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Where Have All the People Gone? Being Church in a secular world.

Updated: Jul 18, 2022

Recommended Reading:


Matthew 10: 5-15

Matthew 28: 16-20




All too often as Christians we lament on dwindling Church numbers. Membership is falling and the congregations we have for the most part are elderly. Some of us of a certain age look back with rose tinted spectacles to the halcyon days of the 60’s and 70’s when churches were full and Sunday Schools were bursting at the seams.


Looking at Church attendance it is all too easy to blame secularism as the reason for falling attendances. After all, the doors are always open but the people don’t come in. There are too many distractions now on a Sunday; Sunday shopping, coffee at Costa, breakfast at Wetherspoons. That Sunday morning lie-in after a hard weeks work. All much more enjoyable than going to Church! Or perhaps you might think people just don’t believe in God any more. Science and technology have explained everything and have rubbished God, made him superfluous and redundant.


It could be argued that rational science has explained the mysteries of the universe, the creation of life and natural phenomena and that there is no need for the mumbo jumbo and the hocus pocus of the Church.


If one goes into any book shop there are huge sections on spirituality: angelology, crystal therapy, Wicca, witchcraft, tarot and astral projection to name but a few. In contrast the section on religion is much smaller and on Christianity, with the exception of a few bibles is almost non-existent. Therefore I would argue that science has not put an end to spirituality but that the perceived notions of ‘The Church’ have been displaced by alternative spiritualties. People are seeking ‘spiritual’ answers to the big questions in life and yearning for spiritual peace and fulfilment.


A recent publication of the British Social Attitudes Survey along with other studies by the BBC and the Sunday Telegraph has demonstrated that 65% of people believe in God (in the Judeo-Christian sense), 11% stating that they do not believe in God but do believe in a higher power, only 10% stated that they have never believed in God and the remaining 14% stated that they were not sure but thought there might be something.


Statistics in 2019 referred to the number of people in England, the average attendance at premier league football matches on a Saturday was 754,000. Wouldn't that be great if we had that many attend church on a Sunday. Not so in the same year the average Sunday attendance at Church was 856,000, and that was just the Church of England.


I would therefore argue that science has not explained away God. Despite science, the vast majority of people still believe in God and a great many are actively seeking their own form of spirituality. How do we reconcile this paradox of empty churches and a spiritual nation?


Can these two passages from Matthew assist us? Opening the Church doors in the expectation that ‘they will come’ is not the answer, Jesus teaches us this. In the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19 Jesus instructs us ‘GO therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you’. Note the verb used by Jesus is GO not come. Jesus expects us to go out into the world demonstrating Christian witness and telling people of the good news.


Jesus as a carpenter and builder could have built a ‘church’ and invited people to come in and listen to him with the expectation that they would come. But he chose not to. He went out to the people. He went to the synagogues, he went to the lakeside, he went to the mountains, he went to the towns and villages, he went to people’s houses, he went to the fields and he went to the Temple. The verb to go was an active part of Jesus’ ministry.


Similarly in Matthew 10 Jesus sends his disciples out around the towns and villages spreading the Good News. It is the going out to the people that is important. But note, Jesus sent his disciples in pairs not alone. He does not expect us to work by ourselves but as a body of people, a community of faith, spreading the Good News and showing how ‘the church’ is relevant to people in their daily lives and how ‘the church’ can help and assist them not only with spiritual matters but also the practicalities of daily living. In Matthew 10 Jesus did not send out the apostles to just proclaim the Good News but also to offer practical assistance to others.


In Jesus’ eyes the Church is not a physical building with pews and an organ where people meet once a week. The Church is a body of people, a community of faith. In those early years after Jesus’ death and resurrection there were no church buildings. Christians met in the streets and each other’s houses.


‘Destroy this Temple and I Shall rebuild it in three days’ Jesus told the Pharisees, affirming that the Church is not a building but people. Bricks and mortar may crumble and fall to ruin but the church will still be there, going out into the world, spreading the Good News, meeting where it will.


Jesus said ‘That the Kingdom of God is within you,’ something that we should never forget.


If we want people to come We have to GO. Let us individually and collectively reflect and pray for the church and how we can increase awareness of God and the relevance of Jesus and the Church for people today. Let the Holy Spirit guide us as to how we should GO out into the world; for the Kingdom of God is within us.


God Bless


Rob Hunter

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