In this interesting article by the Rev. Ben Crosby, he asks two questions as the starting point of why churches are in decline and if it really matters:
Specifically, I believe that our conversations about church decline would be much more clarifying if we began by answering the following questions:
- 1. Do we think that a relationship with Jesus is necessary to achieve certain goods (traditionally, salvation)? If the ‘relationship’ language concerns you, feel free to substitute ‘connected with’, ‘joined to’, or what have you.
- 2. Do we think that the church is the normative means by which that necessary relationship with Jesus is established, nurtured, and maintained?
If we answer these questions “no,” Rev. Crosby comes to this conclusion:
In either of these cases, church decline might be something to be mourned but it is hardly a disaster. This is perhaps most obvious in the first case discussed above: if Christianity is no truer than anything else, if it is simply a particular human expression of certain eternal universal truths equally expressed elsewhere, what does it matter if people be Christians? What’s important is finding – or making – meaning somewhere. Maybe it’s another religion, maybe it’s tarot or crystals, maybe it’s politics, maybe it’s Harry Potter, but it certainly needn’t be the church. Decline might be difficult for those experiencing it, for those who are accustomed to find in the Christian religion their source of comfort or meaning, and certainly it would be important to provide pastoral care for these people. But decline, while sad, is no disaster – after all, the decline of organized religion just seems to be a consequence of modernity, in which people are freed to find meaning in increasingly informal, mix-and-match ways.
Nothing like being a quarter century late…decline from these conclusions was what I predicted in my 1997 piece When Church Becomes Pointless. Unfortunately that’s the message that’s come from the Episcopal Church and churches like it, and people have been connecting the dots and acting accordingly. For the church to reverse this downward slide will require a completely different idea from the one they’ve been propagating for years, more like those churches which Episcopalians have turned their noses up at for generations. Perhaps something like this, at the end of Crosby’s article:
After all, we have found in the ACC that those Anglican churches which actually grow are those which believe – truly believe, in a lived-out way — that evangelism is important.