Decline of Some Churches, Not of Christianity
Big denominations have been losing steam for a while. The lockdowns made it worse.
Along with the bad health and economic effects of COVID-19, we must also admit that our churches have not been immune to the viral impact.
The Washington Examiner looked recently at two of the nation’s largest Protestant denominations — the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and the United Methodist Church (UMC) — as big organizations with declining memberships and corresponding revenues in the collection plates. For the UMC, the transcendence of culture over Christ and the acceptance of various unbiblical lifestyle choices has led to fewer members, which, in turn, has resulted in a reduction in giving. The SBC, a far more conservative and evangelical denomination, is fighting to stave off the same trend.
A 2018 published review of Harvard University research reveals growth in Christianity overall, but membership in key denominations is eroding. In 1989, 39% percent of those who belonged to an organized religion cited their strong beliefs and practices. In the 2018 analysis, those surveyed with the same responses had increased to 47%. This paradox can be blamed as much on the church itself as on society redefining the meaning of sinful behavior. Add mandatory lockdowns to these difficult times and the mainline denominational church has found itself in even greater jeopardy.
Morality is often defined now by popular opinion instead of legitimate standards and truths that have transcended time. If virtue is situational and left to personal interpretation, there is no basis of truth, standard of decency, or order of law. Mainline religions have been infected with this contagion of moral relativism, and if new seekers hear the same thing in a community of faith that they hear at a local bar or social club, why bother going to church? People are not leaving Christianity; people are leaving mainline denominational organizations that alter their teachings based on culture.
The Baylor Institute of Studies of Religion has tracked church attendance to be four times greater in modern days than in America’s founding when men and women were seeking authentic religious freedom. Today there is a movement of individuals leaving congregations that reflect elastic ethics of civic secularism to attend churches offering practical teachings founded in Scripture that can provide encouragement and support in uncertain, trying days.
As the COVID-19 pandemic keeps cities closed, mainline churches are squeezed as parishioners hang on to their gifts and offerings. But in the communities of faith rooted in evangelism and the belief that Christ is above culture, growth prevails. As Glenn Stanton, writing in The Federalist in January 2018, summed up, “It is extremely likely that if your church teaches the Bible with seriousness, calls its people to real discipleship, and encourages daily intimacy with God, it has multiple services to handle the coming crowds.”
Serious times call for serious answers. Americans are not finding answers among their political leaders. Americans are not even finding answers in some churches that parrot pundits. Christianity holds the key for unity, truth, and wholeness. If Americans are able to find the simple Gospel taught, they’ll find the answers.