There can be little argument church attendance is down in America. The Religious News Service says church attendance has been in decline for sixty years. The decade of the 1950’s had the most people attending church in America. See Religious New Service Graph.
There are several reasons given to why fewer people attend church today than in the past. Some people believe church attendance is in decline because of cultural shift. Our nation has certainly seemed to move away from the Christian principles that were in place when she was founded. Our country’s population prefers to seek pleasure for themselves rather than to please God. Some feel church attendance is down because churches have exchanged teaching the deep truths of God’s Word for frivolous activities and thus the church has become non-essential to young people. I often wonder how we know what other churches are doing when we make such condemning statements. I have argued for years that church attendance is not down as much as we think. The way we report attendance is terribly flawed. As Southern Baptists we share with our convention our church’s average attendance for Sundays. The average attendance is not the total number of people attending regularly. Consider a church that has 200 different people that attend 3 out of 4 Sundays. 75% attendance is pretty good. This imaginary church with 200 different people attending 75% of the time would only average 175 in attendance.When we read the average attendance of a church we have to understand that figure does not represent the total number of people attending that church.
Through my reading I have discovered one of the main reasons there are fewer people in church today and it is surprising. Church attendance is declining because of our low birthrate. Dr. James Dobson, of Focus on the Family, recently wrote, “For the first time in history, fewer American babies are being born while the senior citizens are growing.” Here are the numbers on our birthrate in America. In 1920 the birthrate for every 1000 women was 63.2. So in 1920 for every 1000 women of childbearing age 63 had a child. That figure grew during the baby boomer years to a high in 1957 of a birthrate of 122.7. So in 1957 for every 1000 women of childbearing age 123 had a child. I have seen current figures that state our current birthrate is from 61-63 per 1000 women. Our birthrate in America is woefully low. I will not state the reasons why I believe this is happening but just report it is happening.
Marv Knox, editor of The Baptist Standard, reports the average woman has to give birth to 2.1 children in order for a society to remain demographically stable. If births fall below that mark a society will age. A shortage of younger people in the work force certainly means smaller work age population and a shortage for Social Security and Medicare. The U. S. fertility rate is 1.88. If our birthrate remains as it is our nation could be facing a demographic nightmare.
How does this relate to the church? The lower the birthrate a nation has the more secular it becomes. The birthrate in Italy has plummeted – 1.41 births per woman. Italy is the home of the Roman Catholic Church. As this birthrate has plummeted Italy has become increasingly secular. Knox points out that the African nations’ birthrates have remained high. Uganda’s birth rate is 6.05. Africa has increasingly become a Christian continent and is projected to be the seat of Christianity by 2050.
Surprisingly the percentage of Americans attending churches while dropping some has not changed drastically over the decades. This Gallop poll shows that through the decades Americans have generally had between 40-45% of its population attending church regularly with the decade of the 50’s having the highest percentage. Gallop poll It is a logical argument there are fewer people in church today because we are having a hard time winning our children AND we do not have as many children to win. I want to scream loudly that a person is free to reproduce at the rate they choose. This issue is between husband/wife and God. However, I ask you to consider the first commandment God gave man. Genesis 1:28 God told Adam to be fruitful and multiply. Multiply means increase in number. Fruitful is not shear numbers but when a harvest is fruitful it has an aspect of quality about it. There are at least six Biblical reasons given for sex within marriage: 1) procreation, 2) companionship, 3) unity – two become one flesh, 4) pleasure – see Ecc. 9:9, 5) raising up a Godly seed, 6) curbing fornication and adultery. One purpose for God’s people having children is to raise up a Godly seed. Some Americans have foregone having children for the purpose of obtaining certain goals in life. No one can say this is sinful. However, it is one reason why there are fewer people in church today. I pray that the church in America will fall in love again with the Biblical concept of family.