I’ve noticed a lot more people exiting the Sunday congregation routine in recent years. I know the first response to this by leadership may be to state we are heading down a dark path. I use to agree with this sentiment. My experience on the outside has been radically different than what I would have expected though. God has shown me how to love those I wasn’t allowed to love from the inside because they didn’t do what they were supposed to do based on the status quo. I’ve been able to more openly listen and respond to people with more than just pat answers, condemnation, and/or scripture sound bites (that were often out of context/misappropriated).
I’ve been wondering why this exodus is happening now, at this point in history though. Over the last two thousands years (and even before), the religious institution hasn’t had such a good track record, yet it still survived. Why is it now on such a decline in the Western world?
I’m not so much concerned because these institutions have never seemed to be what Jesus intended for the Church to be (imo). Yet, I still try to find the common thread on “why now?”
It seems that we are at a point where information is widely and easily available. If someone, especially leaders, state something as fact, laypersons now have the thoughts of the top theologians in the world at their fingertips in an instant. Perhaps one of the major factors of this exodus is that trust has been lost. Prior to the information age, lay members had to trust what leadership said regardless of how questionable it may have been. Today, people can question through the privacy of their own internet access.
In many congregations, questioning is made out to be sinful. If congregants can’t ask honest questions to their leadership without being guilt tripped, misinformed, and/or misdirected, then they will seek their answers elsewhere. When these other answers align more accurately with scripture, trust can be lost in leadership. Simply vilifying those whose theology doesn’t match to ours will not keep people attending. Instead, it will just drive the wedge deeper. Insisting that one view of God is absolute fact and everyone else is wrong further dampens trust. The methods that seemed to work before are now driving people away en mass.
So how do we stop the Sunday hemorrhage if we even should?
I would say that we have to make these meetings a safe place to question, even some of our most core doctrines. We need to be able to do this without berating each other or shutting down conversations with things like the “hell card” (i.e. you’re going to hell because you don’t believe like me/what I tell you to). If a person can’t ask honest questions and receive deep, meaningful answers, they’ll seek elsewhere. I honestly don’t know if we should even continue the Sunday morning routine or not, but I do believe that God’s church will continue to thrive outside of the confines of the institution, and our stubbornness in insisting that we are right when results are pointing to the contrary will not stop his plans.