It seems that someone is always conducting a poll to test the spiritual climate in America, like the popular secular magazine that recently gave front-page coverage to a survey asking if heaven and hell are real places. But one of the most fascinating I’ve seen lately indicated a surprising trend: apparently, a growing number of persons claim to believe that Jesus is divine. This study said, in fact, that the belief in Jesus’ divinity stands at an all-time high of 84 percent. Sounds encouraging, doesn’t it?
But in answer to another question, this same survey indicated something rather discouraging: only 44 percent believe that the church has any relevance for today—an all-time low.
All-time high. All-time low. How do we explain this disconnect, this disparity?
In many churches, people have voted on the irrelevance of the church simply by their lack of involvement. Studies indicate that nearly 80 percent of churches in America have experienced a plateau in attendance or are actually declining. Place this statistic in contrast to the population growth, and you realize we have a problem. More people are here, but fewer are in church. One troubling study even indicates that when young people from our churches leave for college, nearly 70 percent of them will not return when they graduate. Seven out of ten! These numbers bode ill for the continuing health of the church.
But one issue that troubles me as much as the declining statistical data is the visible apathy of many of those who are regular attendees. In the average church today, over half the people whose names are on the rolls are no longer active. Of those who are considered active, half will be absent on any given Sunday. And only 20 to 25 percent of those attending will contribute to the mission of the church through their money, time, or talents.
I try to put this in terms I can readily understand. If I were coaching a football team that had eighty players on the roster, I might begin the season with a sense of high expectation. If, however, I discovered that only forty of those players showed up for the games, I would become concerned. If I then discovered that only ten of those who showed for the game had any intention of playing, I would know for sure I had no chance for victory.
Do the math. Take a snapshot of the church today, based on what you see and on the statistical information. Apparently we have a large number who like to wear the uniform and who enjoy their seats on the sidelines, but who have no desire to get into the game.
Hemphill, K. (2008). Eternal impact: the passion of kingdom-centered communities. Nashville: B&H.