Church attendance across America is down. In a country founded upon Christian principles, it has become uncool to be a Christian.
Do you know anyone who grew up going to church but no longer does?
I know plenty of people who grew up as kids in church, faithfully attending every Sunday with their families.
For some reason, they stopped going. Worse, in the process, they left their faith somewhere along the way. I suppose you could argue that it wasn't a legitimate faith. After all, once you discover the truth of Jesus, how could anyone abandon this profound and life-changing truth?
I think that the reality is that we are all at different places in our faith walk. The gospel accounts illustrate it perfectly. Jesus performed incredible miracles- feeding thousands, walking on water and even ressurrecting dead people. His closest followers undoubtedly witnessed these miracles. But they all doubted. Their faith was strong when times were good. At other times, it faded.
So, in my opinion, one of the core purposes of church is to encourage Christians in their faith journey. Certainly, spreading the Gospel is an important function as well. But in today's world, most Americans have heard it. They are looking for evidence that it works. Christians' lives are the most meaningful evidence of that.
The last thing I want to do is join the secular bandwagon of church-bashing. But I think it is time for a change.
If a church isn't welcoming, or if it is populated with people who don't practice core Christian principles, then people will become disillusioned. They may simply fade away, attending with less frequency. They rationalize that "I don't need church. I can worship God the way that I want to." This is self-deception. The truth is that they will likely fall away from their faith entirely.
Christians need other Christians to validate and encourage their faith. They need Christian love and support. It's what we call "fellowship." However, if Christian fellowship becomes, in reality, another club of sorts, it will likely change lives no more than any other club, say, a country club. It's what Jesus warned against- the "yeast of the Pharisees." They purported to teach about God; instead, they taught about their interpretation of God.
I fear that modern Christianity has recreated the Pharisaical yeast. Churches, in many cases, are not welcoming places. New visitors are ignored. Cliques are formed. Pastors become senior managers, rather than spiritual leaders. Churches are staffed with people who started out trying to change lives, but have ended up building careers. I recently visited a church that had eliminated its Sunday night worship service, in favor of small "care groups." The problem was that you had to be invited to join a group. The waiting list was a year long. I know of another church that offers membership events like a "Cruise with the Pastor." For thousands of dollars, you can cruise Alaska and spend time in fellowship with the spiritual leader of the church. I'm not exactly sure what it means for members who can't afford to participate.
The net result of all of it is reflected in the phenomenon American Christianity is experiencing today. People have fallen away from church in masses. Mainstream American views organized Christianity as legalistic, judgmental and narrow-minded. Christians are characterized as anti-gay, anti-free speech, anti-everything.
What's the solution. Like everything Christian, we go to the Source. How did Jesus handle it? Simple. He loved and welcomed everyone. He took a personal interest in people. His following wasn't a clique; it was a movement. People followed Him because He inspired them. He healed them. He loved them.
It's what we who call ourselves Christians should do. It's what the church should do.