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Despite low ratings, churches will serve

It doesn’t take much to read, hear or see a lot of information about the decline of the church; particularly churches in denominations like ours that has been considered to be part of what used to be called the “mainline church.” 

mike denton

Mike Denton

The demographic and statistical information is, indeed, pretty stark.  Membership is down.  Our financial health is poor.  The average age of our members keeps creeping higher and higher and more youth and young adults are making it clearer and clearer that church is not something they want to be affiliated with. 

According to the most recent Gallup poll, only 47 percent of American’s believe that clergy are honest or ethical, the lowest rating since this poll started in 1977.  The signs are not good.

I have to read this stuff because part of my role is to know it and share it.  We can’t have an honest conversation about what we might do together without knowing more about who we are, how other perceive us, and the times we’re in. 

But there are days…  Reading all of this bad news is hard.  It gets to me particularly in these darker, wet late winter days.  I’d be lying if I said that there weren’t days I wanted to just set all churchiness aside.  I can’t honestly say that there are moments I’m not embarrassed to be affiliated with the church. 


Just knowing the fact that 53 percent of the strangers I walk by on the street consider me—based on my profession alone—to be dishonest and unethical makes me want to curl up in a ball somewhere.

I stay in this work, however, because what I read just doesn’t match up with all of what I see. 

I see churches working hard to feed their neighbors and welcome those some have considered unworthy of welcome. 

I work with engaged youth and young adults who have high expectations and high hopes for their church and their world. 

I sit with churches that are persistently continuing to be community in the midst of towns with less and less people. 

I talk with clergy who are looking for help with discerning what is the right and ethical thing to do in their own ministry and what to do when they realize they’ve made a mistake. 

I have felt the prayers of people who have lifted up both my particular role and me as a person. 

I have seen a deeply-centered, quiet vitality this is hard to describe to those who don’t have the opportunity to experience it. 

Somewhere in all of this is our call to what we most do. 

I don’t think church being church is actually the biggest issue as much as church trying to be something else than its called to be.  We are not a business with a service we’re selling.  We are representatives of God’s unconditional love. 

We are not institutions called to be in power; we’re called to speak a powerful message that will actually be rejected by many. 

We’re not a club that has privileges that come with membership.  We’re called to be communities that figure out how to best serve God and God’s people. 

We’re not called to be popular.  We’re called to speak truth with love even if that means we become unpopular. 

We’re not seeking out professions.  We’re following our calling. 

And, yes, this all will sometimes be manipulated by some and misused by others and, yes, we will need systems to help us do the work. 

We will need to make sure that the systems we create serve our calling instead of our primary task becoming serving the systems, themselves.  This will not be easy work but it may be good work.

And, if we do all these things?  There’s a good chance that the words “decline” and “church” will still be in many sentences together. 

Our finances will still be a challenge.  Youth and young adults probably won’t come rushing back to the church.  But, we will be church. 

We will be church.


February March 2014 © Pacific Northwest United Church of Christ Conference News


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