Updated: Apr 17, 2020
I fear the church's response to this lack of interest in the Word and declining attendance in church is to preach less of the Word in quantity, quality, and depth.
I have been serving the church as a pastor for over two decades. Literally, all of my adult life has been given to serving the church in love, truth, and with the Word of God. I have noticed a troubling trend even in my short life and time of service. As a matter fact, it is more than troubling it is a trend and shift that I deeply despise.
As the attendance numbers of churches have declined since the mid 80's and 90's, I have observed churches that are adjusting their philosophy of ministry in order to compensate. It seems as if there is a new article/study reinforcing the idea that there are less people who consider church to be central to their life or relevant for their walk with God. The identified causes for this decline are just as endless; declining birth rates in America, millennial disconnect, lack of cultural awareness, non-biblical preaching, service style, music preference, dress code, etc.... This list could go on and on and on.
As a result of this real tension I have noticed a disturbing trend for churches and pastors. In order to compensate for this decline, the strategy has been to capitulate to the cultural expectations. Let me explain....
The apostle Paul wrote, "For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, ..." - 2 Timothy 4:3. Friends, sadly, that time is not coming, it is NOW. The passions of the day are as they have always been....sinful. Unfortunately, as Paul warned, these sinful passions are influencing the church instead of the church influencing them. In my twenty years, I have continually seen the church gradually become more like the culture of the world.
The church is called to be set apart, (Romans 12:2), strangers and aliens (1 Peter 2:11), citizens of heaven, not earth (Phil. 3:20), without a earthly city, but seeking a city that is to come (Hebrews 13:14). We aren't supposed to be stained by this world (1 John 2:15-17). While this is abundantly clear, I see the church moving in the direction of the world. I see a church that is having it's faith painted by the brush of culture instead of by the Word of God.
This change and shifting or faith is of no surprise. When we stop reading the Bible, rooting ourselves in it's truth daily, then our faith disintegrates. We know that "faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ." (Romans 10:17) When we have less exposure to the Word of Christ, we have less faith. It is simple math really and I am no mathematician.
Studies show this reality in the church.
As a 2012 survey from Lifeway Research found when asked how often they personally read the Bible, (not as part of a church worship service) those surveyed responded accordingly:
“Every Day” (19 percent)
"Rarely/Never” (18 percent).
"A Few Times a Week." (25 percent)
"Once a Week: (14 percent)
“Once a Month” (22 percent)
That’s 80% of Christians who will actually admit to not reading the Bible every day. Extraordinary. While the Bible’s place in America as a cultural icon endures, it’s not always perceived as a transformational text. Even as Bible ownership remains strong, readership and engagement are weak. People don’t really care about reading the Bible these days. Which is strange. If you think that God is speaking through the Bible — even remotely — wouldn’t you read it? “Increasingly, America is biblically illiterate.”
According to data from the Barna Research Group, 60 percent of Americans can’t name even five of the Ten Commandments. “No wonder people break the Ten Commandments all the time. They don’t know what they are,” said George Barna, president of the firm.
I fear the church's response to this lack of interest in the Word and declining attendance in church is to preach less of the Word in quantity, quality, and depth. This is see is a capitulation to culture to "suit their own passions." Because the world increasingly has less of a passion for the Word of God, churches are giving the church over to "suit their passions" and are removing the Word. (Hughes)
The church growth strategy for worship services has become "Get This Over With As Soon As Possible." Recognizing the trends of culture, we must not preach longer than a half hour and we must not have services longer than an hour. This is the church growth model, presumably because this is all the church body can handle. People don't generally complain about the music, if anything has to be cut, it is the Word of God.
I am speaking from my experience when I tell you there are a growing number of churches planning their worship services to make sure that "Joe and Mary" get to Cracker Barrel on time instead of how to honor the Lord in our worship, feed the sheep, and glorify God with our hearts. Increasingly less attention is given to what amount of time is necessary to glorify God in worship and more is given to what amount of time is too much so that "Joe and Mary" don't get mad.
I understand that there is a balance. I do not think it advantageous or wise to have 2-3 hour worship services, but in my experience, the church is bickering and capitulating over ten minutes ... AND ... YES ... I HATE IT.
I hate that the first thought I have after preaching my guts out on Sunday AM is NOT to faithfully unpack and proclaim the very words of God, but often times worry over whether I went 7-10 minutes "too long".
I hate that the first feeling I have after preaching my guts out on Sunday AM to"feed the sheep" is guilt over whether I caused someone to delay their lunch by 7-10 minutes.
I hate that the first reaction I have on Sunday AM after preaching my guts out on Sunday AM to bring our community together as a body is concern over whether people will leave the body because the service was 7-10 minutes longer than the church down the street.
I am sorry. I am being real, raw, and honest. I HATE IT and you know what I truly believe that God HATES IT (Rev. 3:14-22) and ironically it will NOT grow the church in the long run. What we need is repentance. I need to repent. So many in the church need to repent. We need to study what that word "repent" means and actually do so much more than speak it, but rather live it. This is simply not honoring to God and we need to change. As for me, this is my intention... to remain"sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry." (2 Tim. 4:5)
Agree with it or not. There you have it.