Focusing on the Family Causes Church Decline
I read a long book review at Christianity Today. I posted about this before, in regards to a Mefferd radio program where Meffered interviewed an author who wrote a book where the author theorizes church decline is on the increase because Americans are not marrying and having children (see (Link): this post).
Here’s the problem: most conservative Christians bemoan the fact that churches are in decline due to lower marriage and birth rates, and they feel the solution is, that is, the fix, to get more people into church, is that Christians have to tell Christian youth to marry at age 21 and have ten kids apiece. In other words, push marriage even more than they have been doing the past 40 or more years.
Why is this a problem? Because this approach is anti-biblical. ANTI BIBLICAL.
Jesus Christ said spiritual family is to take priority over flesh and blood family. Jesus Christ emphasized that his kingdom is to be increased by believers telling non-believers (non family, people who are not related to them) the Gospel message.
I suspect that Jesus realized that many cultures have the tendency to use biological family as a safety net, which means anyone who lacks a family, that is, any one who never marries, or they marry, but their spouse dies and they are childless, is without a support system.
I’d guess Jesus also realized that some cultures would worship family (i.e., (Link): Chinese and Japanese ancestor worship).
I recently made a post (Link): detailing the problem about Mormons worshipping the nuclear family.
If the contemporary American Christian church treated singles and singlehood with as much devotion and interest as they do nuclear family and the already-married, attendance might go through the roof.
About half the adult American population is currently single. But most singles feel ostracized, ignored, or, if they are noticed, insulted, by preachers and church laity.
When you are insulting or overlooking about half the American population, and turning them away with your attitude (such as, clear preference for marrieds over singles), that should be a huge clue to you that your priorities are out of whack.
Focusing on marriage even more is not the way to get marriage rates to increase ((Link): as I’ve written about before), but more emphasis will actually repel singles from church.
If you want marriages to increase, it means helping an un-married Christian woman meet and date an un-married Christian man – but churches refuse to play this role.
Indeed, churches typically act as impediments to singles who desire marriage.
Such Christians, and even (Link): very annoying pious singles who don’t want marriage, say Christians should not use church as a match-maker capacity, lest it turn church into a “meat market,” as they claim (wrongly!), a church’s only function is “Bible study” and other abstract religious practices.
Still other churches will tell what few singles they do have in attendance that rather than trying to make marriage happen, platitudes are issued to encourage singles to remain single, such as, “be content in your singleness” or, “Jesus is all you need.”
Conservative Christians twist their hands in worry that Christians are not marrying, but when an un-married Christian single mentions her hopes and worries about getting married one day, those very same “woe is me, marriage is not happening among Christians” type of Christians will chide that single for wanting marriage, or for trying to get married!
Such Christians will tell the unhappy single who wants marriage things such as, “You are turning marriage into an idol. Jesus is all you need. Your earthly happiness does not matter, keep eternity in mind instead.”
As a result, the un-married woman feels very ill at ease in most churches, and not very welcomed.
Not only is the single Christian woman shamed by Christians for wanting marriage, or asking church members for help in this area, but with all the constant sermonizing on marriage from the pulpit (i.e., “Today’s sermon: Ten steps to having a great marriage!”), with all the church activities geared towards the already-married (“This Wednesday night: potluck suppers for the family at 6 PM in the church dining area, bring your kids, eat with the family!”), with the negative stereotypes among Christians, such as – all single Christian women are harlots, homosexuals, or losers – single women get tired of all this (as do the single males), so the singles stop attending church.
So all we are left with are already-married people with children in church.
If your goal is to get singles married off, start paying positive attention to the singles – and to singles in their 30s and older, not just the 20 somethings, for the love of God.
If you want marriage to increase among Christians, make singles feel welcome at your church (and treat singleness with respect in Christian culture).
This could entail things such as…
1. -Take active steps to get singles married, such as hosting more singles mixers on church property, or off-property.
2. -Church wide, hold a regular prayer routine where the married Christians ask God to send the singles spouses
3. Stop perpetuating marriage/sex/single stereotypes, such as…
-All single Christian women are horny whores who cannot be left alone with a married man
(it is true that women have sex drives but it is not true that all women will cheat with a married man);
-There’s something “wrong,” “weird” or “flawed” with someone if they’ve not married by age 25 to 35 – 40
-Singles are not as sexually pure or mature or godly as married people
4. Stop with the platitudes that are keeping singles single, such as telling singles,
– “Jesus is all you need”
– “Be content in your singleness”
5. -Publish more blogs, radio shows, and books discussing the struggles singles face; preachers need to do more sermons about singleness, and I don’t mean the ones that contain platitudes as in point 4 above, or the simplistic “sex is for marriage only singles, remember that”
Here are quotes from the article by Jordan Hylden, (Link): Is Family Decline Behind Religious Decline?:
- Only the family factor does the trick [in explaining the decline in church attendance/membership in the USA]. As sociologist Brad Wilcox has shown, about a third of the recent decline in American adult church attendance can be “explained by the fact that fewer adults are now married with children.”
