An article entitled “Where did the people go?” appeared in the Christian Chronicle of May 2022. It sounded a familiar alarm: declines in church attendance. The article gave this observation: “When it comes to closed churches of Christ, that may be the hardest question to answer.” Really? Is it that hard to understand?
Two things were missing in this article. First, the writer said nothing about the effect of church shutdowns during COVID. The majority of congregations made a big mistake in telling members to stay at home. Now they are paying a heavy price. Those members did as they were told and now some of them have not come back. Elders and preachers are wringing their hands to try to convince them it’s “safe” to attend services again. But people are creatures of habit, and convenience often overrides conviction. Very few church leaders admit that cancelling services was unbiblical as well as totally inconsistent because they never closed services before 2020 when the flu was spreading in schools and churches and killing people. To this day preachers write and speak publicly about the problem of poor attendance, but it is rare when they will say one word about the role these cancellations continue to play in this pattern of behavior. Until they face this issue, they will keep singing the blues and continue to search for an answer when it is right in front of them. It is true that church attendance was declining before 2020, but no one would deny that the situation is worse now.
Another element that was missing from the article was Scripture. In the search for the cause and solution to declining congregations, the writer did not give one Bible reference. Instead, the journalist appealed to Gallup polls, demographics, and testimonials. That is the most incriminating (though not uncommon) aspect of many discussions about where the church is and where it is going. It is as if the Lord has little to say about His church, and if He does, current sociological analysis is more important. It makes one wonder how much these writers and speakers actually read and believe the Bible. They appear to know much more about what they are reading online. But the Scriptures are clear about why Christians fall and churches die. Here are just a few verses in Jesus’ own words:
“But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles. Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful” (Matt. 13:20-22).
“I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot.
So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.
Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked…
As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent” (Rev. 3:15-17, 19).
“And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together…” (Heb. 10:24-25).
It is strange that people will go to the moon and back for answers to church problems and ignore the words of the all-seeing God. If writers and speakers really want to talk about the condition of the church, they need to be honest with the situation and listen to the Lord who built it and died for it.