(image courtesy of blogmekrystal)
One of my buddies, who has been working out in a local gym for years, has a name for those folks who pack the place every year after the holidays: “Those January people.” He labels these well-meaning resolution makers through experience. For as long as he has been bodybuilding, he has witnessed this annual event. He calls them January people because, he claims, most of them will stop coming in by March.
I decided to see if there were statistics to back up his claim. And sure enough, there is much documentation to support it. One source said that up to 80% of the people who get a gym membership in January will have stopped using it within six months. There seems to be a definite cycle at work here. Most, if not all, national fitness businesses cite January as their peak month for the sale of memberships.
At least the gyms have a season where they experience more people coming in. Christian churches in this land, for the most part, are not seeing any growth. In fact and most sadly, the statistics prove out that church membership/attendance is waning faster than a new year resolution for fitness.
(image courtesy of blogspot)
Jeffery M. Jones, writing for Gallup.com, states that “Gallup finds the percentage of Americans who report belonging to a church … at an all-time low, averaging 50% in 2018. U.S. church membership was 70% or higher from 1937 through 1976, falling modestly to an average of 68% in the 1970s through the 1990s. The past 20 years have seen an acceleration in the drop-off, with a 20-percentage-point decline since 1999.”
These numbers support what my wife Betsy and I see happening where we live in Central New York. Our ministry work brings us to any number of churches in and around our city and area. Sadly, each of these fellowships has seen their attendance figures lag. This is happening in spite of the fact that the pastors and leadership of these churches we work with are faithful and devoted followers of Christ.
I’ve read and heard the many reasons for this decline. I certainly can appreciate the fact that our world has changed and continues to at an accelerating rate. Many people are working longer hours, leaving them with precious little time for anything else. Others cite the extreme busyness of family schedules, which often take preference over regular Sunday worship time. The list of reasons/excuses for not going to church is longer than ever.
Please understand that I write the above without an iota of judgment. I am in the ‘people business,’ and have the privilege of knowing many folks who struggle through the hectic pace of life today.
If there is any judgment on my part, however, it is toward the church itself. The drastically reduced numbers are due in large part to its inability/unwillingness to acknowledge the sweeping changes in our culture.
I also want to make it perfectly clear that I am not advocating whole-sale change of the church. Today’s church, for the most part, is still the slow-moving organism it was 75 years ago. The very demographics that make up the majority of them still in existence only adds to the problem. By that I mean that the outreach programs of yesteryear are antiquated in today’s world.
Is there a solution to this decline? Is there any hope at all for the church to continue? Will it ever a significant part of a majority of people’s lives? Is there any hope?
My answer is a resounding YES! For evidence I ask you to consider how this entry began. Each January we have documented proof that many, many people set out to make meaningful changes in their lives. Be it weight loss, body toning or simply more social inter-action, throngs of folks flood the local fitness centers hoping to make these changes in themselves. I conclude that it is in our nature to desire to make improvements in ourselves. We are not satisfied with our current state, and make, however fleeting, attempts to change our outward appearance.
Here in lies the opportunity for the church. Am I suggesting that each one should include a weight room? Should congregants be encouraged to use stair masters or ride stationary bikes during the sermon? Of course not.
What I would suggest as the single best solution to the woes of the church is this: to proclaim the Name of Jesus Christ in all it undertakes. Every church service, youth group meeting, outreach program, pod cast and every other thing it does must have the Risen Lord Jesus as its focus and reason for being. Jesus is THE answer to all life’s problems. In fact, if churches today would teach the truth of Scripture and model the love of God for ALL people, both inside and outside of its walls, it may well become the place where we could go to be truly transformed; from the inside out!
Jesus loved (and loves!) unconditionally. He instituted His church to be that message bearer to all. I believe that the local church doesn’t have to change to keep up with the times, but rather should immerse itself in what the Lord originally purposed for it: His love for all people. In so doing, it too will experience the transformation that so many seek at the first of every new year. As it does, the church will become the magnet that draws individuals to it. May we all see the blessings of God on His church in the days and years to come. Amen!
Thanks for reading and as always, your thoughts, questions and concerns are welcome here.
3 thoughts on “January 2020: The gyms are full again but the church is still mostly empty”
I feel SO blessed to belong to the church I’m in. Each Sunday just about every seat is taken. In fact, they’ve asked for 85 volunteers to fill the overflow room each Sunday so that guests don’t get turned away. Sunday evening prayer meeting has 200-300 in attendance. (I have never before been to a church that had more than a dozen or so people show up for prayer.) I think this is one of the keys to their growth and “health.” Prayer is one of the vital elements here. When someone has a prayer request between meetings, (s)he can email the whole membership and know that people are praying – perhaps hundred of them.
In addition to prayer, evangelism is top priority. Most of our prayer requests involve unsaved people we are witnessing to. I have nothing against praying for the sick, but when the prayer requests have become solely a list of who’s in what hospital and what they have, we’ve lost our focus.
While we have many talented singers and musicians in our congregation, we only have solo performances or a choir at Christmas and Easter. The rest of the time worship is a group activity. The focus is on Jesus, not individual members.
Lastly, there is an emphasis on being family. Emails requesting help – whether it’s a last-minute babysitter, a ride to the airport, help with moving, or anything else that comes along in life – are answered quickly. When we first moved to the area, our fridge went on the fritz just before Thanksgiving. Within a few hours of the email going out, we were offered six refrigerators!
This has been longer than I planned, but I wanted to share these things with whoever might benefit from them. Church is not about entertaining or slick advertising or programs that put the “fun” in “function,” it’s about being the Body of Christ, in our helpless dependence on Him, our dependence on one another, and our dedicating ourselves to the Great Commission. It’s not about us, it’s all about Him.
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What a blessing indeed! I agree that prayer is the necessary foundation of any and all we do. Thank you so very much for sharing this encouraging response. It could have been twice as long and I would still gobble every word up!
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Thanks. I’m guessing it might be, since I’ll be making it a blog post. Thanks for the inspiration!