According to the Pew Research Center, a full one-fifth of Americans are now unattached to religion, and the Protestant majority is no longer that; Protestant Christians now make up less than half the population. Yet, we don’t need an exhaustive study to confirm a dwindling church. A growing population is indeed unengaged with organized religion. They aren’t necessarily atheistic or antagonistic toward faith. They are simply uninvolved.
Why? Some of it is demographic, related to the age of our transitioning generations. Some of it is the natural evolvement of Western society, and the result of an increasingly diverse nation. But frankly, and this cannot be ignored, the church has earned this decline all by its institutional self. Combine this study with the respected statistics of the Barna Research Group (which is an evangelical think tank), and the situation becomes clearer still. According to Barna, those unaffiliated with religion use several primary words to describe Christianity, words like: “Judgmental, hypocritical, and insensitive.” This has to change.
“Change,” you ask? “Are you saying we should change our beliefs just to salvage our fleeting market share?” No. Market share has nothing to do with it, but how we treat others has everything to do with it. How can we who follow the loving, open-hearted, redemptive Christ be anything but loving, open-hearted, and redemptive people?
The longer I do this kind of work, and the longer I see these kinds of recent statistics, the more strongly I feel that the last thing most communities need is just another religious institution: An institution that pounds the pulpit and its parishioners with unyielding dogma; that points fingers, condemns, and excludes others from the love of God.
No, communities don’t need more hardened, inflexible places like these; but every community needs simple, uncomplicated, receptive places. Every community needs launch pads of empowerment and liberation. Every community needs a communion of friendship, freedom, and faith that will build bridges of grace to the world, not boundaries of separation and marginalization. Simply, every community needs a place of radical hospitality and attraction that welcomes all to know a loving God.
Yes, I know, some churches are far better at being judgmental religious institutions than being living bodies of service and compassion, but my hope endures. My hope endures because where hardened institutionalism ends, love can begin, and the love of God is the most attractive force in the universe.
Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, speaker, and author of multiple books. You can read more and receive regular e-columns in your inbox at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.