Joani and Thom Schultz are the co-authors of the book: Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore? Their research is challenging. Steve McSwain is not so sure and give pointers to why this is not necessarily so.
The core basis of the Schultz' hypothesis apart from statistics and data is that of the experiences of most churches in America, and thereby happening in Britain, Australia and other western nation religious life.
And what is this experience that most churches are having to encounter.
In a word, 'fed up'! (two words sorry).
The facts are pretty clear and the test is at grass roots level. It relates to men. These fellows have grown up in the life of the local church. They became a Christian during their teenage years. Well versed in the Word. A handsome giver to the finances and mission needs. More than likely a bit of a leader, well at least he's always around and he's solid.
One day he woke up and was 'fed up' – there was no typical internal church dispute going on, he had no intention of moving church, but after what seemed a life time in 'a rut' of religion he needed 'out'.
The question of a trend
Joani and Thom Schultz says it's a trend. Steve McSwain says it's not. McSwain says there are a host of other reasons and these can be easily countered by better leadership and he lists these as proof pudding from many church situations.
The Schutz' disagree and cite a host of grass root situations that illustrate all to readily that simply being 'fed up' takes an enormous toll on church life right across Protestant America.
Perhaps it is a little of both.
Is there a trend? Or has there always been this dichotomy with numbers of men who have established themselves in the life of churches and simply need a sabbatical which in many cases, goes on for several years.
These men have not in any way abandoned their Christian commitment or faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. That would be a false connotation. Come the census form they would fill it in as before.
Sociologist Josh Packard web page - "area of research and teaching-sociology of health, religion, and education-are tied together with theoretical interests in communities and inequality. He has an active and applied research agenda relying on university-community partnerships ..."
Josh Packard has explained that this 'fed up' group are discussed in his upcoming book Church Refugees. They have sat through countless sermons and Bible studies, they feel they've heard it all. One of Packard's interviewees said, "I'm tired of being lectured to. I'm just done with having some guy tell me what to do."
They are fatigued with the Sunday routine. Rather, it's play time. To counter this, ministers and other ministry leaders (think Missions and Para-Church) would benefit from asking and listening to these men long before they walk out the door.
The Josh Packard questions:
Why are you a part of this church?
What keeps you here?
Have you ever contemplated stepping away from church? Why or why not?
How would you describe your relationship with God right now?
How has your relationship with God changed over the past few years?
What effect, if any, has our church had on your relationship with God?
What would need to change here to help you grow more toward Jesus' call to love God and love others?
It's time to listen.
Steve McSwain says churches are not dying, they are going through transition and fall-out is part of any change. He lists these as being central to transition: demography, technology, leadership, competition, religious pluralism, contemporary worship experiences, phoney marketing – and doesn't that one ring true.
After 38 years in Christian ministry, I am inclined to add my weight to Steve McSwain's propositions, as although many men get 'fed up' it is a transition in itself and they won't hold back any of their family members from engaging in the Christian life and the life of whatever local church they are engaged.
Leadership seems to be at the centre of such issues.
For young people drop outs, fresh research is showing that it's not their own faith, rather the pressure of their parents. This is a good read!
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html