By Joshua Stevens, Faith Contributor, Valley Ag Voice
This month many churches across the valley will see a huge bump in attendance as we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior. This blip will be during a continuous downward spiral of church attendance since the year 2000, dropping below 50% for the first time since Gallop started recording church attendance.¹ However, even with this drop in attendance 64% of people still identify themselves as Christians in the U.S.² So, what has been the source of this decline in recent decades?
“Among self-identified Christians, the predominant reason that non-churchgoers offer for not attending worship services is that they practice their faith in other ways. Upwards of four in ten (44%) say this is a very important reason for not going to church more often.”³
In 2011, pastors Matt Chandler and Steven Furtick sat across from each other in a discussion centered around the purpose of our Sunday services. Namely, do we focus on reaching the lost or building up believers?⁴ It is amid these discussions that we tend to lose sight of the purpose of the church.
Ephesians 4:11-14 says, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”⁵ In this passage we see a clear calling for the church and thus our Sunday services. The leaders of the church, as described in verse 11 of the chapter, are to prepare the saints (who are Christians) for the work of ministry (which is the spreading of the gospel). Paul continues not only to do the work of ministry but also to build up the body, attain unity, and mature in our faith—why do we need these things? So that we won’t fall prey to deceitful schemes, the lazy and rotten fruit of the prosperity gospel, or a works-based faith.
Our churches are called to be in the process of taking believers and making them stronger in their faith so that they may know God and do the will of God. It is then the believer’s job to go out and proclaim the gospel (Matthew 28:16-20).⁵
Over the past two decades, our churches have been allowed to run stale, putting discipleship on the back burner and allowing younger generations with hearts filled with hopes and aspirations for what the Lord may accomplish to be taken over without first checking the depths of their knowledge and faith. In so doing we have allowed our congregations to be tossed and turned in political turmoil, social upheaval, and theological debates. Too many of the churches in the valley have placed such a priority on gospel preaching Sundays that they have forgotten to teach and show the fruit of the spirit.
Lord, I thank you for this season. For you sending your son to be a perfect example for us and to be the perfect propitiation for our sins. Thank you for continuously shining down your glory upon us. I pray that as we celebrate this season in our churches and with our loved ones we will each individually and corporately ask if we and our church are fulfilling the calling you have given us. Are we preparing the next generation for the ministry you have called us to? Are we giving them the knowledge that transforms lives and shines throughout our life? I ask that you meet us here in this place of retrospection and allow us to go forward into a new year emboldened by your presence so that we may show who you are, where you are, and what you desire with our words and our actions. In Jesus’ name I pray,
¹ Jones, J. M. (2021, March 29). US Church Membership Falls below Majority for First Time. Retrieved from Gallup: News.Gallup.com/Poll/341963/Church-Membership-Falls-Below-Majority-First-Time.aspx
² Considered, A. T. (2022, September 15). America’s Christian Population is Shrinking and Could Drop Below 50% by 2070. Retrieved from NPR: NPR.org/2022/09/15/1123289466/Americas-Christian-Majority-is-Shrinking-and-Could-Dip-Below-50-by-2070
³ Pew Research Center. (2018, August 1). Why Americans Go (And Don’t Go) To Religious Services. Retrieved from PewResearch: PewResearch.org/Religion/2018/08/01/Why-Americans-Go-to-Religious-Services
⁴ Matt Chandler, S. F. (2011, March 31). Elephant Room Round 1, Session 1, Matt Chandler and Steven Furtick 2011. (J. McDonald, Interviewer)
⁵ Crossway Bibles. (2001). The Holy Bible English Standard Version. Wheaton: Good News Publishers.