Are America's Churches Destined to Suffer the Same Fate as Europe's?
Ba-bong! Ba-bong! Ba-bong! The church bells ring all over Europe. In charming villages and large cities alike, the bells ring.
In the tiny ancient town of Beynac, the church in the majestic medieval castle on the hill starts its “song" at 7 a.m. with a continuous, enchanted rhythm of peals for several minutes.
It clangs every hour and half-hour throughout the day until it ushers in the night at 7 with the same rhythm that greeted the morning.
The bells are everywhere: Ireland, Scotland, Wales, England, France, Italy, Spain — you name it. The melodious sound of beautiful church bells echoes as far as the ear can hear.
The problem is, nobody’s home.
Europe’s churches are increasingly empty, with regular worshippers a thing of the past. In some, there are only remnants of larger congregations of the faithful.
So many of these beautiful structures built to the glory of God are now shuttered. Many of the more architecturally interesting ones have been converted into homes, offices, or museums.
A quick Internet search for "European churches for sale” reveals a robust market for repurposing the Lord’s house into something else.
Are America’s churches destined to suffer the same fate as Europe’s?
Researcher George Barna has been tracking the intersection between faith and culture for more than three decades. His research reveals that church attendance in the United States continues on a downward spiral.
The data regarding attitudes among young people toward the organized church reveals an awful conclusion: America’s congregations are dying.
Faith in God is being replaced with “spirituality,” and younger generations are obsessed with finding activities that will make them happy rather than doing the hard work of seeking the truth that leads to deep and abiding joy.
As our culture becomes ever more secular, the saddest part isn’t the empty pews; it’s that we are quickly becoming a nation of vacant souls.
There is a dangerous lack of Christian communities supporting, challenging, and holding each other accountable. Just as disturbing is the increasing practice by some clergy to pervert the Truth into a meaningless “feel good” message in order to fill the pews and coffers.
A watered-down Christian theology that preaches “it’s all good” might bring warm bodies in the door, but when the comprehensive Gospel that speaks to every aspect of life is not taught, then people leave the building still searching for answers to the personal problems that engulf them.
Christ in all of his glory must be front and center; when He is not, “going to church” just becomes another task.
Mr. Barna reports that young people actually desire a “transformative connection with God.” They just don’t know where to find it, which is particularly tragic in a country where church buildings fill the landscape from sea to shining sea.
One can hardly blame young adults for choosing to sleep in when the culture of “the church” offers nothing different than the rotting pop culture in which they are drowning.
For pastors, deacons, Sunday School teachers, and laypeople concerned about their own dwindling fellowships, Barna.com is a great resource. The research is thorough, with easy-to-understand conclusions and practical advice. Helpful information also can be found on the Facebook page of United in Purpose, a nonprofit organization founded to help churches become relevant to the culture.
The bottom line, however, is simple: Preach the full truth of Christ, in love, and they will come.
The good news for Millennials, for Generation Z, for Americans, Europeans, and all people living in the “four corners of the Earth” is still the Good News, which is the Gospel of Christ.
Only when pastors begin to teach Christ in his fullness will churches experience a new awakening.
Only when the church is really the church will the bells become the sweet song that beckons the faithful and the lost alike to a place of hope and abiding love.
Rebecca Hagelin can be reached at [email protected]