11 January 2013

The End of Church

Life in Deep Ellum is part of a wave of experimentation around the country by evangelicals to reinvent “church” in an increasingly secular culture, and it comes as the megachurch boom of recent decades, with stadium seating for huge crowds, Jumbotrons and smoke machines, faces strong headwinds. A national decline in church attendance, the struggling economy and the challenges of marketing to millennials have all led to the need for new approaches.
“It’s unsettling for a movement that’s lasted 2,000 years to now find that, ‘Oh, some of the things we always assumed would connect with the community aren’t connecting with everyone in the community in the way they used to,’ ” said Warren Bird, the director of research for the Leadership Network, a firm that tracks church trends.
According to a recent report by the Pew Research Center, the percentage of Americans who are not affiliated with any religion is on the rise, including a third of Americans under 30. Even so, 68 percent of unaffiliated Americans say they believe in God, and 41 percent say they pray at least once a month.
The “spiritual but not religious” category is an important audience that evangelical leaders hope to reach in a culture that many believers call “post-Christian.”

It is obvious that, in this particular instance, the church is clearly shirking its duty to God and true believers alike and thereby bringing about the end of the church, at least in its current incarnation.  However, the end of the church is not the same as the end of religion, for while this particular evangelical church has definitely left Christ, it has not left religion.

Of course, the church is taking a more “secular” tone, but it still aspires to provoke religious feelings in its members/attendants.  Thus, the “post-Christian” world is not a world devoid of religion, but one devoid of the Christian religion.  It will likely eventually bear a more than passing resemblance to paganism.

The important thing to note from this story is that it illustrates man’s apparently ineradicable need to engage in religious activity. This attempt at undermining the Christian faith is only able to work because it offers an alternative religion in Christianity’s stead.  Man must worship something.  If he is not grounded in his religion, he will worship anything.  But worship something he must.


  1. This is really a problem for the liberal Protestant churches, the Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists and Presbyterians. They have degenerated into mere social clubs like the Elks and no longer have a message for people.

    Conservative Protestants like the Southern Baptists are holding their. The Catholic Church seems to have bottomed out and might be rebounding. The Eastern Orthodox churches in the US are actually growing quite rapidly. The same is true of Orthodox Jews, the Conservative and Reform synagogs are in permanent decline.

  2. Readers unfamiliar with Texas may need to be told that Deep Ellum is a hipster neighborhood near downtown, so this church is pitching to a very distinctive market. This being Texas, many of the folks in Deep Ellum were probably churched as children, and will go to church if the message is not too chastening. In a society where the unchurched are somewhat disreputable, pseudo-churches will flourish.

  3. I assume you know the famous quote by Chesterton: “When a Man stops believing in God he doesn’t then believe in nothing, he believes anything.” (Although did he actually say it? See here http://www.chesterton.org/discover-chesterton/frequently-asked-questions/cease-to-worship/ )
    What you wrote also made me think of something I once read by C.S. Lewis. Although I’m not sure of what he exactly said, in essence he was discussing the re-Christianization of England. Lewis made the point that before re-Christianization could occur a sense of sin would have to develop among the population, and before that could occur the English people would have to develop a sense of the moral law. In other words, Lewis felt that the English were not only not Christian, but that they lacked even basic paganism as well (in the ancient and mythological sense). It seems to me that Lewis’ argument applies to the future of America, in which many Americans won’t even have this basic pagan sense (whether it be of the stoic variety that aristocratic members in the South embraced in the past or even the epicurean one which advocates for the prudent embrace of pleasures). It seems to me that the prominent form of “worship” as you put it will be of self, or what is often called moralistic therapeutic deism.

  4. In other words, I'm not sure that an authentic moral paganism would be an altogether bad thing. Unfortunately, with the exception of some intellectuals (in the good sense) and their kin, I don't see America adopting it.