There is a recently published book on the future of the church in America that I would encourage all to read. The book is referred to as part of a series of articles in the New York Times on America’s move away from religion. The article is entitled “The Largest and Fastest Religious Shift in America Is Well Underway” by Jessica Grosse.
The Great Dechurching: Who’s Leaving, Why Are They Going and What Will It Take to Bring Them Back? by Jim Davis and Michael Graham with Ryan Burge. The book argues that the most dramatic change may be in regular attendance at houses of worship. “We are currently in the middle of the largest and fastest religious shift in the history of our country,” they postulate, because “about 15 percent of American adults living today (around 40 million people) have effectively stopped going to church, and most of this dechurching has happened in the past 25 years.”
One takeaway from the article is that our current struggles of congregational membership will not change anytime soon. If a congregation has a future model of bringing back young families, or attracting more youth, they should examine those assumptions. As America dechurches, regular church attendance is no longer an accepted or assumed way of life.
Grosse shares an example of a work colleague: “She said that while she no longer goes to church regularly, she still believes in a higher power and prays occasionally. ‘I try to spend Sunday morning outside appreciating the glory of nature,’ she said.”
A dechurched America has tremendous implications for the presbytery now and in the future. Our Commission on Preparation for Ministry is asking candidates to define a vibrant congregation and how the candidate plans to serve a church in a fluid future. Furthermore, through the new position of Director of Connectional Relationships, the presbytery will seek to learn from one another through small group conversations and innovative communication. We are challenged to learn our way forward together.
What assumptions are you making about the future church that a dechurched America would change? What does it mean for future programing, staffing, and use of investments?
I am still very hopeful that God is present in the life of the church. My growing edge is to continue to decouple what God is doing now, and what God will be doing in the future, from the way I have traditionally understood the life of the church.
Rev. Craig Howard