If you are involved at all in denominational politics (if you’re not, count it a blessing) or you have simply been paying attention to religion in the United States, you know that church has become much like everything else: individualistic, consumer-driven, and bound to marketplace and therapeutic dynamics. No one is made part of the Body of Christ anymore by the Gospel and Baptism; instead, you join a like-minded group of people. People don’t flock to churches where pure doctrine is taught and defended (as if they ever did!); no, churches compete to see who can produce the best programs and use the newest technology. If someone steps on your toes (especially the pastor) or isn’t nice to you, you just leave and find a church where they’re extra-nice. (Maybe it’s backwards, but the churches that have the “nicest” people are usually the most heretical; either that, or they’re trying to sell you something.)
This article discusses a survey that recognizes all these things and describes how people switch traditions in a second, with little or no loyalty to the tradition in which they have been brought up. Loyalty for loyalty’s sake is obviously no better, but perhaps they’ll be in a position to hear the actual Christian Gospel, rather than some trumped-up pseudo-Christian feel-goodism.
“The American religious economy is like a marketplace — very dynamic, very competitive,” said Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum. “Everyone is losing, everyone is gaining. There are net winners and losers, but no one can stand still. Those groups that are losing significant numbers have to recoup them to stay vibrant.”
As if numbers guaranteed vibrancy, let alone vitality. Maybe it’s just a thousand sinners going to hell. Christ never guaranteed vibrancy. I believe He did guarantee persecution and death for those who follow Him. So, all in all, I’m not too worried. If Luther was right, one of the marks of the Church is the holy cross. Somehow, I’m not surprised then that the biggest churches with the most programs and the coolest bands and PowerPoint are cross-less. Numbers? We have enough to worry about trying to be faithful. Leave the numbers to God.