The current issue of The Atlantic offers a compelling and challenging dissection of what’s ailing America’s Christians — and it might surprise you.
A few samples below (the full article is behind a pay wall, but you can get a free trail subscription):
A new book, written by Jim Davis, a pastor at an evangelical church in Orlando, and Michael Graham, a writer with the Gospel Coalition, draws on surveys of more than 7,000 Americans by the political scientists Ryan Burge and Paul Djupe, attempting to explain why people have left churches—or “dechurched,” in the book’s lingo—and what, if anything, can be done to get some people to come back. The book raises an intriguing possibility: What if the problem isn’t that churches are asking too much of their members, but that they aren’t asking nearly enough?
The Great Dechurching finds that religious abuse and more general moral corruption in churches have driven people away. This is, of course, an indictment of the failures of many leaders who did not address abuse in their church. But Davis and Graham also find that a much larger share of those who have left church have done so for more banal reasons. The book suggests that the defining problem driving out most people who leave is … just how American life works in the 21st century. Contemporary America simply isn’t set up to promote mutuality, care, or common life. Rather, it is designed to maximize individual accomplishment as defined by professional and financial success. Such a system leaves precious little time or energy for forms of community that don’t contribute to one’s own professional life or, as one ages, the professional prospects of one’s children. Workism reigns in America, and because of it, community in America, religious community included, is a math problem that doesn’t add up…
The book suggests that the defining problem driving out most people who leave is … just how American life works in the 21st century. Contemporary America simply isn’t set up to promote mutuality, care, or common life.
… The problem in front of us is not that we have a healthy, sustainable society that doesn’t have room for church. The problem is that many Americans have adopted a way of life that has left us lonely, anxious, and uncertain of how to live in community with other people.
The tragedy of American churches is that they have been so caught up in this same world that we now find they have nothing to offer these suffering people that can’t be more easily found somewhere else. American churches have too often been content to function as a kind of vaguely spiritual NGO, an organization of detached individuals who meet together for religious services that inspire them, provide practical life advice, or offer positive emotional experiences. Too often it has not been a community that through its preaching and living bears witness to another way to live.
There’s a lot to digest here. If you can, pick up the magazine or get the free trial subscription; you can also read it through Apple News.