When I was a young kid growing up in the late 1970s and 80s, a lot of places were closed on Sundays. Almost all the local businesses in town were and even chain stores like K-Mart only opened for 6 hours in the afternoon. Blue laws were common, no restaurant/bars were pouring and certainly no alcohol was sold. My dad restricted his Sunday activities to mainly mowing the lawn or washing the cars. And, of course, everyone went to church on Sunday. It was a weekly ritual. Go to church, go to breakfast and go to the park to feed the ducks. My brothers and I were altar boys, went to Sunday school, participated in youth group and other activities, and attended all the church dances. I even played in a church sponsored football league. It seemed like a requirement that your parents were involved in at least one or two church ministries every month. Church was the center of our middle class existence.
Moving to Georgia in 1987, it felt like everyone I met always started with the same two questions, “where do you go to church?” and “have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?” It didn’t matter where you were, at school, the mall, your job, your house, Christians were everywhere and they loved to witness to you. I think I got invited to more churches in my first month in Georgia than I did parties in all of high school. Religion was a big deal. Girls even broke up with me when they found out I was Catholic and they were Protestant.
Then, a funny thing happened. If I had to guess, I would say it was around the year 1990. All the stores started opening up for regular hours on Sundays. People went to work. The questions stopped being asked. The knock on the door never came. Nobody wondered anymore if I was destined for heaven or hell. Your faith as a dating requirement was no longer an issue. I even married a Protestant in 1993. And as I talked more and more with my Christian friends, fewer and fewer seemed to have a church home. The phrase “church shopping” had come into vogue. Or “I don’t need a church to be close to Jesus”. I scratch my head now and think to myself, when was the last time someone asked me what church I attended or if I wanted to attend theirs? Has it really been 3 decades?
Even before the pandemic, less than 40 percent of Catholics attended Mass on a monthly (not weekly) basis. Protestants did a little better, with evangelical Protestants hitting the 50 percent mark. Some experts predict this number will drop lower even as churches start to open up again. The “unchurched” Christian is now the biggest denomination out there. The good news is Christians not attending church do seem to keep their faith. But, if they still believe, why don’t they want to be around other believers?
The church has been described as many things over the years. A hospital for sinners. A beacon of hope. A home for God's salvation. So it begs the question(s): why have Christians stopped going to church? Is church still important in our modern/social media age or is it just a relic of the past? What can we do better? And if you are in the category of not attending church, why did you leave? It isn’t to judge you or tell you why you’re wrong. It’s more to understand how we, as Christians, can do better for one another. And as we approach Easter, I invite you to attend a church in your community.