A recent Wall Street Journal article raised the question we've heard before: Is religion dying? We know the story, that fewer people are attending church, and more and more are away at their weekend home or attending the ballgame of their children on Sunday mornings. Life in America is complicated and diffuse and distracting, and the church is not the social and spiritual hub that it once was.
Perhaps the biggest statistical number that confirms this theory of the decline in religion in America is what is called the "Rise of the Nones" - the percentage of those who claim to have no religious affiliation (those who check the box marked "none") has increased from 15% in 2007 to 30% in 2021.
And yet the author of this WSJ article says, "Not so fast," we shouldn't believe that Christianity and religion are dying. For various reasons, he feels that attendance in church is being undercounted (for one thing, and we encounter this here, it's hard to know who is actually "attending" church with all of the online options that are available).
In addition, he throws this statistic at us, that the proportion of atheists in the U.S. has held steady at 3% or 4% for more than 80 years. Despite all the secularism of our culture, the number of people who do not believe has not increased in nearly a century!
What's more, another survey showed that 6% of self-described atheists and 27% of agnostics attended religious services at least monthly, and 13% and 58% respectively, prayed at least weekly. Also, 19% of atheists and 75% of agnostics believed in life after death, and 7% and 23% reported having had a religious experience. I find all these statistics astonishing, that in the midst of a seeming decline in religion, the prompting of the Spirit is all around and leading people to an experience of God.
I think the key -- and the bottom line and the opportunity and what gives me hope! -- is that people are searching. True, people are busy, people are away on weekends, people are distracted, people have formed different habits during Covid. But still they are searching, they are looking, they are hungry for meaning, they want to find a place to belong and be touched - by God and by other people.
People are searching, and we need to invite and welcome and include them into this special and warm place of belonging we call Southport United Methodist Church. Our Tent Revival on September 24 at 3:00 gives us the perfect opportunity to revive our own spirits and revive an enthusiasm we Methodists have always had for inviting and welcoming and including everyone.
So let us press on and reach out and give a word of encouragement and hope wherever we can. People are searching and I think they are searching for what we have to offer.
Grace and Hope to you,