THE STATE OF RELIGION IN AMERICA

By: GENE RAINEY Ph.D.  

       

       Full Bio Below

SUMMARY: The passing away of Reverend Billy Graham on February 21, 2018, was the reminder of a strong past evangelical and spiritual era in the United States. However, gradually, and yet surely, both the Spiritual Social influence and consequently the Political Power House of Christianity and even other religious faiths, despite the appearance of their political overtone appearances have been on the decline. In the old continent and a country such as France, today, only 7% of the population is practicing Catholics, and amongst the French “Muslim” population that compromises almost 6 million, only 10% are practicing.
In the United States, the Assemblies Of God (AG) with a worldwide membership of sixty-eight million only 3 million members are in the United States. This essay, analysis some of the dilemmas facing the uphill battle of religious institutions and possible remedies addressing it. The lack of spirituality in an ever absent environment of moral, ethical or character driven integrity in the current political and fast-paced technological advancement that has beset all sociocultural mores and values in a “me/selfie” society should be a serious cause for concern. In the Gospel, it is said: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding (Proverbs:10). There doesn’t seem to be any more a fear or restrained of any outrageous social or political behavior and expression that has become increasingly a daily norm. Sadly, even those who should know better in leading the right example strive to outdo others in a growing predominantly — No Shame — culture.
 
Sociologists may well grapple for in the analysis of the many divides that exist in not only the current American political society but also at the global level with various optics of economics and social inequalities’ injustices. The religious buffer, however, and its ever-diminishing influence as a backbone of a harmonious sociocultural climate merits an important and consequential analysis for both the domestic and also a springboard of the foreign policy implications and analysis. The absence of a Dr. Martin Luther King like personality with his level of public credibility in diffusing the ever prevalent belligerent social climate in preaching and setting a commanding example as a peacemaker is worrisome. The underlying socioeconomic injustices without an ultimate moral safety net through the religious institutions’ intervention in stopping the degeneration of social upheaval has deprived the society of an important traditional instrument. The Baltimore riots of 2015 in the United States underlined below clearly illustrates this point.

As the limits of vulgarity, insults, obscenity and even violence with a fearlessly unrepentant posture  continue to break new barriers, the incisive reflection of Dr. Martin Luther King can be a much needed guiding light for all the leaders and today’s society when he had preached relentlessly that: “The early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the Church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.” In the words of the late Dallas A. Willard professor emeritus of Philosophy at the University of Southern California and an icon of Christian spiritual scholarship evinced long before the current public mood: “The greatest issue facing the world today, with all its heartbreaking needs, is whether those who, by profession or culture, are identified as ‘Christians’ will become disciples – students, apprentices, practitioners – of Jesus Christ, steadily learning from him how to live the life of the Kingdom of the Heavens into every corner of human existence.”(Emphasis Added)

But today, “What is truly profound is thought to be stupid and trivial, or worse, boring, while what is actually stupid and trivial is thought to be profound. That is what it means to fly upside down. And if you are already flying upside down and don’t know it, your cleverness will do you little good.”(Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God). This has accentuated the absence of integrity and character in a world that doesn’t consider them necessary. Yet in Rev. Billy Graham’s pertinent observation “When wealth is lost, nothing is lost; when health is lost, something is lost; when character is lost, all is lost.” Hence the importance and the role of the Church in leading the crusade of restoring harmony in the current scandalous society that the clergy and religious institutions have also been regrettably guilty of contributing to it. 

In light of the above, it should be noted that the state of religion in America is in a sad, sad condition characterized by a population with an increasing lack of interest in Christianity.   In the not-too-distant future, half of the American people will be classified as “unchurched” as the United States slips into a secularist society.  If we do not act now, current trends will only increase:   abortions, divorce rates, the “back door” problem of members leaving the church, growing number of living-together unmarried “families,” acceptance of same-sex marriages, crime, prison populations (already the highest in the world) resulting in husbands or wives left alone to raise neglected children.

