A Time for Serious Reflection in American Churches, by Jessica Johnson

A minister from a small congregation in Manchester, Tennessee, was recently featured in a Fox News online interview that focused on the growing number of church closures in “small towns” across the country. History has highlighted the fact that many communities like Manchester are seeing significant numbers of people no longer attending services, and nationwide trends continue to point to further church decline. The Tennessee pastor in this story mentioned that his membership had dwindled to just eight people, prompting him to make the difficult decision to close after being in the ministry for nearly 20 years.

More and more established churches continue to close their doors permanently and fewer new places of worship are opening. A May 2021 study published by Lifeway Research analyzed data provided by 34 Protestant denominations and found that 4,500 churches ceased operations in 2019, compared to 3,000 new churches being launched. The Lifeway Research results came out about two months after a Gallup poll found that only 47% of Americans were affiliated with an organized religion. A Brookings Institute report this year found that church closures in New York’s predominantly African-American communities were due to “changes in worship attendance, trends by age and race, (and) d ‘possible internal problems’, in addition to increased gentrification.

Gentrification definitely provides a short-term answer to low church attendance in many black neighborhoods in terms of changing population dynamics, and age, which means fewer Gen Zers and of millennials on church rolls compared to older generations, is a common factor among black and white congregations. . The main question for American churches right now, regardless of their demographics, is why smaller crowds are becoming the norm on Sunday mornings.

I believe that true reflection begins with what is preached from the pulpit and taught in Bible study. Is it the gospel of Christ or messages steeped in divisive political rhetoric? It is a well known fact that white evangelical churches have been heavily criticized for their conservative political stances, and some people find the woke politics of some black churches to be a let down. I think many churches have simply strayed from what is commanded in the scriptures, which is to lift up Jesus and offer salvation to those who are hurting in their souls. Now, I am not arguing that churches should avoid addressing political issues. Historically, when we look at how the black church was the basis of the civil rights movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the political and social struggle for racial equality has always been forged with unconditional love as a means of fight hate. King said, “Man must develop a method for all human conflict which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.” Love was at the heart of every march King led, every sermon he preached, and every meeting he had with those in power to wisely negotiate civil rights legislation. He always strived to be an excellent witness for Christ, saying: “When we see social relationships controlled everywhere by the principles that Jesus exemplified in life – trust, love, mercy and selflessness – then we will know that the kingdom of God is here.”

Imagine what the impact of the church today in our country would be if more sermons were preached on the love and kingdom of God. Jesus taught and preached about the kingdom of God and the heavens in many parables. Take, for example, the parable of the sower in Matthew 13. Jesus used an agrarian illustration of a farmer sowing seeds, which symbolizes the Word of God, which fell by the wayside, in stony places and among thorns , but that ended up being good. earth. The seed that was planted in good soil produced fruit, which is representative of believers living victoriously and serving others according to kingdom principles (Galatians 5:22-23). I honestly believe that many churches lack a true manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit, and I think this is one of the main reasons for the mass exodus of young people and a general increase in distrust in towards preachers. Many people still believe in God, as a February Gallop poll showed 81% of Americans profess the faith, but many have not learned to have a deeper relationship with Him. The latter is essential for churches to regain the trust of those who have left.

Dr. Jessica A. Johnson is a lecturer in the Department of English at the Lima campus of The Ohio State University. Email him at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter: @JjSmojc. To learn more about Jessica Johnson and read articles by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Photo credit: time at Pixabay

Barry F. Howard