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Why are churches dying?

Are churches dying? From 1971 to 2021 the percentage of Australians that identify as Christian has halved from 86.2% to 43.9%. Or looked at another way in 1971 there was almost 4 million Anglicans, in 2021 that number had dropped to 2.5 million despite the overall population doubling. Those that do remain in church are much older than the general population which all goes to suggest that mainline churches are one generation from extinction unless some thing changes.

The bible isn’t being made compelling, which is indicated by 24% of youth leaving the church, considering faith as irrelevant to their interests or careers. The church is failing to show that following the teachings of the bible leads to order, the order that comes from an objective morality that the bible teaches. This order is the foundation that the rest of their lives can be built upon. It inspires us to follow in Christs’ footsteps and try to be Christ for the people around us. In an ever changing world the church’s rituals and traditions provide an order that connects the followers with all the other Christians in a way that transcends time as a communion of saints. There is also a failure to highlight the spiritual nature of the journey, what we are doing in church isn’t all about this world but the one to come after it. The whole service is about our approaching the kingdom of heaven to send us out into the world to live a just life to bring as many people as we can along on this journey.

People aren’t being shown how to reconcile science with religion so that they are left confused by what is taught in the wider world with what is being taught in church. One of the reasons youth are leaving the church is: churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in, Christianity is seen as anti-science and the youth are being turned off by the creation-versus-evolution debate. The church needs to address this problem but without leaving the bible open to interpretation. A way needs to be found in how to read Genesis without it coming into conflict with Science. If I allow the bible to be interpreted then it can be changed and manipulated to reflect my thoughts, justify my sins and not the will of God.

It is futile trying to change the church to meet the expectations of unbelievers in the hope that they will be drawn to a now more ‘relevant’ church. The more the church becomes worldly the less it is biblical and the less authentic it becomes. An inauthentic church is now less desirable not more for a person seeking spiritual help. So the numbers continue to decline.

Some of the things the church is doing to arrest the decline: focus on youth, messy church, alpha, hundreds of millions spent between 2017-2020, food banks, support for mental health, the ‘love your neighbour movement’ to feed the poor but the result at the end of all this is still church decline. Churches are feeding the poor but not saving souls. What is really happening is the established churches are transferring wealth to the secular world with no conversions or added respect to show for it. There is little notion of ‘return on investment’, churches are flailing around hoping to hit on a gimmick that will save them.

We now live in a secular society, Christendom is dead. Social justice and the planet are not our responsibility. Maybe it once was but now government has grown to such a size, and their tithe at over 50% of our income is so large that they have taken on the burden that once was the churches. This is both annoying (government stop taking so much of my money) but also an opportunity to shed these burdens and really focus our efforts into growing the church and restoring Christendom.

The church has tried to foster youth through the creation of youth Groups that create age specific activities while the adults are in the traditional service. This only separates the child from their family so that the result is that they don’t see the seriousness given to religion by their parents and they in turn learn not to take faith seriously themselves. If faith is caught and not taught, which a Swiss study showed, the likely hood of children continuing in faith is dependent most on whether the father is involved in church. It would seem strange to separate the carrier of the gospel from the recipient. Just the fact that Christianity is waning especially amongst the youth is indication that at least we should be questioning whether the expense and effort placed in youth ministry is worth it and whether it is doing more harm than good. 

Whether it is praise music or inclusive, progressive interpretations of the bible, and a narrow focusing of God as Love to the exclusion of all other aspects of God, a feel good religion is created where the believers will drop away as soon as it no longer feels good. People are leaving the church because they have never been given a deep understanding of the faith? Church is seen as a form of entertainment or self-help class that if it doesn’t meet their immediate needs they abandon the church.

Only some types of Churches are dying. Those churches that are progressive are dying but those that are orthodox are maintaining their numbers. Strictly holding to the bible is what saves a church, the 100 largest churches in America are all lgbt non-affirming, if we want to resist the collapse we just need to hold the faith more closely. Generally speaking men are rule based while women prioritise relationships, but children follow their fathers into faith and not their mothers. Favouring relationships over the rules expressed as a literal interpretation will lead to the collapse of the church. First men leave because without the literal interpretation, the faith looks hypocritical. With dad no-longer going to church the children stop taking church seriously and abandon it as soon as mum looses her grip on them.

Jesus didn’t say “upon this sand I will build my church” but upon rock, unyielding rock that doesn’t try to fit in with culture. Churches need to be full-fat, biblically orthodox and stand apart from the world. They need to advertise that they are here and what we have to offer. They need to educate their new parishioners not just in the bible but in the workings of the church. They need to provide a pathway so that they don’t either fossilise in the back of the pews or drift away because they are never called to progress. Parishioners need to be asked to go deeper in their faith, provided with the means to do so, encouraged to seek an adventure in Christ.

5 thoughts on “Why are churches dying?”

  1. In 1971 we were 30 years from WWII, and today we are now 80 years from it. In 1971 Church was one of the few things on, on Sunday. The Church was in many senses the centre of community life, and we made connections celebrating the great moments in life with the community. The context in which we continue as Church has changed.

    The number of technologies that have both arrived, or left, or arrived and left in that period is significant.

    When Jesus said to Peter ‘You are Peter, and on this ‘petros’ (rock) I will build my church.’ It is worth noting that Peter’s faith wasn’t all that rock-like, and in half moment he would be denying Jesus three times.

    I am not convinced that the gun-toting American Church, has any more answers than the rest of us. Often they seem more like contemporary Pharisees, laying down all sorts of laws, rules and regulations. It is not immediately apparent from the Gospels that Jesus said much about the lgbt-alphabet, and in many senses, I suspect some of the conservative church’s stand against it is more to do with affirming a past social standard in our society. Turning everybody straight will not bring anyone to glory.

    I think we do better when we focus on the fruit of the Spirit – Love -Joy – Peace – Patience – Kindness – Goodness – Self-Control – Gentleness – Faithfulness. If we were a little kinder, I believe we would do a little better.

    1. Hi Philip and thank-you for responding.

      We are a discussion group (new) in Melbourne. I would love to invite you to join us. It seems you have interesting things to say which we could benefit from. You also seem to have some depth to your knowledge.

      Regards Glenn

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