Engaging the Divine: Churchgoing in U.S. continues to drop, but why?

Rev. Jo Popham
The Rev. Jo Popham

A recent Gallup Poll indicates that there are many who do not know that the Son was raised just for them and for all people. For the first time, the majority of adults in the United States do not themselves affiliate with a house of worship. Church membership has fallen below 50%.

Church membership in the United States was 73% when Gallup first measured it in 1937, and it remained near 70% for 60 years. The decline began around the turn of this century, and now stands at only 47%. Why? Why has church membership in America declined so precipitously? 

On Sunday, May 23, we Christians in the West will celebrate Pentecost. In the Episcopal Church, Pentecost is one of the seven major feast days of the church. (In the Eastern churches, Pentecost is June 20.) Pentecost is the 50th day of Easter, and in our church the color that most symbolizes Pentecost is red for the fire of the Holy Spirit that came to the believers in 1st century Palestine and remains with us in this 21st century. The color red brings to mind renewal of life, the warmth of summer, and the growth of the church that began on that first Pentecost — and, God willing and through us, will continue to grow. 

The Holy Spirit came to Jesus’s friends, the apostles, and other disciples to enable them — and us — to continue the work that Jesus began, to be his hands and feet and voice in the world, and to remind us how very much we are loved by God so that we can bring about the Kingdom of God on earth in the here and now.

The Holy Spirit guides us all to do God’s will, to show us how to love God and love all people. Now who would not want to learn how to love like that? 

At church we connect with God, God the Father, and God the Son (Jesus), through God the Holy Spirit. Yes, we go to church to worship God, to learn about God’s saving grace, to share the stories of the Bible, to share our stories, and to see how and where they intersect with the great stories of the Bible, all so that we can learn about God’s love for us, love God more, and share God’s love with all people. So who would not want to experience that?

The Gallup Poll tells us that there are 53% of American adults who do not want to experience God by becoming a member of a worshipping community. Again, why? Has the fire of the Holy Spirit gone out? We must not allow this to happen! Let’s keep the fire going! 

The Rev. Jo Popham is rector at St. Andrews By-the-Sea in Destin.