On Easter Sunday, more people attend church than at any other time of year. The resurrection story still resonates with people for many reasons, even if they long ago stopped attending regular worship services. Christ's redeeming work of overcoming death provides the hope of new life for Christians and non-Christians alike.
But I'm not writing this article to talk about the people who attend church on Easter Sunday. I'm writing this to talk about people who don't attend that Sunday, or any other after Easter. There is no denying the reality that in the United States, the church is in steep decline. For over 20 years consecutively, both Protestant and Catholic denominations have faced the loss of a large percentage of their regular attenders. Part of this is due to the busyness of life. In fact, many studies have shown that a large part of the measured decline is merely the reality that people are too busy to attend as regularly as in the past. So if someone used to attend three out of every four Sundays, today they might only attend one or two Sundays out of four, showing a downward trend in average attendance.
A lot of the decline, however, must be acknowledged because so many have left the institution of the church. A recent study found that the group called "nones" now make up the largest group of American citizens related to religious affiliation. "Nones" are both a mix of people who still believe in God, but refuse to join or participate in a church, and people who simply do not believe in God at all. Those who still believe in God but choose not to be in a church are revealing a difficult reality about the effectiveness of churches to provide a dynamic, life changing experiences that brings people into a deeper relationship with Jesus. Likewise, those who are fully atheist have expressed no interest in either church or a spiritual belief in the divine. The shifting dynamics of church growth has meant that more and more "nones" have been raised that way from birth.
In all of these studies and statistics, however, there is hope. There are now almost three generations of people who have not regularly attended church, nor have they truly been engaged in a study of Jesus, the Bible or the Christian faith. Second and third generation "nones" are likely to have never sat in an Easter service, or Bible study, or even a church building. But this does not mean they aren't willing or interested in growing a faith. It only means that no one has reached out to them to shine the light of Christ in their life.
We have an opportunity in Henry. There are countless people who do not have a church affiliation, either because they left the church, or never found one. And it is our call to go make disciples of all people for the transformation of the world. Are we willing to shine that light of Christ? Are we willing to make that invitation? Survey after survey reveals two truths about churches who are growing. The first truth is that many people who don't attend church are willing to accept an invitation when someone they know asks them. The second truth is that people are far more likely to accept an invitation from a church member they know than a pastor. We need voices who are willing to invite. Are you willing to use yours?
I would like to invite anyone who is willing to share their voice with the community to a special district event on Saturday, May 4th at the Morton United Methodist Church. Dr. Mark Teasdale, a professor of Evangelism at my alma mater, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, will be leading a workshop for both laity and clergy on how to best reach our communities for Christ. This will be a great opportunity to learn the most effective ways to help people reconnect to the Gospel story, or hear it for the first time. The event runs from 9-3 on that Saturday, and we can work out carpools for anyone interested. Please contact the office if you are willing to participate. I hope you take this chance, and reach out to our community. The Easter story reminds us first and foremost, that there is always the possibility of new life. We just have to do what is necessary to spark it.