I’ve written a number of blogs on the trends in society that are impacting Sunday morning attendance, and comparing them to the trends we’re seeing in the retail sector as well as some that are critical of the “business as usual” model I see in a lot of organizations that “do” Sunday mornings. The reasons for the empty seats and lacking offering plates are many and varied, and they are likely somewhat different depending on the organizations.
On Patheos, I recently read a great article about the 10 Reasons People are Walking Away from Church. As a long-time church organist, I have interest and insight into this corner of the religious world, and found the article interesting from that perspective. It also has a LOT of applicability to the spiritual-not-religious world, where the same struggles are hitting the bottom lines.
The reasons this author gave resonate across the religious/spiritual spectrum. Here are my edits on his list, as I see them applied to organized metaphysical churches and centers.
Not feeling a “fit”
In the original article, this reason was listed as “Not Feeling Welcome“, and I can say honestly that in the multiple centers I have visited across the nation, feeling welcome was NEVER an issue. In observing others who came in as new to these organizations, I would argue that it’s more often an issue of not seeing the organization as a comfortable “fit” for them. Absent a divine mandate, people either feel that they’d like to spend more time with the group they meet, or not. When they fail to return, we can assume that “fit” wasn’t there.
This is in no way limited to Christian circles, but it may show up somewhat different in the spiritual-not-religious corner.
The biggest issue I have seen in metaphysical centers in this regard is that they promote themselves as having the answer to many of life’s problems, but many of the teachers aren’t able to demonstrate that THEY can use the principles.
People come, and if they resonate with the group, they’ll stay and (hopefully!) learn some things. The problem begins when the leadership wants more dedication, more tithes and gifts in the offering plate, but cannot walk and talk the principles they want paid to teach to others. After a while, people see through this, and they take what they’ve learned and they leave.
God Didn’t Deliver
I have disagreed with many in leadership roles in a large metaphysical organization who push local centers and churches to offer prosperity classes to get new members.
This is a very dangerous proposition. Spiritual prosperity works, but it isn’t a vending machine. Unless seekers show up willing and ABLE to learn the larger lessons; they’re not going to benefit and soon will feel frustrated, and many will walk away. They may not say “God Didn’t Deliver” but they will say “that prosperity stuff didn’t work for me“. And when that’s the ONLY reason they showed up; they’re done.
Life is Going Well
Here’s one that metaphysical centers and churches share one-to-one with other churches. Once people learn how to use the principles of spiritual living, there are diminishing returns to attending a service every Sunday. This becomes more challenging on a logarithmic scale when the people teaching “how to use it” aren’t able to demonstrate their own competence in using the principles. The bottom drops out of the value proposition in this case and people vote with their feet.
People’s Lives are Busier than Ever
I’ve written about this ad nauseum. Dual careers, kids’ activities requiring transport all over town on evenings and weekends, and many people working more than 1 job just to pay the bills: the return on investment for running one more place on what may be the ONLY day of the week when there are no external demands, is negligible.
The Problem of Consciousness
In the original article, this was listed as the problem of “evil“. Instead of evil, in metaphysics we have “shaming”. While I am happy to see that the “shaming” that was prevalent in earlier decades is being called out at the highest levels; there are still some people (practitioners, long-term members, and ministers) who believe that EVERYTHING is consciousness. This translates into people being questioned when things go wrong in their lives, as if they weren’t “conscious” enough to keep it away.
Yes, right-thinking and a positive attitude are helpful – but we’re impacted by the world around us and must understand that, as Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote in a book by the same name; bad things do happen to good (conscious! enlightened! evolved!) people. No one wants o belong to a group that judges their worthiness at the time when they most need non-judgment and support.
Hurt by the Church
This reason is likely universal, and shared across these disparate movements. It doesn’t require much explanation, but it is a sad fact of human interaction.
I think this is the combination of the reasons “God Didn’t Deliver” and “The Problem of Consciousness“. People seek out a spiritual or religious community for support, truth, uplifting practices that help make their lives easier – not harder. When that isn’t happening, people leave.
Whether this is categorized as a false teaching or as something that didn’t work as advertised – the result is the same.
No Longer Relevant
Prior to the advent of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media platforms; the metaphysical church or center and the library were the only places people could learn how to change their thinking and change their lives. Today, that is no longer the case.
Thanks to technology, and some most-worthy teachers (Deepak Chopra, Louise Hay, Wayne Dyer to name 3 big ones); this information is literally everywhere.
We can listen to an audio-book while working out; watch a YouTube video on a break; read endless blogs about “how to use it” and never once have to set foot in a church or center. We can, in essence, incorporate the teachings and practice into our lives without the help of someone who wants or needs us to put money into a basket every Sunday.
I take no pleasure in reporting this news, but I am frustrated with those who are angry at me because I am pointing at the emperor and telling the truth: s/he has no clothes on.
Many have written about this trend, including this article about the shrinking middle class and its impact on middle class churches, and this article on empty pews.
The answer, if there is one, is NOT to continue to do things “the way we’ve always done it“, but to look deeply and honestly at what we are offering: what people want (and don’t want); what’s working and what isn’t – and then make honest, data-driven decisions that serve everyone.
Loud prayers with hands over the offering plate aren’t going to move the needle. Smart leadership can, and will – if people are willing to make hard decisions that serve the interests of the many, instead of the few.
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