Millions Have Left the Churches—Should You?
THE churches of Christendom involve nearly a thousand million persons. In recent years certain churches have grown rapidly. The publication Religion in America 1975 shows that now 31 percent of the people think that religion is gaining in influence. In 1970 only 14 percent felt that way.
“At the same time, however, a majority (56 percent) currently say religion is losing influence,” notes the same publication. A brief consideration of the attitudes and conduct of most members of Christendom’s churches will reveal an interesting fact: Millions of church members do not take part in religious services or other church activities. Though their names may remain on church membership rolls, they have virtually, if not formally, left the churches. Consider:
MEMBERSHIP, ATTENDANCE DWINDLE
In the United States the United Methodist Church has lost some 150,000 members each year for the past five years. Certain other Protestant bodies in this country have lost from tens to hundreds of thousands of adherents during the 1970’s. The same trend exists throughout the world. In some West German cities registrars report that they are kept busy by veritable lines of people who want to cancel their church membership. A comparison of figures in the 1975 Britannica Book of the Year with the volumes for 1974 and 1973 reveals a drop of 80,041,050 in the combined membership of Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Protestant Churches throughout the world in just two years.
Besides direct losses, Christendom’s churches have gained fewer and fewer new members in recent years. Church attendance, too, is very low. Polls taken in France show that, while more than 80 percent of French citizens are baptized Catholics, only about 20 percent attend church with any degree of regularity. A 1972 Canadian survey reveals that only 30 percent of Montreal’s Catholics attend Mass and receive sacraments. In the United States the church attendance figure is just 40 percent for adult members.
Why have so many millions of persons turned their backs on the churches of Christendom?
WHY DO THEY LEAVE?
The reasons that people give for abandoning the churches are many and varied. Some in West Germany do it in order to be relieved of paying the church tax. More often, however, the reason involves changes in Roman Catholic teaching in recent years. These have confused many persons who thought that they had the true apostolic religion. As one Catholic priest in the United States put it: “If the things the Church has said in the last ten years are true, then everything it said for the last 2,000 years is false.”
Some clergymen have tried to retain young people in their churches by conforming to popular fancies. For example, folk and rock music were incorporated into religious services. But these efforts have been largely unsuccessful. “It doesn’t seem to work,” commented Catholic priest Andrew M. Greeley. “Somehow, the young are not attracted by clerics who act like drug freaks and churches that try to substitute for the local coffee shop or to do the Woodstock thing.”
Open approval by many clergymen of the loose moral standards prevalent today has brought about further reverses for many churches. Even youths disapprove of this, as noted in the newspaper column “Youth Attitudes”:
“There’s an old saying that you don’t pull yourself up by dragging the other person down. Just the opposite should be the case. That’s why, in our opinion, the churches have erred in not standing firm behind high moral standards and in being equally firm in teaching what is morally right and wrong. Young people need and want guidance. . . . There is no compromise with what is morally wrong.”
Catholic priest and psychologist Martin Pable cited another principal reason why people are discouraged with the churches. “People have real religious hungers, and one of the few chances they have to satisfy this hunger is during the Sunday service. And when the priest (or minister) doesn’t nourish spiritual hungers, there’s a real disappointment.”
What are conditions like in your church? Do you receive sound, Bible-based counsel that builds spirituality? Or are you among the hundreds of thousands that have been disappointed when hearing repeated pleas for money, discussions of politics and approval from the pulpit of moral laxity? If that has been your experience, does it make sense to remain a member of such a church? Millions have decided that it does not, and so have left the churches. Should you?
This is a serious question for you to consider. While you are doing so, be sure to weigh carefully what God himself says in the Bible at 2 Corinthians 6:14-17: “Do not become unevenly yoked with unbelievers. For what fellowship do righteousness and lawlessness have? Or what sharing does light have with darkness? . . . ‘Therefore get out from among them, and separate yourselves,’ says Jehovah, ‘and quit touching the unclean thing.’”
If you decide to follow that Scriptural advice and leave your church, where can you turn to satisfy your spiritual need?
IS “PERSONAL” RELIGION THE ANSWER?
Most persons who have left the churches still believe in God and feel a need for spirituality. How do they seek to satisfy this? According to U.S. News & World Report, there has been “a renewed interest in the more personal and emotional aspects of religion.”
A considerable number of persons in recent years have reported having “mystical” experiences. But this is really nothing new. In the recent article “Are We a Nation of Mystics?” priest Andrew M. Greeley and William C. McCready comment:
“Such extraordinary experiences . . . are recorded at every time in history and in every place on the globe. . . . Easterner and Westerner, saint and sinner, man and woman, young person and old, all seem to report a virtually identical experience—intense, overpowering joy which seemed literally to lift them out of themselves.”
Have you ever had such a personal religious experience? If not, perhaps you know someone who has. Such experiences make a deep impression on people. But there is a need for caution. Why so? Because, as noted above, they have been widespread throughout history in pagandom as well as Christendom. Experiences of ecstasy do not in themselves help people to know the true God, his requirements for acceptable worship and his purpose for the earth and mankind. Ecstatic experiences may even hinder a person from seeking this important information. How so?
