This is part one of a two part series on Changes Impacting the Church.
It’s time to wake up and see the tidal wave washing away the foundation of the churches in America. The numbers are in—and they don’t look good. From across Christendom the reports are the same: A mass exodus is underway. Nationwide polls and denominational reports are showing that people both adults and the next generation are calling it quits on the traditional church. And it’s not just happening on the nominal fringe; it’s happening at the core of the faith.
This is not just a grim prediction. This is not a scare tactic. It’s a reality—which is already happening . . . just like it did in England; it’s happening here in North America. Now. Like the black plagues that nearly wiped out the general population of Europe, a spiritual black plague has almost killed the next generation of European believers. A few churches are surviving. Even fewer are thriving. The vast majority are slowly dying. It’s a spiritual epidemic, really. A wave of spiritual decay and death has almost entirely stripped a continent of its godly heritage, and now the same disease is infecting North America.
Many people saw it coming but didn’t want to admit it. After all, our churches looked healthy on the surface. We saw bubbling Sunday schools, dynamic youth ministries, bigger and bigger building projects to accommodate what looked like growth. But a vacuum was forming: there were people who had been living on the fringes who no longer showed up for the Sunday worship service or group bible studies, or that mid-week service. For the most part, there was an increasing group of people who sent AWOL. Recent and irrefutable statistics are forcing those of us who work and care about the church to face the truth.
Some say that people are leaving because they have lost their faith or no longer believe in God. Jacobson disagrees, “To reject the institutional churches is not the same as rejecting God or rejecting the Christian faith … Some people may have to reject the churches to find Christ and vitality … And God is surely present outside the churches— often more present without than within.”
Slowly but certainly the church of the future is headed toward a slow fade and will continue to do so—unless we come to better understand what is happening and implement a clear plan to circumvent it.
While there is not enough research, there is some and they have been able to show us the trends; more and more are finding out about them—but the vital question concerns what is the root problem of why this is happening. We need to know why if we are going to formulate possible solutions.
My hope is to be part of the solution that addresses this situation at some level through the establishment of a non-traditional faith community called The Passion Center whose aim is to specifically cater to this group of people both young adults and adults who have decided that they are “done” with church and have said their goodbyes. Maybe forever but most certainly for now.
While data can help those of us attempting to look into this matter and provide some type of safe place for those on the fringes, there is no secret sauce or magic bullet that will help every church in every environment successfully reach out to the unchurched. What might work for one church in California may fall flat in a church in New York City or Florida. This is important because “if churches hope to grow their attendance numbers by discipling new believers, they must improve their ability to attract those who are intentionally avoiding a connection with a church.”
There are at least five main themes I've noticed in my research that stand out that should be taken into consideration not only by those of us who seek to reach out to this population but by those who are planters or pastors who seek to prevent more people leaving because of something they could have been addressing. We live in a complex and changing culture. Ministry as usual will not work. Over the next few days I'll be posting a few reasons why. Here are the first two:
#1 Our World Has Changed
It is important to note that depending on the age of the pastor, minister or leader attempting to reach out to the unchurched (those who are churchless for a reason), what the may have tried before may not work in today’s culture. This is because our culture has changed. Barna reports that “more than one-third of America’s adults are essentially secular in belief and practice. If nothing else, this helps explain why America has experienced a surge in unchurched people — and presages a continuing rise in this population.” Secularization in America has been the culprit.
Everything has also gone digital in our culture. Church leaders who remain unaware of how to navigate this digital world are already left behind. Barna states:
In the last two decades, three network television stations have morphed into hundreds of digital channels. A handful of reading formats — newspapers, books, magazines — have given birth to new media (e-readers, websites) and social media (blogs, Facebook, Twitter). With DVRs, digital season passes, massive multiplayer online gaming, and tablet computers, consumers — both churchless and churched alike — have access to more content and information than anyone could hope to absorb and assimilate. So much demands our attention that, as a culture, we are experiencing an epidemic of distraction. Virtually every facet of our lives receives less concentrated attention than it did two decades ago.
Pastors often wonder why people who say they love the church find it hard to come to the events that the church that they “love” sponsors, the change to all things digital is the usually at the forefront of reasons. The study conducted by Barna in 2014 showed that:
People are more likely than ever to feel they are too busy. They have more commitments, more activities (online and off) that chew up valuable time. When you combine increasing indifference toward church and a culture of short attention spans, you get a lot of people who think they don’t have time for church. You also end up with less frequent face time to reach the churchless and form the worldviews of the churched.
