The church is smaller

Built on a Rock

A topic of great concern nowadays is the fact that the Christian church in the United States is declining in membership. According to “The Shrinking Church” article in the December 2012 issue of The Lutheran magazine, “Nearly every U.S. Christian denomination has seen membership declines in the past years, including Southern Baptists. … Only Roman Catholics seem to be hanging on, which experts attribute to a growing Latino population.”

Many reasons are given as to why the Christian church is getting smaller. For instance, our demography is changing. Traditional church-attending people marry later in life and have fewer children. A growing number of couples have no children at all.

Another eye-opening observation was cited in this same article. “Eighteen to 35-year-olds aren’t seeing church as really relevant to what they need to get done. They want meaning in their lives but don’t necessarily see the church providing this.”

We are all aware of several churches in our area that are barely hanging on as they experience elderly members die with no one to fill their places. Farms get bigger and the rural community gets smaller.

“Why don’t people come to church?” we ask ourselves, church leaders, and pastors.

A partial answer has to be because there are fewer people to attend church and some people simply don’t see the church as meeting their needs. Many people claim to have a faith but don’t feel a connection to the church. Nowadays too many other activities compete for people’s time and attention — and win!

What can be done to grow the church? It’s a question that is often asked. I have heard people throughout our synod lay this question firmly on the doorstep of leaders and pastors. “If only we do more, they will come,” is a comment often made.  “Change worship times and get more programs,” is also a comment I’ve heard more than once.

Where do we begin in an attempt to call people home to church? This has to begin with us individually. We must ask ourselves, “Do we really love God and our neighbor as ourselves?”

Do our churches and communities of faith “care for the least of these and love our enemies?” These questions have to be front and center of any further conversation about what we need to do to grow the Church.

Soon we will celebrate Easter. Our sanctuaries will be full. Members and visitors will gather to celebrate our greatest gift of salvation in our crucified and risen Savior, Jesus Christ.

But will these visitors and infrequent to worship members experience Jesus in us? Will they leave feeling they are always welcome and dearly missed?

It’s a popular question nowadays, “Why aren’t people coming to church?” I believe that even before we attempt to answer this question, we must ask ourselves a few questions. “Do I really love God and my neighbor as myself?” “Is this evident in my life?”

Then, and only then, can we really begin to grow the church of Jesus Christ.

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