We must reverse this “state of religion” by the “servant evangelism,” that is, by serving our unchurched neighbors who are looking for churches that teach God’s Word and cares for people that Jesus described in Matthew 25:  hungry, thirsty, naked, in prison, sick and homeless strangers.  Traditional methods of evangelization—gospel meetings, radio, TV, newspaper articles—remain as part of the repertoire for carrying out Jesus’ Great Commission.

   

Christianity In America is Falling Behind

The Banna Research Group reported that the percentage of “unchurched adults” in America almost doubled from 24% to 45% between 1993 and 2015. The most staggering finding was the increase of “unchurched women” from 44% to 46% while the percentage of “unchurched men” decreased from 57% to 54%.  UNLESS WE TAKE EVANGELISTIC ACTION NOW, AMERICA WILL GRADUALLY BECOME A NATION—AS ENGLAND AND OTHER EUROPEAN COUNTRIES HAVE BECOME—LARGELY OF DISBELIEVING CITIZENS.

Time may be running out on American churches to effectively reverse the decline of religion in the United States.    T. M. Moore, writing for Chuck Coulson’s Fellowship of Alibi (July 2015) echoed this development “…the growth of the Church is not keeping pace with the growth of the population as a whole, and the influence of Christianity in every area of life is greatly diminished compared with previous generations.”

Our Methodist friends are concerned about this nation’s trend toward the nonreligious future.  Ben Gosden, a minister for the United Methodist Church in Macon, Georgia, described his denomination’s challenge: “…some-where in the mid to late 20th century…church membership decline became noticeable. Now that we’re in the 21st century, the decline is not only noticeable, but it’s also painful.   And all the while we have these big, aging, beautiful yet hard-to-maintain buildings our faithful mothers and fathers in the faith left behind.”  (Source:  www.ministrymatters Emphasis Added)

One consultant on church growth reported the following as a result of his research: “Eight out of 10 of the approximately 400,000 churches in the United States are declining or have plateaued.”   Consequently, 80% of churches in America are not growing today!  (Sourcechurchplants.com, “5 Questions STUCK Churches Ask.”)

Churches Are losing Members:  The Back-door Problem

The “back door” problem means that members are leaving the church.  It is a problem that all churches face.

  • The Baptist “back door.”

Thom Rainer (“4 Keys to Closing the Back Door,” Outreach, July 16, 2015) studied the Baptist Church, which is the largest Protestant denomination in America.  Rainer wrote that the “realistic” membership of our Baptist friends is “around 12 million, and the average weekly attendance is 7 million.”  Thus, Rainer concluded that the Baptist church has lost count of over four million members because they have left through the “back door.”

Rainer offers several suggestions to solve this problem, among them are:

  • We should have high expectations for our church members by placing opportunities for service before them. A “new member” class should be started and opportunities presented immediately for helping people in need in the surrounding community.
  • Especially in large churches, smaller associations help. New members need to be put in touch with other members in small groups.
  • Church discipline is important in keeping members safe. Churches should not tolerate public misdeeds and sins among its members, but take a stand against them.  Before public discipline, however, every effort must be made to edify and correct the situation and win back the wayward member.

An Example of The Absence of one Church Group:  The Baltimore, Maryland, Riots

During Baltimore’s 2015 riots, religious and political leaders calmed angry mobs of rioting people when the police and National Guard failed.  Church of Christ ministers were absent.  Six congregations of the Church of Christ exist in Baltimore with a membership of 1,300.  Since Baltimore’s population is 600,000, the number of members comprise less than .003% of the city’s population—a figure that probably is similar in other cities of the United States.

One Baltimore church member, during the riots, was quoted in the Christian Chronicle: “Right now, most Churches of Christ aren’t even a voice.  We stay in our four walls and teach and reteach and reteach each other all the time. … Then when this happens, we try to run into the community, and people say, ‘Who are you all?’”  Another member said: “…we have to stop being in the church and bring the church out into the community” (Emphasis added).

Western North Carolina:  a Mission Field Located Next Door

  • WNC Small towns: “bedroom communities.”

