Since our return to the upper Willamette Valley a year ago, we've been searching for a new church "home."
We've attended all the mainline denominations in a 15 mile radius. And, what we've found in each is the same story: reduced attendance to the point that several seemed about to close.
We've been to a nearby United Methodist church. The sanctuary built to accommodate about 300 people, but at our visit, had attendance of less than 50. The church was built on a whole block for future growth. The main building had a wing for classrooms and offices plus a full basement. Obviously planned for what appeared to be a future increase in membership. Growth that hasn't materialized. Presbyterian, Lutheran or similar faiths. All.
Some other mainline houses of worship we visited weren't even meeting in their sanctuaries, opting for classrooms or cafeterias. Smaller meeting areas for smaller attendance, cheaper upkeep and lower utility bills.
It's no secret many mainline churches have been seeing reduced membership for several years. Some have closed.
There are several basic factors here. One is the next several generations doesn't seem attracted to either religion as a whole or the strictures associated with traditional worship. Another is the rise of what could be called "modern thinking" churches with sanctuaries built more like concert arenas. They often have small bands. They encourage informality of dress and demeanor. Some would say there's a more "entertainment-like" factor involved with less reliance on traditional religious services.
Whatever the case, church attendance is way down from the '50's and '60's. So, too, are the necessary financial underpinnings. Some churches even rent space during the week for outside events just to keep support the budget. And keep the lights on.
Look around mainline church congregations today and you'll find lots of gray hair. We haven't been to one recently where the average age was less than the late '60's or early '70's. In a few years, we'll be gone. What then?
Seminaries that turn out ministers for these traditional churches are obviously feeling the cutback.
These same churches with declining congregations got hit a couple years ago with a real hammer: COVID. Many scrambled to serve their home-bound congregants needs in a new way: television. Some were limited with a one-set camera shot. Some turned to TV techs for more professional setups with several cameras and more than one voice pickup.
Now, some of those same churches are faced with fewer folks in the pews and more at home, wearing pajamas and sitting in their favorite recliners. They like it. Such folks are hard to measure for attendance purposes. Or, continued giving in some cases. But, it seems, a goodly number of those at home won't be returning to the sanctuary. At least for awhile.
Some of the new, more "freestyle" movements have also drawn folks from traditional churches. Some even advertise "We've got answers to all your questions." Editors note: Not hardly.
Our society is experiencing momentous changes in nearly everything. It's been going on for sometime but COVID served to speed things up a bit. Everything from the way we buy cars to how we shop to the way we bank and pay our bills. And how we worship.
All of this I-Net stuff, Amazon and similar outfits, have lured millions of shoppers "online." "Buy today. Delivered tomorrow."
Sorry, but none of that works for me. I have to drive the car. Gotta feel the shirt material. Gotta touch the sheets. Want to go face-to-face with a salesman. Got to try on the pants. Have to attend to worship with others. Feel their closeness. Join their voices to sing the hymns.
Us older folks are still shopping at the mall or downtown. We're still buying cars and other goods from local retailers we know. Our health care is face-to-face local. We still sit in the same pews to worship.
I'm not "down" for all that new stuff. We'll still be doing things the way we've always done. Our choice.