There was a time in the United States when Church membership and participation were expected. If you wanted to be a well respected part of your community, you were expected to join and be a part of a church in that community. It was a badge of honor to serve on a board or be a trustee. To be seen sitting in a pew with your family was to be seen as an upright and respectable member of society.
Those days are long gone. In the past few decades we have seen staggering statistics from well respected groups like the Barna Group tell us that church membership, attendance and giving are continuing to decline across our nation. We also see that traditional views on morality are growing farther and farther from what we would consider orthodox biblical truth.
Barna recently released new research that shows that our young people are leaving the church even more than in years past. In 2011 we found that 59% of Young Adults raised in church had left active participation in the faith; and now that number has risen to 64% nationwide.
All of this is bad, right? Well, maybe. In truth, some of those who USED to go to church were there for all the wrong reasons. They were there to be seen, to be recognized and to gain respect or influence. They may have been in the pew, but their heart wasn't really in it. Culture said church was important, even if the person couldn't have cared less.
Now, a time of pruning seems to have come. In John 15, Jesus used the analogy of a gardener who prunes back their vines in order to produce even more fruit in the future. To be sure, pruning is painful at the time. Cutting off parts of a vine that seem healthy in order to eventually gain in the long run seems risky; but it is the key to future growth. What isn't pruned will grow wild and unwieldy. Pruning, in the hands of an expert, is the prudent decision.
The American church is in a time of pruning. Those who were in it for the wrong reasons and leaving; and those who remain...while fewer in number, will be those who truly desire to stay.
Cultural Christianity as we know it may be dying; but true Christianity may just be getting ready for the harvest!