Numerous studies have shown that church attendance in America is on the decline. Considering this dynamic, people of faith may be asking themselves what's behind increasingly-emptying pews and how they can get involved to reverse the trend.
In the new book, "Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore," authors Thom and Joani Schultz provide some answers -- and four possible solutions -- to the growing problem. Among them, the husband and wife duo believe that the church needs a renewed sense of hospitality, more openness to the sharing of divergent ideas, true and elevated humility and a focus on God's providence in the modern-era.
"I believe that the church can thrive again."
TheBlaze interviewed Thom Schultz last week to learn more about his theories on the subject. While some of the purported causes are predicated upon social and cultural trends, he also pointed to problems within the practice of the Christian faith -- issues that will require believers to work diligently to reverse the trend.
Overall, Schultz said it's a "complex issue."
Proposed Solutions to the Church Attendance Problem
The current culture feels judged over their beliefs, clothing and lifestyle, Schultz told TheBlaze. Additionally -- and on a connected note -- he claims that people do not want to simply be lectured in a one-way communications schema; they want to be a literal part of the discussion.
But that only scratches the surface, leaving many questions and possible solutions at bay.
At the center of it all, is one key question: How do churches stem a modestly growing decrease in church attendance?
In an effort to summarize his views, the author attempted to answer this curiosity by providing four potential problems and solutions based on interviews he and his wife, Joani, conducted with Americans across the country:
1) Schultz argues that people feel judged, so he proposes "radical hospitality," which essentially means embracing a church paradigm of full acceptance. "We don't mean endorse, but we mean accept the person," he said. "We feel that that's a Christ-like approach to things."
2) As for the lack of two-way dialogue, Schultz encourages "fearless conversation" -- which means incorporating numerous viewpoints rather than simply lecturing. "By that title, it's really emphasizing both of those words," he told TheBlaze. "People want to be involved in the conversation." So, he is encouraging people to speak boldly on principle, but to also share ideas.
3) Schultz said that many believers and non-believers, alike, claim that "Christians are hypocrites" -- and that this mindset is increasing. To stem the critique, the author is calling for "genuine humility." This is the notion that life is a journey that everyone is on together. Being humble and truly addressing issues without giving the appearance of being above it all is essential under this proposed solution.
4) With so many critics also arguing that God is distant and dead, Schultz believes that Christian churches need to re-tune their messaging and implement "divine anticipation." "In many churches we have either forgotten to talk about God or the primary and almost only mention of God is from Bible times," he said. "The Bible is a wonderful tool for us to use ... but if we give the impression that God [only] acted thousands of years ago, we've given the impression that God only did good things back then -- and that he either died or went away."
Schultz told TheBlaze that there's clearly a problem in the church that many believers simply aren't recognizing. While some argue that church attendance is cyclical, he says there's no indication that an upswing is on the horizon -- unless something changes profoundly within Christian circles.
Digging Deeper on Why Fewer People Are Going to Church
Without a doubt, the proportion of people going to church has decreased, though modestly, over the past few decades. While it may not be shocking or stark on the surface, an overall decline is causing people like Schultz to pause and critically examine what's truly going on.
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The Pew Research Center recently noted that the proportion of Americans who "seldom" or "never" attend church has risen modestly over the past 10 years. In 2003, 25 percent Americans fell into this category, but in 2013, that proportion has increased to 29 percent. On the flip side, 37 percent say that they attend at least weekly; this has decreased only two percentage points when compared to 2003 data.
The aforementioned critiques and solutions may play a role in why people are abandoning pews, but the situation may also be -- at least to a degree -- out of Christians' control. Still, Schultz argues that believers haven't done enough to meet cultural changes and demands.
"A number of things are happening in this country -- some fully in control of the church and some things happening culturally," he told TheBlaze. "And the church hasn't kept up with those changes."
One of the specific problems he pinpointed is that churches, on the social and political front, are purportedly asking "questions that no one is asking." This, Schultz says, is hurting Christianity's cause.
The author mentioned homosexuality as one example, charging that the way some churches handle the complex paradigm leads to a perception of "judgmentalism" and a subsequent loss of Christians' right to be heard in the public square.
"We're getting distracted from the questions that people are looking to the church to ask," he said. "Those have much more to do with issues that are obvious to everyone -- matters of faith and things related to God."
While Schultz said he is by no means telling Christians not to share personal stances on various issues, he said that the choice to vehemently share divisive opinions automatically alienates half -- or at least a portion -- of the population.
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He called the balance between sticking with one's values and interacting with congregations and prospective believers is "a delicate issue."
"I'm not suggesting that we avoid [social issues] and that they have no place to be talked about...but we need to allow people into the conversation where there's a two way dialogue," he said.
"We're getting distracted from the questions that people are looking to the church to ask."
While the decline is certainly alarming, Schultz said that all hope isn't lost.
"I believe that the church can thrive again," he said, noting that it's about changing the methodology and not the message.
That's the lesson he's hoping readers take away from "Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore."
Featured Image Credit: ShutterStock.com
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