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Churches are Closing

Updated: Jun 27, 2023

You may not be aware of this but American churches are closing at an alarming rate. We have never seen anything like this in our lifetime nor do I think it has ever happened in the history of America.

Attendance is down. Giving is down. And when that happens the church is faced with difficult decision making. Do we continue to keep the same level of giving to missions and community service programs? Do we even have the volunteers to run the community programs? Do we eliminate raises for staff? Can we even pay staff this month? Do we get behind in our bills? Do we sell off some of our land? Can we renegotiate loans? And suddenly what was once a thriving vibrant church doing the work of Christ in the community and world and growing the kingdom of God becomes riddled with problems. It becomes a juggling act to keep the doors open every week. And finally it can no longer be sustainable. The final sermon is preached. The doors are locked. The for sale sign goes up.

It is incredibly sad.

There seems to be three contributing factors to the closing of churches. And let's list them in reverse order.

3.) The pandemic.

We had a pandemic that lasted a lot longer than we thought it would. Some churches went online and some tried to keep their doors open. Many people chose to stay home. And when the pandemic ended and stores and restaurants re-opened, strangely the people did not return en masse to the church. They liked this online thing. The idea of getting up early, and getting a shower, and driving to the church became unappealing when they could sit there in their pajamas with their coffee and watch the service online. It was time efficient. It was convenient. It freed up their Sunday. Watching church online affects giving to the church. It just does.

We lost something by not attending church in person. Worship was not the same. The Lord's Supper was not the same. Church community was not the same. Giving was not the same. Ministries dwindled. The church suffered.

But that isn't really why churches are closing. The pandemic only accelerated the problem. Attendance being down and giving being down started long before the pandemic. In 2019, the year before the pandemic, more Protestant churches closed than opened in the U.S.

2.) Culture/ Doctrine arguments.

This is not new, but it has escalated over the past decade to a deafening roar. I grew up in the Presbyterian Church the first 42 years of my life. I don't know if you know this but the Presbyterian Church has divided up into about fourteen different separate denominations. You think I'm kidding? Check this out!

I grew up in a traditional Presbyterian Church (USA) and they are very liberal on their stances. I then went to a community church where I came to believe different things on some of those issues. Later I attended and looked into membership at PCA (Presbyterian Church in America) who are very conservative on their stances and I found out they do not allow women to hold any roles in their church governing body or to teach men. That Presbyterian Church (USA) I grew up in is now ECO (Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians)! Who can keep up!

Several years ago I was working on a family history project and my entire ancestry on my dad's side was staunch Presbyterians and I did a lot of research on the denomination. My heritage is Presbyterian. I found out why they split off into so many separate Presbyterian groups. It mainly had to do with cultural/ doctrine issues. Do we ordain women? Can women have leadership roles in the church? Do we ordain homosexuals? Where do we stand on abortion? And now the big argument on transgender. People within the church began arguing and when they couldn't come to an agreement, then they broke off. It happened years ago in the Presbyterian Church, more recently in the Methodist Church, and now it is happening in the Baptist Church. The Southern Baptist Convention just voted on whether women can preach. They voted no, they couldn't.

In 2015 I wrote three articles on Presbyterians for my family history. At the time of the Revolutionary War about 30% of the population of the colonies was Presbyterian. In 1965 the Presbyterian Church (USA) had 4.25 million members. Then the great break-ups started happening. By 2014 that number was down to 1.67 million members. By 2022 membership in the Presbyterian Church (USA) was down to 1.14 million. Today members of the Presbyterian Church (USA) make up 0.3% of the United States population.

I remember when researching the Presbyterian Church I went onto the Presbyterian USA national page and if you clicked through on the site, you got to where it specifically said where they stand as a church on several of the hot issues. I was shocked and appalled at where they stood on some issues. But then I went to Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and did the same thing and I was shocked and appalled that they too specifically said where they stand on each of the issues. And what does this do putting it out there where you stand on each issue. It is a divider. What if you agree with them on their ordaining women stance, but not on their ordaining homosexuals stance? Or what if you agree on their pro-life stance, but disagree on not allowing women to hold any leadership position? What if you agree on their ordaining women and homosexuals, but not on their pro-choice stance?

I once looked at the membership requirements for a local church that I have attended several times. They required that in order for you to join their church you had to sign a document that had many points. I think it was 23 points. That number could be wrong though. Anyways I read each point closely. Check, I agree. Check, I agree. Then I get to like number 17 and it says something to the effect of I believe in the sanctity of life. I do. And I am pro-life. I am. Now I am, but I wasn't when I first started investigating what it was I believe. It took me years to change my viewpoint on this subject. Another point on the list was: I believe in believer baptism. I do. But I wasn't on board with that for a long time. That is why I regularly attended and gave to that community church for five years before I actually joined it. Believer baptism was required for church membership. I wasn't on board with that. It seemed like I was turning my back on my Presbyterian heritage. In that Presbyterian Church I was baptized as an infant and went through confirmation classes to join the church. I didn't believe I had to be baptized as an adult as I was already a believer.