Interestingly, the above-mentioned survey by Greeley and McCready noted that 48 percent of six hundred persons who reported having such experiences felt “a certainty that all things would work out for the good.” When asked what he thought about human survival after death, one person whom they interviewed stated:
“All I know is that, once you have experiences like I’ve had . . . , the question doesn’t seem very important. You know things will be all right, and you don’t bother yourself worrying about details.”
The Scriptures, however, direct people to “keep seeking” knowledge of God as if digging for hidden treasures. (Prov. 2:3-5) Jesus urged his disciples to ‘exert themselves vigorously’ to gain eternal life. (Luke 13:24) And, although they had already been “sanctified in union with Christ Jesus, called to be holy ones,” the apostle Paul cautioned certain Christians of the first century C.E.: “Let him that thinks he is standing beware that he does not fall.” (1 Cor. 1:2; 10:12; compare Philippians 2:12; Matthew 24:13.) Any experience, therefore, that would tend to make a person complacent and cocksure of salvation could not be from God.
But if neither the churches of Christendom nor personal religious experiences provide the foundation for worshiping God correctly, where can people turn?
THEY FOUND TRUE CHRISTIANITY
Jesus said of the way to distinguish his true followers from persons who merely profess Christianity: “Really, then, by their fruits you will recognize those men.” (Matt. 7:20) By what “fruits”? Let us consider two of them.
The true Christian congregation, according to the Bible, would be “a people for [God’s] name.” (Acts 15:14) They would obviously use the name of God, the Father of Jesus Christ, in their worship. Does your church do that? Do you personally know and use the name of God in worship? A young man from West Germany explains how this very thing helped him to find true Christians:
“I had been living in a commune, taking drugs and stealing to get food. Soon, though, I realized how unreasonable such a life was and so I began to search for a meaning to life. But no goal seemed worth putting all my efforts into. Usually I gave up trying before I had even begun.
“When I returned to the commune one evening, I noticed that the others were having a discussion about God. What I heard there stimulated my interest to read the Bible. I then began searching, for I was confident that somewhere there must be a true Christian congregation.
“Then my sister gave me a copy of the New World Translation of the Bible. For the first time in my life I was confronted with the name Jehovah. A few days later I asked one of Jehovah’s witnesses: ‘Why the name Jehovah?’ His answer was precise, but I was skeptical and just let him talk, thinking that in this way I might catch him in his own words.
“I maintained this skeptical attitude during weeks of Bible discussions. But finally I realized that I had found the very thing for which I had so often prayed. Here was a truly Christian organization. Soon I began to make changes to harmonize my life with Bible principles. Now I have the privilege of spending a large part of my time in sharing Bible truth with others.”
Jesus set forth another identifying mark of true Christians when he said: “By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves.” (John 13:35) A young woman found that this helped her to identify true Christianity. She relates:
“I left home at eighteen, began using drugs and living in a commune. There were often as many as twenty people living in the two rooms, so it looked like a garbage dump. There I gained experience at how bad and mentally cruel people can be.
“I was convinced that somewhere there must be people who truly practice love. Then I came in contact with the ‘Jesus People’ and joined them. Soon, however, I realized that this was not for me. The day’s routine was taken up merely with singing, praying and dancing. While these young persons did not take drugs, I noticed that a person could ‘get high’ in their presence.
“I read the Bible daily and prayed that God would lead me to a group of real Christians. Then [a friend] visited me and told me that God’s name was Jehovah and other things that he had learned from Jehovah’s witnesses. But this did not interest me at the time. I said that I was seeking Christ. ‘If it’s Christians you want to see,’ [he] replied, ‘then come with me.’”
This young woman attended a meeting at the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Here she was surprised to meet people who truly demonstrate love for one another and for strangers. She relates: “I was very much impressed by the people I met there.” Six months later she was baptized as one of Jehovah’s Christian witnesses. She married the individual who had introduced her to Jehovah’s witnesses and now spends her full time sharing Bible truth with her neighbors. Summing up her feelings, she said: “I am thankful to Jehovah from the bottom of my heart that he saved me from this crooked world system and has brought me into his wonderful light.”
Have you been troubled by the failure of your church to meet the spiritual needs of its members? Has your church replaced sound Bible instruction with “social action” and involvement in politics? Then you have an important choice to make. Does church membership mean more to you than does having an approved relationship with God? Will you continue to be part of an organization that is Christian in name only? Or will you leave it?
If you would like to learn more about the Word of God without any obligation to join a church, Jehovah’s witnesses will be glad to help you. They will conduct a free Bible study with you in your home or at any other convenient location. Acting on this invitation will aid you to learn the form of worship taught by the Bible itself. Is not that what you have been looking for?
[Graph on page 324]
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
The Drop in U.S. Church Attendance
Percentage that attended church
In 1974, out of 131,424,564 members of Christendom’s churches, only 40 percent attended church in a typical week. Attendance figures for other countries are much lower.