Evangelicals are bemoaning the steep decline in church attendance that has affected virtually all Christian denominations. Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and Lutherans have especially seen large declines in membership over the last ten to fifteen years. Even Roman Catholic churches are reeling, with over thirty local worship buildings closed or consolidated recently in our area alone. What is the reason? A steady stream of books by right-leaning authors has berated the liberals for their attacks on Christian beliefs and morals, such as the 270 page study by S.E. Cupp, “Losing Our Religion,” published in 2010. Subtitled, “The Liberal Media’s Attack On Christianity,” it details hundreds of such incidents. While the liberal and atheist agenda has had an impact, a recent study showed that there is another important factor responsible for the loss of attendance in our churches: social media.
A comprehensive survey of 11 million millennials born between 1982 and 1999 was led by Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego University. This included everyone from eighth graders to college-agers. The conclusion as reported in the press: “Millennials are losing their religion–and social media might explain why.”
The report stated, “The trend begins to appear in 2000…Of the college students who started in 1970, for example, 12% said they never attended religious services, whereas today as many as 27% say that. College students who identified as having no religion have increased from 13% to 25% in the same time period.” Coincidentally, this trend began to appear in about the year 2000 when social media via the internet became widely available.
Why is this important? Human nature does not change; people need a social life. Today young people can now have a full social life entirely on the internet with social media: twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and many other venues. There is no longer any need to go to church for a social life. No longer do people need to get dressed up in “Sunday best” and fight the highway traffic, nor do they need to pay a church their tithe money for the privilege of attending if a social life is their primary motivation.
There are countless examples of this from my own experience. Before entering full-time pastoral work, I worked in a business office with a lady who grew up on a farm in rural Michigan in the 1960’s. She often said that life in her youth on the farm was extremely boring, with nothing to do in the evenings but sit around the house. There was no outside social life of any kind except church on Sunday, which she looked forward to at least as a way to get out of the house and go somewhere. Church to her was not primarily an opportunity to worship God but a chance to enjoy a little social interaction. How many individuals are like that?
I can remember a girl I dated in my single days back in the early 1970’s. She was a Lutheran, and a regular church attendee. Yet a favorite topic for her was a church complaint: “Why does my Lutheran minister talk so long in his sermon, a full 10 minutes! He should give us more time to visit with our friends.” I have lost touch with her long ago, but unless her attitude has changed she is among the many who no longer attend church services. With a plethora of social media available, there is no need for her to attend just to talk with friends.
Of course, not all Christians attend church just for social reasons. Our own church of 82 years’ existence has always emphasized in-depth teaching, and our members want it that way. Although we are a small church, we find that those who attend do so because they feel a need for worshipping Christ with true doctrine, and are not attending just for a social life. They are more sincere and more dedicated to the Christian life and fulfilling the Great Commission than the majority of “Christians in name” are today. We see a winnowing process going on, and the chaff are falling away. We are seeing more quality, less quantity. Yes, the Christian denominations as a whole are losing members, but those who remain are there for the right reason. The same is true for the B.I. movement. Let us not dwell on the constricting of our numbers, but appreciate the enthusiasm of those among us who are faithfully spreading the Word of Truth. Let us not lose heart, for in the long term, events move in cycles. There will be another great awakening. Let us seek out those who are enthused with our calling as the servant people, educate and train them to prepare for the coming of the Latter Rain.
There is another important factor to consider as well: God’s hand in history. When I joined our church, in 1975, most of the then members had joined in the 1930’s during the suffering of the Great Depression. That was not a coincidence. As the saying goes, “people don’t need God until they do.” When times are relatively good, God is unneeded and forgotten by many. Will this change? With the huge increases in the national debt, doubling in just the last seven years of the Obama presidency, a day of reckoning is sure to come and is fast approaching. If the historic pattern going back as far as Old Testament times holds, we will see a turning back to God and a crying out for mercy from a large segment of the population. When it happens, let us be ready to point out the way to God’s people. And in the mean time, let us reach out to the youth who are crowding into video sharing sites and other social media. If the moderns in our midst are found there, we need to be found there as well. Our national message should not be restricted or kept trapped between the four walls of a church building!
Let us close this exhortation with another example from my experience. After High School, I worked for three years in the receiving department at Oakwood Hospital. The supervisor of the Dietary Department was well-known to be an atheist, and loud and proud of it. One of her department workers rode with her one afternoon on the old rickety freight elevator. He had discovered that leaning on a certain spot of the old wooden gate would cause the elevator to come to a noisy, screeching halt between floors. Being young and mischievous, he did just that. The lady immediately broke down in tears, crying over and over, “Oh, dear God, let me out, let me out!” We all got a laugh out of that. It took so little to bring her back to religion. Just what will it take to bring America’s agnostics and atheists–and nominal Christians–to a life-changing commitment to Christ?
We will find that out, perhaps in the near future according to God’s own timetable. In the meantime we have this excellent advice: “Fear them not therefore: for there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known. What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops.” (Matthew 10:26-27) Yes, people are dull of hearing these days, but we have a duty, a commission, to fulfill. Shall we be about our Father’s business?