This digital shift points to another issue that contributes to the root of reasons of why many are unchurched, especially among young adults. They feel that they have a right to contribute their voice, idea, opinion because technology affords them the opportunity to do so. With Youtube, Instagram, Facebook, the once very public and guarded gatekeeper to the table where decisions are made, where one hears the data on why they should decide to go one way versus another has in a sense become extinct. People now have a way to get how they feel added to the digital mix of voices in the world.
This change has also given ministry leaders digital connectedness is access to people, ideas, and information from all over the world. Now because of this easy access to technology people can experiences church services, mission trips, conferences and seminars without even being physically present. Although, one would think that all this assess and connectedness would help reach unchurched people, data shows otherwise. This is, in large part, because young unchurched adults don’t search for much spiritual content, “just 6 percent report going online to search for faith-related in a typical week.” People leave the church because the church has not changed with the times.
#2 Our Trust of the Church and Clergy has Changed
It seems that even the very dedicated to the cause of the Christ have lost their trust of Christians and the churches they belong to. In no small part to the evangelical alignment with the election of Trump. People everywhere were in shock that so many evangelicals overlooked character, past track record with race, the poor and the like to stand with a man who promised he would do away with abortion. Again, the tunnel vision of single issue voters won out. But this time, it has caused according to a quote attributed to Dan Rather, the respected news anchor, the rise of the worst administration in history to be in power. It wasn’t always that way. Parkard states:
It was just a generation or so ago that people expressed high levels of trust in religious leaders, and the church had a reputation as a force for good. Religious institutions in this country had been prominently involved in many of the human rights struggles from women’s suffrage in the 19th century to the civil rights movement in the middle of the 20th century. Local and national religious groups have continually responded admirably to natural disasters and community tragedies. But people trusted religious institutions and leaders not just because they responded to their community needs in times of crisis, but because religious institutions were intimately and continually involved in their local communities. Religious leaders were involved in doing things, not simply proclaiming things.
This is not something that happened overnight. The trust of church and clergy was eroding for years. Packard continues:
Since 1977 the Gallup organization has regularly asked Americans to rate the honesty and ethical standards of many professions in the United States. In 2013 the clergy received its lowest score ever. The number of people who believe clergy has very high or high levels of honesty and ethical standards fell below 50 percent for the first time. But this was no blip on the radar screen. After peaking at a high of 67 percent in 1985, the decline has been a pretty steady march downward 
This is huge information because in the past, if one was to introduce themselves as a pastor, they would be warmly greeted and greatly respected. This was great because starting out the pastor had credibility on reserve and when they met people in the street and invited them to church or to a church-sponsored event, people would at least consider it. In today’s world, for more than 50% of people, a pastor starts off with zero credibility and must earn the trust of the unchurched. Thus before they can even get an audience with these people to talk about Jesus, give an invite or ask them out for coffee, they have to work daily to earn their trust first.
In addition, what contributed to the loss of trust was the feeling that churches only cared about numbers, not people. Jacobson reminds readers that “M. Scott Peck noted in 1987 that “the plain reality is that by and large the Church has not been in the community game; it has been in the numbers game.” People leave the church because they don’t trust it anymore.
Come back tomorrow to read about a few more changes that are impacting the church! Let me know your thoughts here. Please feel free to share on social media. Let's get to talking and to working!
 Richard Jacobson, Unchurching: Christianity Without Churchianity, (Unchurching Books, 2016), Kindle. 73-75.
 George Barna and David Kinnaman, Churchless: Understanding Today’s Unchurched and How to Connect with Them (Illinois: Tyndale Momentum, 2014), Kindle. 146.
 Ibid. 202-204.
 George Barna and David Kinnaman, Churchless: Understanding Today’s Unchurched and How to Connect with Them (Illinois: Tyndale Momentum, 2014), Kindle. 249-254.
 Ibid. 254-257.
 George Barna and David Kinnaman, Churchless: Understanding Today’s Unchurched and How to Connect with Them (Illinois: Tyndale Momentum, 2014), Kindle. 269.
 Jessica Chasmar, “Dan Rather says Donald Trump off to ‘worst start’ of any president in history” in The Washington Times, March 27, 2017, accessed April 2, 2017, http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2017/mar/27/dan-rather-says-donald-trump-off-to-worst-start-of/
 Jose Packard and Ashleigh Hope, Church Refugees: Sociologists reveal why people are DONE with church but not their faith. (Colorado: Group Publishing, 2015), Kindle. 236-241.
 Ibid. 243-245.
 Richard Jacobson, Unchurching: Christianity Without Churchianity, (Unchurching Books, 2016), Kindle. 78-79.