May 24, 2007

Is Church Becoming Less Relevant in America?

An overwhelming majority of Americans profess belief in a god, but recent data suggest that church attendance is declining. What are the reasons for the decline, and what are we to make of this encouraging trend?

According to The News Journal (Delaware), attendance at mainstream Christian churches in Delaware declined 2-3% between 1990 and 2000. A small drop, but evidently one which has area clergy concerned. It seems that the phenomenon not limited to Delaware, as the article also cites a study by the Barna Research Group which found that 1 in 3 American adults has not attended church in 6 months.
It's a statistic that makes those who value religion worry that the habit of worship is declining, even more so than in the early '90s when one out of five adults did not attend services.
Why the decline? According to the article, the likely culprits include changes in the composition of mainstream church congregations (e.g., fewer fundamentalists), congregants tiring of the constant focus on divisive topics (e.g., abortion and homosexuality), and secular demands on time that compete with church.

In order to survive, churches are exploring how to make themselves more attractive. Some of the ideas are quite interesting. One popular idea was that mainstream church needs to be less structured and have fewer rules. Another strategy is to try to compete with the mega-churches by emulating them as much as possible. Still another idea appears to be increasingly targeting immigrant groups.

To my mind, the article contains many subtle clues about the real problem is for mainstream religion - church has lost quite a bit of its relevance. There have always been competing demands on one's time, but I think church has declined on the list of how people prioritize their involvement in all the various demands on their time. Could it be that religion itself is gradually becoming less relevant to members of mainstream denominations?

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