Less than half of Americans attend church monthly: Is there hope for the church?

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Less than half of Americans attend church monthly: Is there hope for the church?

April 3, 2024 -

A woman sitting in a pew in an empty church clasps her hands in prayer. By encierro/stock.adobe.com

A woman sitting in a pew in an empty church clasps her hands in prayer. By encierro/stock.adobe.com

A woman sitting in a pew in an empty church clasps her hands in prayer. By encierro/stock.adobe.com

Local churches have become insignificant in the lives of a majority of contemporary Americans. A Gallup research poll shows less than half of Americans attend church once a month and only 20 percent attend weekly.

There are likely many reasons for this, but the core problem may be this: people lack an understanding of the importance that attending a local church plays in the life of a Christian, and, in reality, the human being.

Our culture might regain the desire to be involved in our churches if they knew its true purpose.

How does the local church relate to the universal church?

However, a problem that arises within a biblical understanding of the local church’s purpose is its relation to the universal church. Kevin J. Connor describes the local church as “a small replica and yet a part of the universal Church.”

This notion of the local and universal churches being identical entities is conveyed in the Apostle’s Creed, whose principles are drawn from Scripture. The authors of Evangelicals and Nicene Faith: Reclaiming the Apostolic Witness observe how it professes a “one holy catholic and apostolic church.” The term catholic may confuse some people because of its association with one of the biggest Christian denominations. Yet, there was a use for the term before the Roman Catholic church existed. The authors propose that a correct, Christian understanding of a catholic church contains two components: its universality and its unity.

Phillip Melanchthon states that the church is called catholic “because it is an assembly dispersed throughout the whole earth and because its members, wherever they are, and however separated in place, embrace and externally profess one in the same utterance of true doctrine in all ages from the beginning until the very end.” According to Melanchthon, the church is universal in that it is present everywhere on earth and it is unified in that it professes the same doctrine.

Biblical support for the church outside of four walls?

One of the best examples of the church’s universal nature comes in Matthew 28:20, where Jesus promises his disciples, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Craig Blomberg attributes this statement to a promise from Jesus “to be spiritually present with his followers until the end of this age, that is, until his return.”

Another example is Acts 1:8, where Jesus encourages his disciples that they “will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” From these verses, we can infer that the body of Christ transcends Corinth, Rome, and any other New Testament city.

Wherever the Christian is, so is Christ. And so is the church.

Why must local churches seek unity?

An emphasis on unity is no less evident in Scripture.

In 1 Corinthians 12:27, Paul writes to the church in Corinth, “You are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” It might be tempting to suggest that he was singling out this congregation as the one true body of Christ, but a similar encouragement is found in Paul’s letters to other congregations.

In Romans 12, he suggests how “we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” The language in this verse refers to a group of believers beyond those in Rome.

This might be why F. F. Bruce maintains that “in 1 Corinthians and Romans the human body is used as an illustration for the corporate life of Christians.” Furthermore, Paul implements this metaphor in the epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians (Ephesians 4:1–16; Colossians 1:18, 24).

The local church’s role in the Body of Christ

Local churches exist as replicas of the universal church and are meant to contribute toward its ministry.

Subsequently, it may be tempting for some pastors to diminish the importance of institutions, such as parachurch ministries. This does not seem biblical. Christ established the church (singular) to spread the gospel. Therefore, the church remains intact and purposeful outside of its meetings on Sunday.

If this means supporting parachurch ministries like the Salvation Army or East-West Ministries, the local church must do so. But it is a two-way street. People within the body of Christ must encourage each other to be active members of the local church and participate in its purpose.

When healthy Christians attend healthy churches, the world will take notice and witness the power and grace of God’s kingdom on earth. Let’s pray that the trend of declining church attendance suddenly ends and that the next statistics we read reveal God’s movement in every church.

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