From the Pulpit: Is God Going out of Fashion?; Religions Strugle to Get Their Message across in Modern Society

Article excerpt

Church congregations are falling, but why? Are the Churches losing touch with the people or are the people losing faith in God? This week, our correspondents offer two conflicting opinions

David McMillan is a Baptist pastor in Belfast and chairman of Econi-Evangelical Contribution on Northern Ireland - which examines sectarianism and peace and reconciliation in the province. He believes that while God has not gone out of fashion, many Churches have.

A minister friend in Leeds recently organised a survey of 2,000 homes in the city.

The Church members visited people asking questions about Christian beliefs and attitudes to religion.

The results were a shock to the Church. Contrary to their expectations, a huge percentage of those questioned said they believed in God and that Jesus Christ was relevant to their lives.

An even greater number said that they felt the Church was totally irrelevant, full of hypocrites and out of touch with their world.

The Church in Leeds concluded that God had not gone out of fashion - but the Church certainly had.

Recent trends and patterns in Church attendance suggest that in urban areas Church attendance is in decline.

This may not be the case in many rural areas, but it is certainly happening in parts of Belfast.

Some churches have closed and some which have dwindling congregations are struggling to survive.

Two obvious reasons are often suggested. One is a shift in population, sometimes prompted by sectarian violence, greater social mobility or redevelopment.

This means, that in some areas of Belfast, churches are maintained by commuter members.

These are Church members who once lived in the area but have relocated and now travel to the Church.

They have few, if any, other links with the community in which the Church is located.

The other reason is that society is more secular than in previous generations. There is not the same sense of need for the Church as before, nor any identification with organised religion.

The media, the universities and the leisure industry are the culprits in this case.

But there is also another factor. People are less tolerant of religious hypocrisy than in previous generations. But that is no bad thing.

Religious types who want to know where people are on Sunday but care little about them the rest of the week, are not taken seriously.

I reckon that some of the responsibility for the decline in Church attendance lies with the Church. We should be big enough to admit that fact.

But I fear that, all too often, there is a tendency for clerics to whinge about the people who don't come to Church any more without taking time to reflect and consider what contribution we as Christians have made to the decline.

It's all too easy to point the finger at those outside the Church without taking time to look at ourselves.

Jesus referred to such behaviour as trying to take the speck of dust out of someone's eye while there was a plank of wood in your own.

I dislike going to places where I feel uncomfortable. These would be places where I am not welcome and where I'm not sure about the people around me.

For too long we in the Churches have retreated into our own religious world and failed to communicate or demonstrate the love of Jesus.

We need to put that right, for the core of Christianity is not about building Churches, wearing funny clothes, using 16th century language or singing strange songs.

Christianity is about following Jesus, the Son of God, who lived among us as one of us, died for all of us and rose from the dead to give and lead us in a new kind of life.

Christianity is not about obeying people who think they know better. It is about loving, serving and following one who did know better and showed a better way. …