Why has Christian Church attendance bottomed out over the last 20 years? This photo of Pastor James Payne tells half the story. While appearing on Inspiration Camp Meeting, he was asking 120 random people, “who God is speaking to right now,” to each give $1000 so that, “you will be released from the bonds of financial debt.”That’s right, he stood there, straight faced, and asked people to give $1000 so that God would take notice and pay off their credit card debt, mortgage, car loans and all other money they owed. In other words, “don’t pay your bills. Send me your money instead.”
Religious institutions have been asking – often times requiring or demanding – people for money since long before the Bible was written. And they have used every method of manipulation, snake-oil, fraud, and promises of glory to do it.
But the thing that really killed churches in America was their politicization. Beginning in the 1980’s with mostly conservative pastors, churches began to take political positions on everything from abortion, gay rights, immigration, defense spending, equal rights and everything else that could garner more attention on them.
Like asking for money, political involvement by Christian churches is nothing new. If it had not been for courageous pastors and their churches, the civil rights movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s would not have occurred with such power and effectiveness. And yes, we even have a national holiday named after a minister who led that effort.
But the political churches of today have no such noble motivation or cause as did Rev. King. Today, and for the past 30 years, white, evangelical, conservative churches have caused a irreparable divide among Christians while discouraging perhaps millions of spiritual “seekers” from finding the path to faith they so desperately need.
Has all the political wrangling and done anything beyond bringing more money, fame and ego-stroking to the pastors? Not really. Women still have a right to choose. Gay people can get married. Women comprise the majority of college students and the work force (not that they have come close to achieving equality).
In their attempt to stomp on the American ideals of liberty and equality, these pastors and their church members continue complaining that their “religious freedom” is under attack. They site prayer in schools being taken away, the “war on Christmas,” and other fallacies like “activist judges” with whom they don’t agree. What they’re really complaining about is not a loss of “religious freedom,” but the loss of their centuries old “religious privilege.” They have been in power, shaping and controlling American culture since they first arrived on its shores and immediately began killing people and taking stuff.
They are losing power and they’re scared.
The result now is that many people will not join or even enter a church until they know and agree with its political ideology. Churches have become places welcoming only those who believe in politics as they do, with a particular faith in Christ coming a distant second.
The combination of asking for money while forcing their political agendas on society is not sustainable.
Clearly, the Church is dying. According to the Hartford Institute of Religion Research, more than 40 percent of Americans “say” they go to church weekly. As it turns out, however, less than 20 percent are actually in church. In other words, more than 80 percent of Americans are finding more fulfilling things to do on weekends.
Furthermore, somewhere between 4,000 and 7,000 churches close their doors every year. Southern Baptist researcher, Thom Rainer, in a recent article entitled “13 Issues for Churches in 2013“ puts the estimate higher. He says between 8,000 and 10,000 churches will likely close this year.
In a recent two year period, more than half of all churches in America added not one new member. Each year, nearly 3 million more previous churchgoers enter the ranks of the “religiously unaffiliated.”
Once the churches are all gone, especially the ones that deserve to go, perhaps reason and science will once again be safe in the public discourse.
I think God will be happier with that.