The Church is Dead. Long Live the Church

So, I was thinking that the Church is dead. If not totally dead, it is as Miracle Max from The Princess Bride would say at least “mostly dead” or in very critical condition.  I know you probably don’t read a pastor’s blog expecting to hear this kind of thing.  You were perhaps hoping for something a little more uplifting. Sorry. The vital signs are, it seems weak.

When it comes to belonging to a church, the fastest growing group of people in our culture simply don’t.  5% of the population said they were “unaffiliated” in 1972.  Today it is 16%.  People are not choosing other churches, mega churches, new churches or old churches; they are not picking more conservative or more liberal churches, when they leave one church, they are not going to something “better” – they are choosing to do away with church completely. They are often called “nones” because they check “none” on surveys about religious affiliation   This is happening to every single segment of the Christian Church – Protestant, Evangelical, Roman Catholic — it across the board.

More facts: 70% of mainline Protestant households have no children; 91% of those same congregations are white (unlike our society).  The median age of people in church is steadily and quickly rising (averaging over 62 years).  Congregations are getting smaller and smaller on the whole. Only 27% of “members” actually worship each week.  Only 7% of Christians have actually read the whole Bible.

The truth is that things have changed in every aspect of our world – economic, political, cultural and yes, religious.  The Church that we all remember from our youth is dead, mostly. Think back to the way things used to be:

¨The Way Things Were
  • You were born into the faith and stayed in your tradition
  • Faith was a way of believing, so you learned beliefs first – memorized, understood.
  • Christian faith was expected of most everyone
  • Institutions played an important part in our lives
  • Authority was given to those who had studied – experts
  • Keeping the faith = Keeping the traditions
Look at how things have changed:
¨The Way Things Are
  • People seek spiritual connections and religious life on their own.
  • Faith is a way of living – doctrines and “truth” are understood to be negotiable or dialogic.  So, spirituality is about living daily
  • Christian faith is no longer a cultural norm
  • Institutions/Denominations have lost their power and are fading
  • Seminary training and official teachers are suspect
  • Keeping the faith = living with integrity
The Church, as we remember it, even as we long for it, is dead, mostly.  But that is not “bad news.”  God is faithful and the Spirit is always moving.  We have the challenge and blessing to be living in an age when the Spirit is rewriting, re-imaging what it means to be the Church.  To be part of that means we will need to wander in the wilderness (sounds familiar) we’ll have to change our attitudes (not the first time), We will have to live our faith in a way we have not for some time (likely a refreshing change).  We will have to adapt the way we engage in mission to the reality of our world.
The great news is that God gives life to the Church in every age.  The Church may suffer many deaths, but God is in the resurrection business.  So what do you think about the death, and the life of the Church today… and tomorrow?
Pax Christi,
Pastor Tim

2 thoughts on “The Church is Dead. Long Live the Church

  1. Allen D. Holden

    I wish I could find fault or find something in what you are “thinking” to disagree with. Sadly, I cannot.

    As I think about the way things were, in addition to things Pastor Tim mentions, I miss the way the Church was an integrated part of family life of every member of the Church. The Church I grew up in had a potluck every Friday night. I use to love going to those, the food was always homemade and I learned the names of just about every member of the church, even as a kid. The work of the Church was evening shared by just about every member, not by just a few volunteers that do all the work as it is today. When we moved to the new Church, the carpenters in the Church, such as my dad, built the new pews and pulpits.

    When I was in fourth grade my Sunday school teacher insisted that we learn all the books of the Bible by name and in order. At the time that seemed like an extremely big challenge, but I have always been grateful for that little exercise. While others hunt to find the chapter and verses in the Bible, I can generally find it with ease.

    I’m looking forward to, and pray that we will find our way out of the wilderness. I thank God for the life of the Church.

    Allen D. Holden
    Member of Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church
    Rockford, Il

  2. Linda Wold

    You are an amazing writter. I read and re-read this blog. I hope you compile these blogs and publish a book . We are in sunny Arizona. See you and Cyndi in time for Holy Week. Hope all is going well for you and your family and our church. Take care. Linda Wold Date: Thu, 28 Feb 2013 22:56:41 +0000 To:

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