Data is important. Trends are more important.
The trend that shows young people becoming less and less involved in a local church is troubling. A study released this week shows that about a third of adults under 30 claim no religious affiliation.
That number is significantly higher than any recent study.
The poll could be an “outlier” which posited the question differently or simply sampled a specifically sacrilegious subgroup.
The study led to handwringing and finger pointing in many religious circles.
Is the church doing something to alienate these young people? Is it more evidence of a secularization of society? Is it really because the church has become too political or power hungry?
The answer is probably all of these reasons and many more to varying degrees.
But I am not so sure that the results of this study do any more than restate or redefine a pre-existing condition.
Consistently, studies have shown that, on any given Sunday, about 40 percent of the American population attends church services.
That means 60 percent are religiously inactive. So is the fact that they are unaffiliated really significant?
If a person hasn’t voted since turning 18, is it really important whether that person considers himself a Democrat or Republican?
After all, two-thirds of the unaffiliated responded that they believe in the idea of a God.
Calling yourself a Catholic, Baptist or Methodist is no indicator of the importance you place on that religion in your daily life.
I think the fact that these people don’t claim an affiliation might actually make them more likely to join a church as their lives enter new seasons.
I am more concerned with those who have left a church because of a negative encounter with a fellow believer than someone who has never been affected by church either positively or negatively.
The fact remains that churches whose members accurately depict God’s love to each other within the congregation won’t lose members. That love creates a gravity that becomes emotionally inescapable.
A further truth is that those congregations that demonstrate that love outside the walls of their churches will continue to grow.
I know that when my father passed away recently, I felt the positive impact a church can have. My mom and dad’s church showed up in a big way.
Dad died at about 6 a.m. on a Sunday. Many people came by the nursing home to check on my mother before heading on to church. The pastor and another minister were there.
Page 2 of 2 - No one would have doubted that on a Sunday morning they were busy preparing for church. But they came, they ministered, and they showed God’s love to my mom as the grief set in. During the week, the church continued to reach out to her.
Dozens of people from my brother’s church in Oklahoma City drove 45 minutes each way to the funeral to show their support for my brother. More than a half dozen people drove seven hours round trip from my local church simply to demonstrate God’s love to me.
At that point, you really aren’t concerned about worship styles or religious affiliations. When we reach out beyond the walls of our church, whether we are Baptist, Lutheran or Church of Christ really pales in comparison to the needs that are met.
The church has become too political. Jesus wasn’t a Democrat or Republican. Society is becoming increasingly secular. You don’t have to look very far to realize that. Those of us who go to church are no more perfect now than we were a generation ago.
But we worship the same God. We have the same instruction manual.
The church can still reach people.
They may be unaffiliated now, but if someone reached out to them and really showed them what the church is all about, I would imagine they would gladly answer the survey differently the next time around.
Kent Bush is the Augusta Gazette Publisher, a columnist and blogger for the GateHouse Media Network. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.