By Daniel Ausbun, First Baptist Church, Moreland
I was reading the statistics and it’s a shocking decline.
A Gallup poll reported 19 percent of Americans actually attend church in 2016. In 1950– 66 years ago, that number was 49 percent of Americans. Christians read statistics such as this and don’t know how to respond.
We must remember church attendance isn’t the goal for a believer; rather it’s becoming a disciple of Jesus. A Christian attends worship to honor the fourth commandment, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8). God called the Sabbath day, “holy.” That means it’s set apart. It’s the most important day of the week.
Hebrews 10:25 warns Christians about habitually staying away from worship.
Someone might ask, “Maybe people are attending church less because America is less Christian?” Yet 70 percent of Americans profess to be Christians in 2016. In 1950, that number was 90 percent. In 1950, 90 percent of America claimed to be Christian, yet only 49 percent attended church. In 2016, 70 percent of Americans are Christians, but only 19 percent attend church.
This tells us two facts: there’s a smaller percentage of Christians in our country, and about one fourth of Christians actually attend church.
Here are eight reasons why the U.S. is less Christian and why Christians are attending worship less frequently.
1). Americans have greater affluence. Money gives people options. The middle class is shrinking. The middle class is becoming the upper class, and the lower class is increasing.
2). An increase in children’s sports. Children and teenagers play sports. A growing number of children play on teams that require travel. Many of these sporting events occur on the weekend, thus keeping families away from worship.
3). Americans travel more. No longer is there an annual one-week family summer vacation. Folks in Atlanta go to the beach four or five times a year. Camping, going to the game or going to the lake for the weekend – when people are out of town, they’re out of church.
4). A 24/7 culture. Years ago, working on Sundays was unusual. Now people work all the time, anytime. Work at home, work on the weekend, work at nighttime – a single 11 a.m. Sunday worship service isn’t possible for many Americans. Target opens at 8 a.m. on Sundays. Someone has to open the store.
The idea of a Sabbath day of rest has become a distant memory.
5). Blended and single-parent families. When a child has shared custody, perfect attendance for that child might be 26 Sundays a year. Because of broken families, many children and teenagers aren’t able to attend worship as they would like.
6). Americans have online options for church attendance. You can watch an entire church service on your phone and participate in the offering. I know of one church that has an online pastor – he’ll supervise you baptizing yourself in your own bathtub. It’s absurd, but online church is here to stay.
7). There’s a cultural disappearance of guilt. In the past, if a church member missed two consecutive Sundays, the outreach team was knocking on their door Sunday afternoon. There’s no longer the expectation to be at church every Sunday.
God has this expectation of His people, but Christians aren’t holding one another accountable with weekly worship.
8). Many Christians fail to see the direct benefit of worship attendance. People always make time for what they value most. Believers must be taught the direct benefit of weekly worship. Christians who attend worship weekly – they serve, give and invite – they’re engaged. Christians should value engagement more than attendance.