Wednesday, November 9, 2011

National Trends and the NCC... Do Real Religion & Hang out with Jesus

Does it seem as if fewer visitors are show-ing up at church? Not as many kids are in the Sunday School programs as in times past? More of your fellow worshipers con-sider attending church once a month as "regular" church attendance? The fact is, fewer Americans are claiming Christianity as their faith allegiance, are having children, or consider going to church weekly as essential to their devotion to God. The fastest growing faith category in America is "unaffiliated" or "irreligious."

The graph below tracks Gallup Poll information on the percentage of Americans who claim to be Christian and the percentage who claim to go to church regularly. I extrapolated the trends into 2025, with the most current Gallup data in this graph from 2008. Though approximately 40 per-cent of Americans self-report attending church regularly (data this graph is based upon), community "head counts" place that figure at around 20 percent.

It is good news that the American Free Methodist Church has grown 3 percent over the past year and has a track record of growth. This bucks many trends experienced by American churches. Regardless, the fastest growing "faith demographic" in the USA includes those who proactively avoid church and divest themselves of religion. North Central Conference believers, we have our work cut out for us. Here are three things which may reverse the trend.

Do real religion. Our authority, the Bible, reminds us, "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: Look after orphans and widows in their distress and keep oneself from being polluted by the world" (James 1:27).

Hang out with Jesus. This likely means less focus on standing and singing songs behind stained glass or techno cool strobe lights and more time with the sick, naked, hungry, thirsty, and imprisoned, because that is when we have visited with our Savior (Matthew 25:40).

Proclaim good news! Good news is always the way of escape, and as the majority of our American peers do not believe in Hell and seem unable to articulate sin, proclaiming freedom from these things will fall on deaf  ears and not be particularly good news. But a way of escape from meaninglessness, vain pursuits, selfishness, poverty, broken relationships, painfully confused sexuality, injustice, disunity, and despair is good news, and quite to the heart of the gospel of Jesus--and a beacon that draws people toward the light which yields present and eternal life.

When the church lives like the Body of Christ--acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly before God, she is more attractive than anything else God placed on earth. Doing real religion. Hanging out with Jesus. Proclaiming good news that sounds like good news because it is good news. These are ways of being church embraced by Free Methodists. These will contribute to reversing the trend embraced by 80 percent (if head count stats are to be trusted) of Americans -- avoiding church.

I believe church is avoided because it is seen, often accurately, as a self-absorbed, institutional organization which lives to rehearse old news with old songs that blame everything else. Instead, let us embrace ancient truths with new songs that bless everyone else. Do real religion, hang out with Jesus, and proclaim good news!

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