Ask Father Paul - Church attendance
Answers to your questions about life, religion and the Bible
Dear Father Paul: Attendance at my church is down. I read that this is happening in almost all denominations. What’s going on? What do you think is the cause? — S. I.
Dear S. I.: You are right. Numerous recent studies of religion in America have found that church attendance is indeed down. A few “mega churches” continue to grow, but they are few.
So what’s going on?
Secular polls and studies, as well as those done by religious groups, indicate that part of the problem is that there is now lots more secular competition for people’s time on Sunday mornings than in years past. Simply put, people today have a ton of “fun” things that they can choose to do on Sunday mornings rather than go to church. And millions are doing exactly that.
Another reason why church attendance is down is this. In the last thirty years or so, pedophile priest scandals, pastor and church leader infidelity scandals, church splits and some preachers constantly grubbing for money have really turned off a lot of people. Many people have told me, “I’m spiritual, and I believe in God, But the church? No thanks.”
A pastor friend, who wears a white clerical collar, was riding down a hospital elevator a few years ago when a man on the elevator said to him, “Well Father, how many little boys have you molested today?” Lucky for the man that the “Father” is a “real Christian” ... because he is also a U. S. Marine veteran who is still in great shape. The “Father” had been up half the night praying for a seriously ill patient.
There are tens of thousands of pastors like my friend, but the wonderful, godly things they do seldom make news. Millions of people, like the man in the elevator, only know what they read about on the internet or see on T.V.
But I firmly believe that the “real” reason that church attendance is down is much deeper than these outward, visible symptoms. The “root” cause is spiritual in nature ... not secular.
The Bible clearly prophesies that in the last days (before Jesus returns to the earth) there will be a great falling away from devotion to God and to his church. I Timothy 4:1 tells us, (New Living Translation), “Now the Holy Spirit tells us clearly that in the last times some will turn away from the true faith … ” I believe that this will not be an instantaneous desertion of the faith, but a slow, incremental turning away from God and his church caused by an almost imperceptible, gradual hardening of the hearts of men and women toward God and the things of God … especially the church. Simply put, millions of people today are finding “other Gods,” not the God of the Bible…job, money, and leisure to name just a few. Still, many people do remain faithful.
An honest man who left my church a few years back told me, “I work hard all week Father Paul. I think I deserve some fun on Sundays. An hour and a half a week is a lot to ask.”
All of us want to have some “fun” on Sundays. Believe it or not, pastors too get tired, get discouraged, get disheartened, get burned out. But, in all honesty, the God who created us and who loves us enough to actually die for us really demands very little from us. … especially when compared to what he promises those who remain faithful followers to the end. God explains this in Galatians 6:7, 9 and 10 (New Living Translation), ”You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit (God) will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.”
As for me, when I see others falling away from the faith and the church, I just whisper this prayer … “God, strengthen me so that’s never, ever me,” then I just keep on faithfully walking with God … putting one foot in front of another, day by day, as God has helped me do for some 60 years now. Listen, I’m nothing special. God will help anyone stay faithful the same way he has millions. See you in church this Sunday.
Do you have a question? Email it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Father Paul Massey is pastor emeritus of Church of the Holy Cross in Fayetteville, Georgia. Visit our web-site at www.holycrosschurch.wordpress.com for information, directions, and service times. Also find downloadable recordings of Sunday messages.