I spent the last week of May in Dubuque. As most of you know, I am in the third year of a Doctor of Ministry program led by Professors Alan Roxburgh and Christopher James. Both men are accomplished authors and teachers. Alan has written much about the state of Western church and society, noting that both society and church are “unraveling.” There is much evidence for that unraveling:
- Despite the separation of church and state, for the first 200 years of our nation’s history, church and state operated in collusion with one another. However, that is no longer the case, and Christian faith is being marginalized and even ridiculed by society.
- The Modern Experiment has failed. The Modern Experiment proposed that we can solve all of our problems through science and reason. Sadly, we have learned otherwise. We can fly to the moon, but we cannot feed the poor or solve homelessness or cure mental illness or stop drug addiction.
- The Church—especially the Mainline Church—is in decline. The fastest growing religious population in our world today are the “Nones”—people with no religious preference. In 2000 in Henry County, 34 percent of the population said they had no church preference. By 2010, that number had jumped to 55 percent.
- According to our Conference Journal for 2008 and 2018, ten years ago our Conference had 147,656 members; in 2017, we had 124,735 members. That’s a loss of 22,921 (15.5%) in ten years.
- Ten years ago, average worship attendance in our Conference was 70,019; in 2017, it was 53,295. That’s a loss of 16,724 (23.8%).
- At Orion UMC, ten years ago we had 423 members; in 2017 we had 408 members That’s a loss of 15 members (3.5%). Ten years ago, our worship attendance averaged 156; in 2017 we averaged 123. That’s a loss of 33 per week (21.1%). We’re doing better than our Conference, but that’s a small comfort.
Perhaps we’re reaping what we’ve sown. We’ve become functioning Universalists: everybody eventually goes to heaven. Therefore, if everybody goes to heaven anyway, then who needs the church? And if nobody needs the church, then the church is going to unravel.
There’s nothing new about unraveling. In the cycles of history, there will always be seasons of revival followed by seasons of unraveling. But through it all, God always maintains a faithful remnant. In 1 Kings 19, we find Elijah on the heels of a great victory on Mount Carmel. But then Queen Jezebel vows to kill the prophet, so he runs 300 miles to escape. He ends up in a cave on Mount Horeb where he complains to God that everything as unraveled and he’s the only one left who is faithful to God. But God responds, “I have seven thousand people in Israel who have never bowed down to Baal to worship him” (2 Kings 19:18).
Take heart, friends. Though everything around you may be unraveling, God always has a remnant. The question is: are we going to remain faithful to God and be a part of God’s remnant as God continues to work in our communities?
I’ll see you in church,