Beyond the Walls: A Pastoral Perspective

During the previous 34 years I cocooned myself within the walls of five churches, which in retrospect kept me isolated from the real world.  Serving as a hospice chaplain for ten years was an eye opener for me.  After all, I mostly dealt with Christians, those inside the four walls of the church. Seldom did I mesh with those outside my limited sphere of influence. Hospice work opened up a broader, more realistic perspective to people who claim no faith tradition or church background. And I’m so thankful for my expanded horizons!

Church attendance continues to decline in America.  The average evangelical congregation now averages 80 people in Sunday morning attendance. To be fair, this decline was in motion before COVID-19 made its debut in March 2020.  

I don’t think Christians fully understand the scope of this statistic. This translates into 19 percent of Americans who attend church on a weekly basis; and another 12 percent who attend infrequently. In other words, 69 percent of America stays home on Sundays, or opts for alternate activities. It’s time to sound the alarm!

For ten years, I worked alongside John Q. Public, and I’ve talked to hundreds of individuals who had no faith background whatsoever; and who offered resistance when they heard the word “chaplain.” Perhaps all pastors need to spend time working in the secular workplace.  Perhaps we are too isolated and detached from the world we try to reach.

I discovered that only 24 percent of my patients had any type of faith background. This was most disconcerting.  We were led to believe that most everyone in post-Depression America attended church.  Statistically, this assumption is far from correct.  The Great Depression, World War 2, the Korean Conflict, and the Vietnam War seemingly took a toll on religious thought and practice. I met with anger, bitterness, alcoholism, drug addiction, even atheism from post modernists, who blamed our benevolent God for the evils around them.       

Preaching today that does not recognize the “kindness of God leading to repentance,” but instead a punitive approach to salvation and righteous living, will continue to see a downward spiral into non-acceptance.  Many are without hope in a supposed Christian nation because the Church has failed to come alongside societal ills with a message of hope. Surely, an outcry that emphasizes relationship over religion must come from within churches everywhere.  We must stem the tide of declining church attendance by modeling transformed lives that soar on the wings of love and acceptance. This is not a compromise, but a mandate for perpetuity. Let’s look beyond the walls.      

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