Published Saturday, March 02, 2013

Pastor's Corner: Twenty percent of America attends church


First Baptist Church, Moreland

Last week some shocking research about America’s church attendance was released.

A total of 70 percent of Americans claim to be Christian, yet only 20 percent actually attend church. Also, 20 percent of Americans claim no religious affiliation. In 2050, 33 years from now, only 15 percent of Americans are expected to attend church.

The failure of churches to keep up with the population growth is one of the church’s greatest issues heading into the future.

In previous research about church attendance, 40 percent of Americans claimed to attend church. But Americans tend to over-report socially desirable behavior like voting and attending church and under-report socially undesirable behavior like drinking.

Many American Christians don’t belong to a local church, but they still identify with their church roots. This past week I was talking with a church planter in the Mississippi Delta region, and he told me he was the first church planter to begin a new church there in 40 years. It is one of the most economically challenging areas – churches are being abandoned and one was transformed into dormitories to house mission teams.

When someone claims to associate with Christ, but not the church, they’re saying “no” to the bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:25). You can’t love Jesus, but hate the church.

I’m profoundly convinced that the greatest spiritual danger for our times is the separation of Jesus from the church. The church is the body of the Lord. Without Jesus, there can be no church, and without the church, we cannot stay united with Jesus. I’ve yet to meet anyone who has come closer to Christ by forsaking church.

Identification of churches with buildings may seem common to us, but it’s foreign to the New Testament, where we never once see the church described as a physical building. We not only identify buildings as churches, we also classify churches according to the programs they offer. A consumerist mindset of church is a sure way to change churches every seven years – which the average American church member will do.

To identity your life with the person of Christ is to join your life with the people of Christ.

It’s biblically impossible to follow Christ apart from joining His church. In fact, anyone who claims to be a Christian yet is not an active member of a church may not actually be a follower of Christ at all.

Jesus understood church membership as so important.If a believer didn’t listen to the church regarding sin – Christ said to treat them like an unbeliever (Matthew 18:17). This verse also implies that God will hold us accountable for our church involvement.

How do Christians change the current lackadaisical attitude toward church?

First, churches must preach and teach the Bible. Worship is about God and His Word. Positive stories, funny jokes and providing events for children are all commendable, but the purpose of the church is the body of Christ fulfilling the mission of Christ – which is to glorify God by making disciples of all nations.

Second, Christ described the church as a house of prayer (Luke 19:46). The church is the only organization Jesus established (Matthew 16:18). Whenever a church tries to compete with the culture, it loses. Trying to be relevant, cool, hip and trendy isn’t the church’s strength. Ten of the 11 disciples died for following Christ. Suffering, persecution, discipline and total dependency upon God are more accurate descriptions of church life.

The fourth commandment (Exodus 20:8-11) is the longest, in which God reminds us the Sabbath is blessed and we remember Him by keeping it holy. Attending church monthly, at Easter or substituting a funeral service for a worship service is not the holiness God demands from the 70 percent of American Christians.

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