; it is where forgiveness is offered in the absolution; it is where the gospel is preached and hope is given. It is where we partner to feed starving children and fulfill the great commission. It is where we have a garden to celebrate God’s gift of earth and to faithfully tend it. It is where we share a cup of frankly horrible coffee (I can say that…I usually make it) and talk about the Scripture and what it means for us today. It is fantastic.

    But the idea that there is a program or paradigm or marketing scheme to grow the church is just off-base. It is part of how we express our discipleship to Christ. I believe we need more faithful churches; attendance may or may not result.

    • david brainerd says:

      “it is where forgiveness is offered in the absolution”

      Any denomination that started in America (Episcopalian excepted) will differ with you there.

      • ??? Where did you find the info. behind your statement? Can you please post some links or titles of books so we can check for ourselves?

        As for TEC being started in America, it is an outgrowth of the C of E in Virginia and others of the original 13 colonies, not an American invention by any means.

  37. Christiane says:

    Thom Rainer . . . some of his ideas for ‘fixing the problem’ ARE in tune with ‘control’ and ‘manipulation’ . . . but I don’t think he is fully aware of how this looks to others outside of his world . . . it seems that the word ‘accountability’ has surfaced among some Southern Baptist groups, and this takes the form of being answerable to others in the Church for failures and even for sins.

    Imagine belonging to a group of men who meet to hold one another accountable, and sharing some of your worst failings, even those failings which impact your marriage relationship, and then going to Church the next Sunday with your wife and having those men ‘know’ . . . gosh, wouldn’t it be healthier to confess to a priest privately and maintain the privacy of the marital bond intact within the community of faith? ‘Course, I am looking at this scenario through the eyes of a Catholic woman and wife, and I would not want what belongs between husband and wife to be common knowledge for myself, or for ANY woman in any denomination, but that is my own view point, I suppose.

    As far as ‘roll taking’ and ‘confronting’, is that REALLY necessary in a community that has bonded in faith? It sounds more like a board meeting or business-workplace accountability than something that would happen in a Church . . .

    and as for ‘controls’ on contributions, and shaming those who fall from expectations of what they try to give . . . maybe they NEED some help from the Church . . . Wade Burleson has told those in his congregation that if someone is in need, they may take ten dollars or so from the plate or speak to him and his staff about their situation, and that is SO BIBLICAL and refreshing, as Wade’s Church is Southern Baptist and sets its own standard of the gospel of hospitality from which many could learn. The early Christians looked out for one another, they didn’t weigh one another down with more burdens.

    My question is this:
    was it the Conservative Resurgence that made ‘accountability’ and ‘control’ so popular among Southern Baptists in general?
    And are there pastors, like Wade Burleson, who are willing to return to a time where those in the Church helped to bear one another’s burdens as a part of the celebration of Christ Himself among them?

    We hear about the extremes of the controlling ones. We don’t hear so much about the good guys in the SBC.
    Are there more Burlesons out there? I hope so. And may their tribe increase and bring light to help their denomination which is so troubled.

    • I’ve seen people from groups like that openly discuss very personal problems (including their wives’ – from their view – shortcomings) on the internet, and I’m not sure which is worse.

      Very much agreed that there are some things that *don’t* need to be common knowledge, ever; also agreed on the way things are generally handled in high church denominations rather than in the kinds of scenarios posited here. (I’m Lutheran, fwiw, and though I spent a few decades out there in evangelical/charismatic churches, am back to square one and *very* relieved.)

  38. I kept going to the pizza place because my family always took us as a kid. I never really liked it then and frankly neither did they. It made us all sick. Then I read a book by a clinical nutritionist named Sam Harris. His description of our symptoms was spot on: Turns out all those years or family was just lactose intolerant.

    But that wasn’t all of it: I *tried* going to one of those places with the soy cheese but, meh. Once you give up pizza, there really isn’t any reason to pretend you ever liked it in the first place.

    • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

      I’m not sure you’ll get much mileage swapping one anti-intellectual fundamentalism for another.

    • As a person who is actually lactose intolerant and was forced to give up pizza, this really makes sense.

  39. Another excellent, relevant book; So You Don’t Want To Go To Church Anymore – by Jacobsen and Coleman.

  40. God loves me and is already pleased with me. He looks at me and sees Jesus – I look like perfection. I do not want to go to church. I do not need to go to church. I do not care what others think about my choice, as their judgement of others is their problem, not mine. The Holy Spirit leads me in all truth and I was not hearing a whole lot of truth… Telling people what they need to do, after they are saved, is actually telling them lies. I go right to the source for Truth. I do not judge my friends, or anyone, who chooses to attend regularly. I choose to fellowship in other, healthier, ways.