Are most of America’s churches now irrelevant, impotent and insignificant? The answer is, “Yes!” They no longer influence politics and the culture. The tail wags the dog.
According to the latest statistics, 75% of American adults classify themselves as Christians. That amounts to 160 million people. Roughly 45% of America’s adults attend the more than 300,000 church services offered regularly in this country. That’s 90 million people.
While it is true that those statistics are WAY DOWN from just a few years ago, those numbers still represent a HUGE block of the American population. So why do Christians and their churches have so little stroke in today’s America? To put it more bluntly, why is America going to hell in a hand basket when there are churches on every corner in the land of the free and home of the brave?
History tells us, before the American Revolution, after the American Revolution, throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, and through the first half of the 20th Century, the Church heavily influenced virtually every sphere of American culture. However, with the exception of a temporary resurgence in the 1980s, the influence of the Church in the last half of the 20th Century and continuing now into the 21st Century is virtually non-existent.
The once activist arms of conservative churches, the Religious Right, the Christian Coalition and the Moral Majority—call them what you will—are clinically dead. They are not in a comatose state. They are dead. Pastors are dead. Denominations are dead. Christian schools and universities are dead.
Try this one on for size: 160 million self-proclaimed Christians, 90 million churchgoers and 300,000 churches cannot effectively influence even the tiniest change in America’s southward (hellish) direction. America is in a spiritual and political free fall and the Church sits on its thumb, watching the world go by. What’s even more pathetic is the fact that we are not talking about an enslaved, oppressed country like China where millions of Christians are forced to submit at gunpoint to the whims of the state.
In America, we are still able to lobby, redress the evils of government, protest, rally, organize opposition, speak, vote, form political action committees, march and petition. Arguably, Christians have more freedom in America to influence the culture than believers anywhere else on the planet. Beyond that, name any other group in the country that can boast 75% of the population who identify themselves as Christians or can claim 45% who regularly attend the same kinds of public meetings.
What would the country look like if the American Civil Liberties Union had those kinds of numbers? What about the Southern Poverty Law Center, or labor unions? Labor unions comprise only 11% of the workforce. ACLU membership is reported to be about 500,000. And then, the people who belong to the SLPC could fit in the back of a pickup truck. By comparison, these groups comprise a miniscule percentage of the population as opposed to America’s churches, yet their influence is far greater. So, what happened?
A spiritual giant, Charles Finney, an evangelist who was one of the major contributors to America’s Second Great Awakening, said, “Christians must vote for honest men and take consistent ground in politics. God cannot sustain this free and blessed country, which we love and pray for, unless the Church will take right ground. Politics are a part of a religion in such a country as this, and Christians (and citizens) must do their duty to the country as a part of their duty to God. It seems sometimes as if the foundations of the nation are becoming rotten, and Christians seem to act as if they think God does not see what they do in politics.”
In addition, Finney said, “If there is a decay of conscience, the pulpit is responsible for it. If the public press lacks moral discernment, the pulpit is responsible for it. If the Church is degenerate and worldly, the pulpit is responsible for it. If the world loses its interest in Christianity, the pulpit is responsible for it. If Satan rules in our halls of legislation, the pulpit is responsible for it. If our politics become so corrupt that the very foundations of our government are ready to fall away, the pulpit is responsible for it.”
It is not an exaggeration to say, the American Church, for the most part, has been largely ineffective since the end of World War II. The Church sat on its hands when God was expelled from America’s public life in the 1960s. It twiddled its thumbs when the government made it legal to slaughter unborn babies in the 1970s. And today it sits idly by in the face of a burgeoning police state. There seems to be no abridgement of liberty, no national scandal, or no threat against our constitutional form of government that is egregious enough to warrant fierce opposition from America’s pastors and churches.
In many instances, today’s preachers are not prophets and watchmen. Instead, they are cheerleaders and CEOs. All too often, our churches are not “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). They are social clubs, they are recreation centers and they offer feel-good indoctrination. A pitiful few preachers reprove and rebuke and exhort (2 Timothy 4:2) any more. They preach their sickly sermons, tickle ears, tell a few jokes and go home for Sunday lunch.
If things don’t change, God may prune the Church just like he pruned Gideon’s army down from 32,000 to 300. He may allow the majority of American churches to rot on the vine. He may let them satisfy themselves with ear tickling and entertainment. He may allow the hirelings in the pulpit to satisfy themselves with pats on the back from the world because they are “tolerant.”
Let the so-called Christians languish in their spiritual ignorance, but let those who choose to fight with Gideon’s army, leave the fancy tombs we call churches and run to the sound of battle! Let the majority of churches continue to be irrelevant, impotent and insignificant, because, even now, God is raising up a different kind of fellowship. Many Americans are opting for liberty churches because they know the establishment churches are dead.
If you are in a dead church, shake the dust off your feet and find one that is alive.
Ed Baswell pastors The Clarion Church and is the host of Crossfire Radio, weekdays from 7-9 am, on The Promise, 90.7 FM. The show is streamed live worldwide at promisetalkradio.org and at ktbs.com. It can be seen each day on the KTBS 24-hour, digital news channel.