Eberstadt [author] thinks this insight can be extended to much of European history, pointing out for instance that the French birthrate began declining as early as the late 18th century.
The relative buoyancy of the American family, by contrast, likely explains why America has long been more religious than Europe.
It is finally the birth control pill, which in the 1960’s made contraception widespread and detached sex from marriage, that did religion in—as birthrates went down and divorce rates went up, church attendance went into freefall.
Eberstadt offers up some good reasons for why family and faith are connected. The miracle of birth, she argues, gives people a strong push toward the transcendent, and raising children points us toward the self-giving agape love that Christians believe is the heart of God.
The fundamental question—what do we teach our children? —propels people to think about the sources of truth and goodness, and so to God and religious community.
The Rest of the Story
No doubt, there is much truth in such observations. But there is also much to question. Charles Taylor cites a passage from Dostoyevsky, contrasting one man’s wide-eyed wonder at the miracle of a newborn child with the very different reaction of the midwife, who only sees “a further development of the organism.”
The miracle of life was really there, Dostoyevsky meant to say, but there was something about the social imagination of 19th century Russia that made it possible for some people to block it out.
It is this something, what Taylor calls the modern “social imaginary,” that Eberstadt in the end does not adequately account for. Her treatment of the role played by the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and modern science is deeply inadequate, greatly discounting their importance.
She fails even to mention the intellectual roots of these shifts in late-medieval theology, as the theologian John Milbank and others have argued for.
Taylor and Milbank, by contrast, tell a story that goes something like this: Once upon a time, everyone lived in an enchanted world, filled with spirits and magic. In the West, the rise of Judaism and Christianity began to displace the spirits —only the one true God was almighty, and the spirits were either worthless idols or weaklings in the face of the Lord’s power.
Christ, as it were, began to cast out the spirits from the world. But the ancient and medieval church’s sacramentalism kept the world enchanted, only now with the grace of God.
This began to retreat with the Reformation, when God’s presence shifted from the sacraments and the priests to the Word alone. Nothing was enchanted now, except the Word.
This Word marched forth, carrying with it a powerful drive to reform European society after its demands. To a large extent, it succeeded, but at the same time religious conflict unleashed years of bloody war.
Many became skeptical that the Word could really bring about reform, but gained confidence that we could reform the world ourselves. For the first time in history, it became possible to conceive of an “exclusive humanism.”
Secular politics, science, and technology became humanism’s tools, and as time went on these took hold of more and more of human activity and imagination. God became a hypothesis that society had little need for.
Meanwhile, the post-Reformation churches had some success at mobilizing believers, in a new world in which faith was no longer simply part of everyday social life. But the church all too often allied itself with fading political regimes, discrediting it in the eyes of many.
The First World War’s senseless violence shattered for a generation the old Christendom synthesis of church and state, and Europe’s churches have never been the same.
The church held on in America, since the war did not shatter us like it did the Europeans, and because our churches were not in any case allied so tightly with the state.
But the 1960s began to change that, as the civil rights movement and Vietnam began to topple the confidence of many in the American Establishment, and insofar as the “mainline” churches were viewed as part of the status quo.
The American social imagination split in two, and ever since then has been characterized by culture wars, with most of religion on the conservative side.
By not telling this story, Eberstadt has left out the lion’s share of “how the West really lost God.”
No doubt, her “family factor” played its part, and she is at her most convincing when she shows how family decline was part of a broader trend toward modern individualism.
She never claims that family decline is solely responsible, but she claims far too much for it.
It is an odd story of Western secularization that leaves to one side most of what Western culture has thought and imagined in its common life about God. // end of article excerpt
If the only way a church can grow, or remain stable, is by people marrying and having babies, you are “doing church wrong.”
Jesus Christ did not teach that the church would grow via marriage and “baby-making.” Christ taught the direct opposite: believers would share the Gospel the world over with non-believers they were not related to.
If churches followed the teachings of Jesus Christ, their attendance records would be stable or on the increase: by reaching out to everyone and anyone, not ONLY “married with kids” couples!
Jesus instructed Christians to go after the “least of these,” which would include anyone who does not fit the vintage American ideal of normalcy and success: middle class, white, married- with- kids.
Churches ought to go after the widowed, divorced, and the never-married, and the childless and childfree with as much fervor as they seek and cater to “married with children” couples, but too often, churches exclude these groups.
Most churches remain clueless, arrogantly fixated on reaching the already-married with kids, and fringe, highly specific groups, such as homeless crack addicts, starving African orphans, and now, kids caught in sex trafficking.
If you are “Average Joe American Singleton,” most churches don’t give a rat’s ass about you, and it shows. You feel it when you walk into a church. And it is “Average Joe Singleton” that makes up to about half the American population these days but churches remain oblivious or they just don’t care that they are excluding this huge number of this type of people.