It is interesting to read a wide variety of opinions as to the ‘why’s’ of things.
In most religious circles there is a piece of information that is well known. Worship attendance is on the decline. Less people attend worship than 10 years ago; and 10 years ago it was less than 20 years ago. The decline has been steady and often steep.
Additionally, the next piece of information is also well known. The average age of people in a typical Worship Service is older. Older people are more inclined to get up on Sunday morning than younger people are. The decline actually started with the Baby Boom generation and as that generation is aging, the decline has become even more pronounced.
As time has progressed, when people are asked about their religious beliefs, the single largest group has become ‘spiritual but not religious.’ This often means that a person has some sort of belief in a higher power, but that higher power may or may not be defined and the person does not Worship in any faith community.
I recently read an article from a Roman Catholic Bishop who I’ve decided not to identify, but I think he has part of the story backward. His reasoning is that he sees a serious attempt to marginalize religion from the public forum and to limit religious freedom to the freedom of worship. Most clergy who are even marginally honest know there is no attempt by anyone to limit religious freedom and freedom to Worship as people so chose unless they happen to belong to a tradition that limits that freedom. Clergy know, within the parameters of our own traditions, there is total freedom of Worship and practice of religion. Many of those complaining about limitations on religious freedom are upset that they cannot impose their values on others who do not embrace them.
As for the public forum, again, I do not see this. There are people like Bill Maher who makes fun of religious people, but he is a comedian. Much of what he makes fun of is actually often deserving of the humor it receives. Some aspects of religious life have been dismissed by many, but it is not so much society’s fault as it is the fault of those of us within religious circles.
I suspect part of the reason there has been a decline in Worship attendance has been the fault of the religious community. In fact, I suspect it is the major reason.
For one, people have learned that clergy are seriously flawed….and we are. No exceptions. We fail, we often fail grievously, and as we learned with the child abuse scandal many of failed criminally with the most vulnerable in our midst. As has often been the case, innocent people were not protected by faith communities and people abandoned those faith communities. People lose faith in churches when this happens.
Secondly, churches have been too front and center in politics. There has been a log of rendering unto Caesar by the religious community.
Third, a science advances often there is little desire for many theological ideas to advance either. When I hear people saying that God expects us to believe the universe is 6000 years old I find myself wondering why anyone is willing to come to Worship any longer.
Fourth, groups like the Westboro Baptist Church and the “pastor” in Florida who is virulently anti-Islam have given people the impression that Christianity is one large hate group. When I see how many churches treat people who are gay, I see how people get this impression.
Fifth, gender is a hormonal ‘accident.’ Presuming people have to have different roles in church because of gender is, to me, insane. The rest of society has grown up. Why haven’t churches?
Perhaps the problem of Worship attendance is that we are not looking in the mirror enough.
Of course, there are other reasons….reasons I would probably not like to wish upon myself. I know I have flaws and my church has flaws. This is a huge challenge for those of us in religious circles.