Dave Albertson, writing in OnFaith, says that the from the time of St. Paul down to the present, the church is a bourgeois institution. He says the decline of the church is tied directly to the decline of the middle class.
The correlation is unmistakable. Reading Thomas Piketty’s much-discussed Capital in the Twenty-First Century is like reading a history of the incredible rise and decay of the institutional church. Piketty never mentions the church as he describes the bubble of egalitarian economics from 1930-1980. But chapter after chapter and chart after chart tell the same story that denominational leaders and sociologists of religion have been describing for decades: a steep incline in the 30’s and 40’s, a plateau through the mid-70’s, and a steady decline ever since.
Even more haunting is Charles Murray’s Coming Apart. Murray explains that for the past several decades, church participation within the middle class has hardly changed, but it has disappeared almost entirely within the working class. His observation is easily confirmed by attending worship services. The working class is poorly represented in our congregations; people in lower classes have little means to support a congregation with time, talent, or treasure, and they perceive little value in the institution.
Christians around the country are wondering why churches are in decline. The reason is not Darwin or Marx, science or atheism, culture wars, or competition. It’s economics. As goes the middle class, so goes the church.