REWRITTEN HEADLINE: American church attendance hits historic low, says Gallup Survey, New York Post, March 30 2021
One way the church can carry out its mission in a "post-Christian" culture.
A Gallup survey has reported that for the first time in 80 years, less than half of US adults belong to a religious institution. The survey’s reporting on a downward trend isn’t simply related to Sunday morning attendance (which certainly wavered greatly during COVID-19 public health limitations on in-person gatherings), but overall church membership and religious affiliation. Furthermore, it appears this declining trend will continue with time. The survey identifies that church membership is strongly correlated with age – with 58% of baby boomers belonging to a church, but only 50% of Generation X, and 36% of Millennials. It is anticipated Generation Z will mirror Millennial rates.
A different survey done by the Barna Group, who has collected over 20 years of data related to Christianity in the U.S., reported in early 2020 before the pandemic hit US soil that nearly two-thirds of American 18 to 29-year-olds who grew up in church have withdrawn from church involvement as an adult despite being active as a child or teen.
While these statistics could lead to a robust discussion of differing opinions on the state of the church in America and the future of the American culture, one underlying truth must be acknowledged.
The data continues to indicate that the baseline of American spirituality has shifted in recent years. Churches are no longer operating in a culture where religious affiliation is normative or expected. How, then, must Christians approach a change in evangelism and discipleship? If the general public is no longer visiting church buildings out of cultural obligations for holidays and traditions, how will people of faith meet the needs of this "post-Christian" America?
What if this could happen within the context of a universal shared need and experience like medical care?
Since 2013, Watermark Health has been connecting individuals who may never walk into a church building to the church body. In the context of a medical visit, individuals have the chance to learn more about the Christian faith, the person of Jesus, and be connected to a healthy local church. This was precisely what happened with Kerissa Poss days before pandemic shutdowns in March of 2020.
Poss heard about the clinic from her therapist and when an uninsured friend shared she was sick, Poss suggested she try Watermark Urgent Care and offered to bring her there. Poss did not realize it was affiliated with a church.
After growing up going to similar clinics, Poss was surprised by how Watermark Urgent Care made her feel. “I remember when we didn’t have insurance when I was younger, and we’d go to nonprofit clinics. You knew you were going there because you couldn’t afford a real doctor. They weren’t clean, and they were always overcrowded. It made you feel like you didn’t have any dignity. It was immediately different at Watermark Urgent Care. I didn’t feel that way at all.”
When the pastoral care volunteer came into the room during the visit, Poss and her friend learned more about the clinic and how it’s a ministry of Watermark Community Church. The conversation didn’t stop there, it led to Poss sharing with that volunteer about how she wasn’t in church because of some deep pains she had from people in churches in the past.
“I explained how I hadn’t felt safe in church for a long time,” said Poss. “After being sexually assaulted in 2016, I went through a tough time where I didn’t feel like I got the support I needed from the people around me. My spiritual walk took a hit, and I stopped going to church.”
After Poss shared her story, the volunteer shared the gospel and brought in a staff member who could connect with Poss uniquely because of abuse in her past as well.
“The staff member shared about Courageous Hope (a ministry for victims of sexual assault and abuse of both Watermark Community Church and CityBridge Community Church). She promised that she’d let me know when the next small group was about to launch. I left that day and didn’t expect her to reach back out.”
Five months later, an email came through Poss’ inbox, and the timing was right for her to seek healing. “When I got that email, it stood out to me because she did what she said she was going to do. She followed up, and I knew I still had a lot of processing to do, so I said yes to joining.”
Poss began consistently attending the church ministry and going through the weekly curriculum.
While participating she heard about other ministries and how to get plugged in with other believers who could support her in her walk.
“I started seeing a change in my walk with Christ, and my husband and my mom, everyone around me saw it as well. I also saw a change in my perspective of other Christians because I was surrounded by Christians who finally felt safe, and I hadn’t ever felt that way.”
“After going through the Courageous Hope curriculum, my husband and I decided to join re:generation (a recovery ministry at the church), and we became members of CityBridge Community Church in June 2021. My life used to be full of hurt and anger. I still face hard things, but it’s not what controls me anymore. My life has more joy now, and I’m learning to trust God even in the midst of my lowest days. God is still changing me. And it all started with a visit to the clinic. That’s pretty cool.”
Committing to church membership mid-2021 was a big change for Poss from how she thought about church when she first encountered Watermark Urgent Care in early 2020. By providing for a physical need, the ministry of Watermark Health was able to connect her to a local church that could further care for her spiritual needs and launch her into a life of faithfully following Jesus. This same mission is repeated throughout all the clinics and ministry events of Watermark Health. In the past year hundreds of patients were successfully connected to ministries at a variety of local churches. In a time where fewer people are seeing the value of church membership or affiliation and attendance continues to wain, Watermark Health stands in the gap. And now, Poss is standing in that gap as well.
“I decided to come back and serve at the clinic because my experience there from the patient perspective was so memorable. I was shown so much love by people who didn’t even know me. I realized that’s what believers are called to do, and I’m excited to be a part of doing that at the clinic.”
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