There was another issue I had with this church's list of about 23 things required that you had to believe to join their church. It was on the issue of male authority in the church. I am a Christian and I could not have signed this document and joined this church. Seriously? I believe church membership should be based on the essentials of the Christian faith. What are the essentials? I'd say they are if I can profess the Apostle's Creed in faith. That I can do.

It did not take me any time at all to believe in Jesus as my Savior and Lord. But it did take me a long time to get on board with some other things like believer baptism. I do believe in it now and I would feel uncomfortable, at least at first, belonging to a church which doesn't practice it. Can a church which practices infant baptism still be chock full of Christian believers? It can! News flash to the Baptists - there will be a lot of Catholics, Presbyterians and others in heaven with you. So this tells us that churches are basing membership on things which are not essential to being a Christian. It is as if they are saying you can be a Christian, but you can't join us as members of this church.

Should a church publicly take a stance on everything? I don't know the answer to that. But if they are going to do that; how about taking a stance on people with prideful hearts and people who commit adultery and people who live together before marriage and how about those sinners who cheat on their income taxes? They've picked what they deem the "big sins." I know I'm finding it very difficult to find a church that I agree with on all their stances. Is a person who is pro-choice and a person who is pro-life equally welcomed into the church? Can we not give liberty to people on the non-essentials? Can we agree to let God sort it out? Can we just look at sin as sin without listing them all? Some would say no. Taking a stance on certain issues matters to those people.

Is that what Christ established the church for though?

Non-believers see this arguing in our churches. They want no part of it.

1.) There are less Christians in America.

In 1972 92% of Americans considered themselves Christian.

In 2007 the number had dropped down to 78%.

In 2021 only 63% of Americans consider themselves Christian.

Where did they go? They didn't go to other religions. Other religions only increased 1% from 2007 to 2021. Just 6% of the American population is some religion other than Christian. They went to NO religion. They are called the "Nones."

About three in ten U.S. Adults are now religiously unaffiliated.

What made them leave the faith?

I imagine the reasons are numerous. They see no value. They had no good example. Mostly every one they associate with has no faith. Perhaps they have been hurt by the church. Perhaps they have been abused in the church. Perhaps they feel unwelcome.

In today's society Christians have a very unfavorable image - one of being judgmental and condemning, angry and unforgiving. We are considered hypocrites to a large group of our population. We did a poor job of passing on our faith - explaining what we believe and why we believe it. We are so focused on the sins of society, we've lost sight of the bigger picture.

"For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost."

Luke 19:10

Our Lord's mission should be our mission. We represent Him.

Sin has always existed since the Garden of Eden. Do we really think our culture is any worse off than mankind's hearts have always been? Ever heard of Manasseh? He was the king of Judah for 55 years. He did evil in the sight of the LORD. (2 Kings 21:2a) He erected altars for Baal and made an Ashrerah. (2 Kings 21:3a) He made his son pass through the fire, practiced witchcraft and used divination, and dealt with mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the sight of the LORD provoking Him to anger. Then he set the carved image of Asherah that he had made in the house of the LORD. (2 Kings 21:6,7a) "He made his son pass through the fire" means Manasseh performed child sacrifice. He put idols in the LORD's house! You don't get much more evil than that. Manasseh was the most wicked king of Judah and he ruled the longest. But now turn to 2 Chronicles 33 and read the whole account of Manasseh. God brought the Assyrian army against them. They took Manasseh to Babylon where he was humbled and prayed to God. God returned him to Jerusalem and Manasseh removed the foreign gods and the idol from the house of the LORD. He ended up to be a good king of Judah. God had that situation under control. Rest assured He has our cultural wars under control too.

God is in the heart changing business. He wishes no one to perish. Our churches should have the exact same mission too. Let God do His thing. And we are to do our part too. We are to witness the living Christ to world. Jesus clearly told us how to do that. Follow Him. Love God with our whole being. Humble ourselves. Serve and love others as ourselves.

We are saddened so many churches are closing and struggling right now. Christ established the Church and it has a clear purpose. We see the church's value. However, it appears we are witnessing the demise of the American Church in this generation. This could make us feel hopeless right now. But we are never left without hope! God is unchanging. God is in control. God is at work in the hearts of people in ways we cannot comprehend. Sometimes the demise of one thing leads to revival in the hearts. (Have you read the kingdom books in the Old Testament? Great evil - sometimes for generations - is followed by revival in the hearts of the people.)

We keep our mission in focus to seek those which are lost and tell them about Jesus. We do that by loving God; and serving and loving others as ourselves. We trust the Lord. We pray fervently for the lost and for the opportunity to witness our Lord to them.

We are people marked with joy and with great hope. Let us show that to a suffering world.

Some additional reading:

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