Sunday, October 18, 2009

Church Apathy - Stopping the Downward Spiral

Anyone that follows the developments in the global Christian community have likely noticed some of the major changes that have taken place in the past century. Most notably, that the demographic core of the global church has shifted dramatically from the West and Northern Hemisphere to the East and the Southern Hemisphere.

In terms of resources, the Western-based denominations still hold the lion's share of the chips. But even that equation may be shifting. Membership among European and American churches has declined precipitously, especially in the past few decades. Although the United States still has a fairly robust and active community of Christians, membership, especially among the mainline denominations, has been declining for at least a decade, often longer. Even among the most well-heeled congregations and denominations, you can only ask fewer and fewer to give more and more for so long.

Fundraising campaigns which were traditionally once a year, are now bi-annual or quarterly. Many are cheerful givers, and will cheerfully give more when asked. But facing one of the most significant economic downturns in the last 50 years, the number of people that have discretionary income to give is much smaller than it once was.

As an elder at a Presbyterian (U.S.A.) congregation, I'm faced with the reality of a graying, declining membership, an internally quarreling denomination, and post-boomer generations that increasingly view the traditional church structure and organization as irrelevant. Faced with this plethora of unpleasant issues, the leadership of many congregations has essentially capitulated to this new reality and started administering congregations as organizations in decline. I'm not saying this decision is deliberate, or even explicitly acknowledged. But the manifestations are obvious: Withdrawing money from endowment accounts, and cutting back on budgets for staff, facilities, and programs.

Subliminally, members slowly but surely start to withdraw from active, meaningful participation in church activities, and start "going through the motions" of Sunday service attendance, superficial "fellowship," and lip-service with little follow-through.

I don't mean to sound like an accusatory grinch, but rather a slightly dismayed and disappointed, but still hopeful believer that hopes the contemporary church will re-discover its purpose, mission and relevance. I'd love to hear about any success stories you've seen or participated in that saw significant, measurable results.

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