What people want from church
January 17 2003 by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor

What people want from church | Friday, Jan. 17, 2003

Friday, Jan. 17, 2003

What people want from church

By Tony W. Cartledge BR Editor

The church as a whole has sunk to a new low in public opinion, according to a poll released Jan. 7 by the Gallup Organization.

The group started tracking the "Gallup Index of Leading Religious Indicators" in 1940, and its overall rating for organized religion has never been lower.

The index is based on eight measurements of beliefs and practices. The highest score ever - 746 of a possible 1,000 - was recorded in 1956.

The score for 2002 was 641, a decline of 30 points from 2001.

Why?

The same poll showed that 95 percent of Americans claim to believe in God. Ninety percent state a religious preference and 65 percent claim membership in a church, down only marginally from the previous year.

Church attendance was actually up in 2002, with 43 percent saying they had attended within the past seven days, compared to 41 percent in 2001.

And, 60 percent said religion is very important to their lives, two percent more than the previous year. Sixty-two percent of respondents said they believe religion answers problems, the same percentage as in 2001.

But the number of those who have a "great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in organized religion dropped sharply, from 60 percent in 2001 to 45 percent in 2002.

Why?

The final measurement offers one important clue. The number of those who give "very high" or "high" ratings to ethical standards of clergy fell from 64 percent to 52 percent.

Researchers attributed the decline in large part to highly publicized sex abuse scandals that plagued the Roman Catholic Church in 2002, and that certainly played an important role.

But I don't think that's all of it.

Many contemporary believers - especially those most strongly influenced by our emerging "postmodern" culture - perceive organized religion in general and denominations in particular to be increasingly irrelevant.

Allegiance to the local church rises and falls with the felt needs of individuals and their perception of whether the church is meeting those needs.

There's nothing new about that, but we live in a new world compared to 1956, and many of its inhabitants are in search of a new church.

Dueling egos and bickering Baptists on both the denominational and congregational levels are a constant turn-off for people who are searching for God and longing for authentic Christianity, but who sometimes despair of finding either one in the church.

The Gallup findings should provide a much-needed "wake-up call" to church and denominational leaders.

An unscientific poll of one (me), based on years of curious observation, has convinced me of several truths regarding people, churches and denominations.

Most people, for example, don't care what adjectives we use to describe the Bible - they just want to hear God's truth, love and grace proclaimed from it.

Neither do they care whether everyone else adheres to a prescribed set of doctrinal beliefs - they mostly want a central belief in a living God who gives meaning to life.

Most people don't care how big a church is or how elaborate its accoutrements, but they yearn to belong in a genuine community of kindness and grace.

It is not brightly polished denominational brass that attracts people to the church, but the divinely inspired love they see reflected in its windows and walls and faces and feet.

And if they don't find those glimpses of God, their own feet know what to do.

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1/17/2003 12:00:00 AM by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor | with 0 comments
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