“Small towns”—usually with a population of 1,000-4,000 located outside large cities—are “bedroom communities” for people who travel to jobs in metropolitan areas, but do not live in them.  These “small towns” are prime targets for house-churches.  They have been neglected because members are willing to drive to large churches in the cities every Sunday, just as they do five-days-a-week to their jobs.  These “bedroom Christians” seldom are involved in the good works and evangelism carried on by metropolitan churches of Christ that they attend on Sundays.  After all, how can they go back into these large cities after they leave them at the five o’clock quitting time?

  • Unincorporated rural communities.

Unincorporated communities are well-defined, but loosely organized sections of counties in each state.   Their number of citizens is small, usually less than 1,000.  They have been neglected because of the prohibitive cost of constructing church buildings and paying a full-time preacher for ministering to a flock of only a few members.  They are fertile ground for a house-church that does not need a large building in which to serve the Lord.   An important requirement for establishing a congregation is met by the house-church:  it also will be the residence of the preacher and his family.

The Solution:  House-Churches

  • House-churches are not new. The concept of “house church” is well established in the world and in the United States.
  • The Growth of Christianity in China.

Many of the house-churches are called “sofa churches” because they meet member’s homes with living rooms serving as meeting places for a small group of Christians to worship.  These types of “house-churches” abound in foreign nations, such as China, where open meetings of Christians are discouraged by the government.     Chinese Christians meeting in “sofa churches” have grown in numbers and threaten to pass the number of Chinese Communists.

  • The house-church model.

House churches are the best instrument for reaching into areas where Jesus’ church does not exist.  The NewTestament church worshipped in Christian’s homes (Acts 2:46, Acts 20:20, Romans 16:5, Colossians 4:15, Philemon verse 2).   Temples used for idol worship were not converted to churches (and church buildings were not constructed) until after Emperor Constantine became a Christian in the 4th century.  Our Catholic friends constructed cathedrals during and after the Middle Ages.  The Protestant Reformers followed this Catholic pattern; while not building massive cathedrals, they nonetheless oversaw construction projects that produced beautiful—and large—churches that also became the pattern in America.

Times have changed.  We now live in a world in which Christ’s Great Commission must be carried out in areas near to where we live by establishing house-churches that can—and must—multiply rapidly.

  • This proposal’s goal.

The goal of this proposal is simple:  To establish house-churches in every city and the unincorporated community of the United States. To achieve this goal, all house-churches must become the organizational instrument for Jesus’ Great Commission:  our members must be taught and motivated to (a) personally evangelize, (b) give their money as the New Testament church was commanded (I Corinthians 16:1) and (c) meet the needs of the community.   Each house-church must give birth to another house-church within four or five years of its existence, and continue to establish house-churches thereafter.  Each house-church established should follow the same pattern.  Thus, one house-church should duplicate itself, establishing a house-church within 15 minutes driving time.

 

If this pattern is followed, house-churches will multiply as follows:

  • One house-church establishes another house-church (1 plus 1 equals 2) in (at least) five years.
  • Then both house-churches establish another like themselves, resulting in 4 house-churches (2 plus 2 equals 4) in at least ten years.
  • These four house-churches each establish another congregation, making a total of eight (4 plus 4 equals 8) in at least fifteen years.
  • These eight house-churches each establish one congregation, making a total of sixteen

(8 plus 8 equals 16) for at least twenty years.

  • In twenty-five years, 32 house-churches will be established.
  • In thirty years, 1,024 house-churches will be established!

IS THIS GOAL REALISTIC?   My answer is “Yes.”

Conclusion

We are losing members and churches.  America is becoming “unchurched” because its citizens believe that religion is not addressing and solving their personal and social problems.  The establishment and growth of house-churches appeal to these “unchurched” people with the words of Jesus that offer solutions to their personal, family and social problems.

You are urged to think and pray about establishing house-churches in your—and neighboring—towns and unincorporated communities.   Our nation is sinking into a quagmire of immorality that no New Testament Christian will desire to live in.

