I recently attended a men’s conference that my church sponsored. At its conclusion, I was left with a few questions concerning religion and what is happening to religion, not only in America, but also, throughout the Christian world.
Throughout the course of the conference, a recurring theme kept coming up: “Why are mainstream religions (Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Episcopalian, etc.) losing membership at the high rate that they have been experiencing for the last 10-15 years?
Our bishops offered several good reasons for the decline of mainstream Christian churches: an aging population, the lack of younger people who express a Christian faith, the rise of secularism, the critical shortage of ministers and priest, the collapse of Christian schools and the people would rather spend their time on things other than church.
The bishops bemoaned the fact that Christian churches are slowly evaporating in some communities. They offered long explanations for this decline in church populations and conveyed their concerns and directed us to look for solutions to this phenomenon.
We had open discussions where all types of solutions were offered, from better advertising to more openness within our respective communities.
Ideas were kicked around about how we should be getting our message out into the communities we represent. We discussed how best to let people in our individual communities know who and what we are and what our church offers the community and the individual.
There were lengthy discussions on the failures of the church’s messaging and how to improve the church’s public relations. We discussed the importance of outreach and what outreach programs have worked in the past and how to improve those programs.
Our outreach programs have always been focused on the needy in our communities, people with housing, food or health needs.
One glaring problem in all our churches has been the way individual congregations of the various churches have tried to do these outreach programs within their own faith and have not unified their efforts within the community of churches in our areas.
We discussed how we could and should be working with other churches in our area. We tried to find avenues to implement these types of activities and how best to approach other churches in our area.
One reason we agreed upon was the clannishness of our different faiths, even though we all professed to be Christians, the common thread of our faith.
All of this discussion was very informative and important, and hopefully will lead us to find better ways of spreading the Christian faith and increasing our congregational strength.
Granted, our congregations are aging and younger people are not interested in attending church or, as some of us were, forced to attend by our parents. We clearly saw this trend.
Along with the aging of our congregations is the problem our church in particular has, and that is for every new priest ordained we lose three by retiring or dying.
The supply of clergy is falling at a alarming rate and, if young people do not enter the ministry, we could very well lose many of our churches because of lack of leadership of a priest or minister.
There were many discussions on the problems facing the church and many of the ideas were presented in a very good, pervasive manner. Some problems were so obvious that they could not be ignored, and sensible solutions can be found to fix them.
But there was one subject that was completely glossed over, and that was why are nondenominational and fundamentalist churches thriving while ours are failing?
When I look around town and look at the churches that seem to be thriving, most, if not, all of those churches tend to be conservative by nature.
They preach the Bible and stay away from social issues. These churches have stayed true to their belief systems and have for the most part avoided the current political and social issues.
Instead, they’ve stayed true to the fundamental tenets, in this case, of the Bible and basic Christian beliefs. They haven’t become promoters of social issues falling outside of their arena.
My particular faith has gone down the road of complete inclusiveness and political correctness.
The successful larger churches in our area seem to have stuck to the fundamental preaching of the Bible and have stayed away from the popular social issues that have been dividing us over the last few years.
I have watched my church accept and promote every chic theory of what we should do to remain in the forefront of current political and social thinking, all the while going further and further from Christian doctrine.
My church will not recognize that it is deviating from the core principles of Christian dogma and it has jumped on the bandwagon of populism.
I have watched members leave our church and start attending other, more conservative churches because they believe our church has strayed too far from core Christian dogma.
Somewhere along the line, many faiths have deviated from what their purpose is and have become much too political. Faith is something most people desire.
As long as that faith remains true to its creed, it will sustain itself and probably grow; but once that faith becomes political instead of apolitical, it seems to lose the faithful.
Faith — no matter if it’s Judaeo, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist or any of the other organized religions — lays out its creed in no uncertain terms and its members believe they must follow that creed in order to find salvation.
Faith, no matter what religion you follow, is based on the simple premise that this is what we believe and we believe God set down the rules and laws for us to follow.
Those rules and laws should be consistent over time, even through popular societal changes. I believe people believe in religion because religion offers them the comfort of a common faith in God and His powers, along with a set of rules and laws that we must follow.
The key to that faith is a constant set of guidelines to live by and how those guidelines are not open to change.
I know people will disagree with my assessment of why many churches fail to maintain their congregations and why certain mainstream churches are witnessing a steady decline in membership while other churches are thriving.
I honestly believe many mainstream churches are failing because they have wandered from their fundamental beliefs and have decided to become social organs more interested in being at the forefront of social change than in following their basic tenets.
Part of the answer that we were seeking at our men’s conference was never addressed, namely:
Is the church partly responsible for falling membership because the upper echelon of the church decided to enter the political and social arena while deviating from its dogma?
BERNARD LESLIE is a beekeeping expert who lives beside Kentucky Lake in the northeast corner of Henry County. His email address is email@example.com.