During the Great Depression, church attendance surged as Americans turned to faith in difficult days.
The New York Times recently reported that worship attendance is surging as a result of the economic downturn.
Yesterday, however, Gallup reported a different conclusion based on their research:
Despite some news reports to the contrary, a review of almost 300,000 interviews conducted by Gallup so far in 2008 shows no evidence that church attendance in America has been increasing late this year as a result of bad economic times. In September, October, November, and so far in December, about 42% of Americans reported that they attended church weekly or almost every week, exactly the same as the percentage who reported attending earlier in the year.
Here at Hayward Wesleyan, our worship attendance has declined 5% from last year. We are seeing two things:
1) The econmic struggle has been a catalyst for some new people to come, and some absentees to return. They are seeking a spiritual center and turning to God for help and strength.
2) At the same time, several "fringe" people are choosing to stay home. Many drive several miles to attend church, and when the purse is tightened, they have to choose their activities with more discretion. (Actually, I shouldn't say the people are fringe. Instead, the church is fringe to them.)
Those who view church attendance as a "fringe activity" will let it go when they are forced to make hard choices based on the pocketbook. For instance, they will be sure to get their son to hockey practice, but attending worship services is optional.
Generally speaking, the committed folks who consider church attendance to be central and foundational, will continue attending church regularly, regardless of what happens with the economy.
One other thought: Now, more than ever -- the church needs to go to the people, rather than waiting for the people to come to the church. For instance, we are providing Christmas gifts for 150 children in our community who wouldn't have anything otherwise. Also, we're hosting a free Christmas Dinner for anybody who wants to come.
Still, I'm hoping we can get our absentees back to church. Sunday mornings have been awesome lately -- better than ever, and I feel bad that they're missing out.