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Will the church continue to decline in 2012?

Will the church continue to decline in 2012?

Steve McSwain, a former Baptist minister, part time Episcopalian and who now speaks on behalf of the spiritual but not religious, says that if the church doesn’t snap out of it’s collective insanity it cannot communicate the hope it has to offer the world.

Here are five things he says drive spiritual people away from religion.

1. They are so beyond being told that science is evil and suspect and that things like the Genesis account of creation are to be taken, not as a spiritual explanation for the origin of the universe, but as a scientific explanation. They’re also beyond being told what to think, how to live, the choices they must make, and the beliefs they must subscribe to in order to be approved.

2. Many churches are trapped in traditions that have died or are dying along with their aging populations. Traditions are good but, when traditions harden into institutions, as of course they almost always do, the traditions die with the people who cling to them. What’s left are like pyramids of what used to be, mere objects to admire for their magnificence and beauty, but hardly for their relevance.

3. Others have left the church, or are leaving, because they’ve had it with the conflict, the almost incessant bickering, backbiting, disagreements, debates, and, as a consequence, the division that is church life in most congregations today.

4. The church has created a world of make-believe enemies and so has blinded itself to the fact that the church is its own worst enemy. Churches are patently disconnected to reality. It’s as if they are no longer “in the world but not of it,” as Jesus instructed. Instead, the church is increasingly obsessed with its-self — its collective ego — as well as its own survival. In many churches, worship has become the declining weekly gathering of prejudiced, narrow-minded, frightened people who seek temporary solace in their increasingly neurotic preoccupation with matters of little or no consequence. The sane are leaving this insanity.

5. In many respects, the church is still the most segregated place in America. Where I grew up, some 40 or so years ago, most of my neighbors attended, or said they did, the Baptist church my father served. That is, if they were white Baptists; the black Baptists attended their own church. Even though the civil rights movement made a difference in America, it has made little difference still in most churches in America. This, in spite of the fact that, today, your neighbor is just as likely to be black as white or Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu or atheist, as Christian. Such is the real world and it’s increasingly the-place-of-the-work world, too. So, my suspicion is, people are leaving the church because they’ve rightly decided it makes more sense to live in the real world — a desegregated one.

But all is not lost.

If people used to go to church to find hope, they’re leaving the church because many of them are tired of worshiping with neurotic and, in some cases, even psychotic people who have, for all practical purposes, given up on the world. Since their evangelistic efforts have failed to convert the world to Christianity, leaving it is easier. So, while many are leaving the church in hopes of making a difference in the world, many within the church are looking to simply leave the world. What kind of twisted insanity is this?

Now, if you were to conclude from this brief analysis that I’ve totally given up on the church… well, let me set the record straight. I have not. At least, not yet. I actually hold membership in several churches. I’m a Baptist by upbringing and training and I’m a member of Highland Baptist Church, in Louisville, Kentucky. It’s one of those rare — and I do mean rare — bright lights. It’s a Baptist church that truly seeks to live out the teachings of Jesus. And, because the church does, it has become, among other things, an LGBT friendly church. It is known and respect across the city as truly a Christ-honoring church. What makes it so rare is that the congregation truly seeks to “love enemies,” “to do good to those who are evil” and so forth.

I’m also a Roman Catholic by choice, an associate member of the Episcopal church, as well as a member of a local Unity congregation. As I find a light, I seek to unite. I realize how unconventional it is, but it’s my way of encouraging them to keep shining, to continue modeling the hard teachings of Jesus. For example, I like the Unity Church’s emphasis on spirituality and their positive affirmation of all people regardless of the spiritual path they’ve chosen to follow.

Yes, I hold out some hope for the church — a hope that the church will move beyond its collective insanity — where the interest is only in what separates it from others; where the obsession is, as I describe with The Enoch Factor, the madness of insisting, “We’re right! You’re wrong!” “We’re the chosen ones; you’re not!” or “We’re in; you’re out!” And, instead, affirm and defend all people, whoever they are, whatever spiritual path they’ve chosen to follow as they seek to discover themselves, connect with Transcendence, know and spread peace and happiness, and live an ethical life.

In the end, what could possibly matter more than this?


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The challenge for the Episcopal church will be to not hide behind its liturgy. We have a beautiful liturgy and lovely churches; both are a valuable part of worship. But we almost must be able to articulate a clear vision of our role in the world.

To any parish or diocese, I’d pose the question: “If someone had to give the first three words that come to mind when they think of the church, what would those be?”

My hope is answers would include, “dynamic,” “caring,” “compassionate,” “inclusive,” “diverse.” But in cases when I’ve asked the question, I’ve rarely come up with action-filled answers that reflect a vision forward.

Eric Bonetti

TJ Hudson

I would like to know what an “associate Episcopalian” is. Is this writer afraid to commit to any one church? He would be a lot more effective if he were not promoting his own book.

tobias haller

I may catch flack for this but I think the decline is inevitable — a result of a cultural shift away from superficial “religion” as a societal value. We are in a time when being a Christian — or a Jew or a Muslim — has to _mean_ something to the individual. And that may or may not have anything to do with membership in or worship with a congregation.

Terry Pannell

While I do not disagree with some of the points being made, I tend to be suspicious of anyone who self proclaims themselves to be “The Voice of…..”.

If you visit his website you will find plenty of hype and self-promotion for his consulting and speaking business.

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