“The world can no longer be left to mere diplomats, politicians, and business leaders. They have done the best they could, no doubt. But this is an age for spiritual heroes – a time for men and women to be heroic in their faith and in spiritual character and power. The greatest danger to the Christian church today is that of pitching its message too low.” (Emphasis Added)

Dallas WillardThe Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives

AFTERWORD

The establishment of any medium in gathering Christians together will not be fruitful and constructive in the long run – IF – it does not relate to the daily suffering and challenges of the ordinary people. Especially the younger generation of the Millennials who are the bridge to the currently doomed church’s future and who have emphatically expressed their belief in the meaningless of life. The idea of Home Church is a practical starting action point that can greatly enhance its effectiveness only through a new, dynamic leadership that can relate to and is capable of speaking the same language and concerns of a younger lost audience. Because, as Nelson Mandela who sacrificed a lifetime to teach humanity many lessons about living an exemplary life and particularly the power of Love over hatred, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” Therefore, the Church must promptly and correctly focus on the Millennials and their Hearts who are the future segment of the Church that has not known Christ’s Love and above all his profound teaching and unfathomable ways that is ageless in relating to their daily lives.

Many Biblical quotes and counter-quotes can show the way of Jesus who was the light. But it is clear that from the beginning the light he tried to shed and convey repeatedly was to preach tolerance and inclusiveness as evident throughout the Bible which was a radical departure from the ways of the Pharisees and the traditional Rabbis’ teaching. He talked, dinned and socialized with prostitutes, the poor and the tax men — the despised outcast of the population. The Parables of the Lost Sheep, Coin, and the prodigal son are the proofs of the Spirit of his teaching in the search of the hopelessly fallen souls ( Luke 15:1-31). It should be recalled that following remotely in his footsteps pointed out by the late Reverend Billy Graham,” The highest form of worship is the worship of unselfish Christian service. The greatest form of praise is the sound of consecrated feet seeking out the lost and helpless.” That same  Spirit of true service for fellow human beings was sounded as a real mean of attaining Happiness  from an unlikely source of politics, the 41st President of the United States George H. W. Bush who had talked about the ” Thousand Points of Light” by explaining: “You ask about The Pursuit of Happiness at a good time in my life, I have pursued life itself over many years now and with varying degrees of happiness. Some of my happiness still comes from trying to be in my own small way a true ‘point of light.’ I believe I was right when I said, as President, there can be no definition of a successful life that does not include service to others. SO I do that now, and I gain happiness. I do not seek a Pulitzer Prize. I do not want to press attention. I don’t crave sitting at the head table or winning one of the many coveted awards Offered by the many organizations across the land. I have found happiness. I no longer pursue it, for it is mine.” Hence by emulating Christ’s teaching in a practical, helpful manner rather than a dogmatic way in our daily lives is the only way of becoming the “branches” attached to Jesus and his unconditional reckless love for all humanity.

The works of Rev. Rod Loy from the First Assembly North Little Rock with its domino effect through mentorship and support of particularly the younger Pastoral candidates in passing the baton of Jesus’ Love, teaching and sacrifice can serve as a guiding Blue Print to stop the Church’s hemorrhage. It can, and has proven to enhance the Church’s mission, relevance, and effectiveness through serving today’s community needs while preaching Jesus’ Spiritual lessons of life. The mentorship of Rev. Nathan Kollar a young Pastor by Rev. Loy in both Spiritual and practical ways to help and guide him in Church planting is a shining example that should be mimicked in practical Form but more importantly the Spirit of Mentor / Disciple teaching. Rev. Nathan Kollar and his wife Ms. Jessica Kollar had successfully planted a Church in West Los Angeles, California an extremely difficult cultivating Spiritual terrain. It became the springboard to many more Churches with the vision of first and foremost serving their City and neighborhood between 2009 to 2017 before moving to Nashville, Tennessee to start The Risen Church with the exact same philosophy of serving that community. While leaving their planted Church in the hands of another young Pastor, Rev. Josh Houston and his wife Ms. Amanda Houston who shared the same vision and sacrifice in continuing to spread the Good work and the Gospel’s word through Dwell Church and the enormous dedication and sacrifice it has entailed. What most people don’t realize is that pastoral work involves a collective and relentless family sacrifice. This is a critical part of a Pastoral job in carrying the burdens of the Cross just as it was confirmed by Paul to Timothy right from the outset in 1 Timothy 3:5 concluding by:” For if a man can not manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s Church?”

