Originally posted Feb. 16, 2011, at Last of All. Republished with permission of the author.
Now that regular church attendance is no longer default behavior for responsible citizens as it was when I was growing up in a small East Tennessee town, much is being written about how and why the remaining regular attendees choose the particular churches they attend.
Denominational choices may well be based either on sticking with, or avoiding, the denomination of one’s parents, but congregational choices seem too often to be based on liking the pastor, the sermons, the music, the food, the fun or the fellowship.
Sometimes proximity and convenience may play a role. Opportunities for service and ministry could play a role for serious believers, because, for them, personal involvement is essential.
Perhaps some are just looking for confirmation of whatever theological or social positions they have adopted as their own over time, though it does seem that few are interested in theology while many are interested in social issues.
But not all denominations and churches are losing ground. While there is concern about loss of members and dropping attendance at so-called mainline denominations in the United States, Roman Catholics and Southern Baptists have kept up pretty well with growth in the population.
The table above, data from Demographia, shows that, while 54 percent of the population claimed church membership in 1960, only 27 percent of the 110 million person increase over the next 40-plus years joined up.
This is old data, but I think the trends have generally continued during the last six or eight years. Roman Catholics and Southern Baptists have shown the biggest absolute increases.
The shrinking of some groups, at the expense of others, wouldn’t really matter except that organized churches get caught up in worldly things, such as expensive and lightly used structures, headquarters operations, staffs and utility bills.
Such obligations spark a bit of competitiveness in efforts to keep enough funds coming in to avoid the pain of shrinkage and sometimes distract attention from the essential focus of Christianity: Jesus Christ.
Whether our personal theologies are best expressed by singing “Blessed Assurance” or “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” and whether we prefer the democracy of congregationalism or the structure and authority of Catholicism, there are two things we can be sure of:
- Any successful search for eternal things will lead eventually to “one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father.”
- His Great Commission and two Great Commandments apply equally to all of us.
So, we might as well work together and help each other out. After all, it’s not all about us. And, if we did that, we might see a reversal of that decline in total participation.
Find a link to Darryl Williams’ blog Last of All at Lutheran Blogs.