But an essential objective of both Pastors is to embrace very actively the Spirit of the Church beyond the Sunday services and into the Church’s family — not congregation — through Community Groups that can connect people by cementing a relationship taught by Jesus in a  practicing Christian way of life. The bond between Rev. Loy and Kollar or Rev. Josh Houston and his mentor Rev. Bill Dogterom can be likened to Paul and Timothy in the context of their — kinship and age —  which interestingly is not without parallel to the current socio-cultural and political times and challenges of the society. Thus, it is more important than before to incorporate Paul’s instructions which were a practical Spiritual Hand Book for his young, passionate, sacrificing apprentice with a Heart on Fire to flourish Jesus’ Love throughout the world — just like Rev. Kollar and Houston who has articulated this in his book: The Abiding Life: A Book About John 15 and many young adept like them.

Therefore,  the answer to reviving the Church as a family and the teaching of the Gospel should be pursued through the younger generation of leadership that can speak the language of the Millenials and beyond. In a recent study by the  Boston Private’s 2018 “The Why of Wealth” on the three Generations of Baby Boomers, Gen X, and the Millennials, the sad fact revealed is that the Millennials have the least amount of interest on Spiritual fulfillment than the other two groups. Yet, other research equally proves that they also think life has no meaning. Hence even more reason for the Church to seek them out as the “Lost Sheep” in the life void of true Happiness and a world where only a “Me/Selfie” and the dream of a Startup has become the only reference for a generation that is ripe and hungry to find answers and purpose for living. But again, only a younger Church leadership of their own generation can deliver the chemistry of Jesus’ truth and Love —  not with recycled sermons but true authentic relatable realities that can hope to save the day. Since the Millennials too have become embroiled in the Angry, Broken and Bitter cycle of the sociocultural warfare of our time, they must urgently be looked after and nourished as the bridge to harmony during the current chaotic times and assurance for future Spiritual relevance.

The greatest American Force in conquering the adversary has not been its military might but the power of its Moral values and ideas that men were ready to sacrifice their lives for in attaining it since the inception of the republic and the Independence Day that the Founding Fathers had envisioned. From the horrors, atrocities and defeat of Fascism during the Second World War to the vanquishing of communism and the unification of Germany, there can be no doubt that the American Spirit of Freedom in all its forms, particularly religious Freedom and tolerance has been the major cornerstone in its social advancement and ultimately — appealing to the outside world. These may sound like boring clichés or irrelevant anectodical narratives but are the undeniable truth of American history. However, as not only America but the world continues to face the canyon of intolerance both materially and ideologically, it is heartbreaking to witness the absence of the Church in the pursuing debate as a harmonizing force. After all:

“…from countless paintings, statues, and buildings, from literature and history, from personality and institution, from profanity, popular song, and entertainment media, from confession and controversy, from legend and ritual—Jesus stands quietly at the center of the contemporary world, as he himself predicted. He so graced the ugly instrument on which he died that the cross has become the most widely exhibited and recognized symbol on earth.”

Dallas WillardThe Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life In God 

It is time to share boldly and relentlessly Jesus’ message of Love, Spiritual Happiness, and Joy that he brought to the world through His sacrifice and the price he paid for all on the Cross which should be carried by every Christian, particularly the younger generation, in their own way — no matter how small. Because to him, nothing is trivial in reaching out for a precious soul who he thought of everyone as GOD’s children. So let us join hands and Hearts to follow him indefatigably after all the “Lost Sheeps”, But with the Love he so insistently prescribed.

In His Precious Name,

Amen

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