Am I the only one noticing a bad trend or three in the American local church writ large? I doubt it. There's been much in the press and blogosphere about it of late. For instance, I'm not sure if registration is required, but it may be for this NYT article talking about the latest example of churches straying from their primary mission. Somewhere in the discussion about how many churches decided that honoring Darwinism was more important than preaching the Gospel, the story notes the decline in attendance of mainline churches and growth in conservative churches. The reason? I'll be getting to that in a second.
John at Blogotional touches on another place the church is, IMO, getting outside its core competency. Teaching stewardship is a wonderful thing, and an appropriate one. Entering the political debate on global warming, though, is not. In fact, I think John nails it with this quote: "This just is not stuff the church is supposed to be about - Christians yes, the church no."
This is the difference, I think, most at the root of why some churches are losing members while others are gaining. Too many churches are straying from the actual, God given responsibilities of the church and trying to make PC political hay instead of preaching the Gospel. This is on top of the problem of the impact of unorthodox teaching, which is also having an impact. When the church starts playing politics, or promoting science above revelation, or teaching things that are antithetical to what the Bible actually says, people leave. The converse seems to be true. When churches preach the Gospel and practice loving service, people are drawn in. Certainty has more appeal than doubt, and truth has more appeal than niceties. The church needs to get out of the business of trying to placate political constituencies. And don't get me started on the problems inherent in using the pulpit to advocate for political candidates - a problem that happens across the theological spectrum.
A parallel issue is being talked about by Ed and others* regarding the dropping of church altogether. It appears that many people are leaving the church to focus on their own personal relationship, because the church isn't quite meeting their needs. Instead of trying to fix the problems, people are leaving. Um, bad idea. Quitting church isn't the answer. When the Bible addresses bad theology, the direction is to correct the heresy, or kick out those teaching it. It never advocates leaving the church because you don't think it's theologically correct enough for you.
The church is driving people away when it starts trying to be all things to each person instead of trying to be the church. It attracts people when it focuses on its calling. It abjectly fails when reaching outside its expertise to discuss things irrelevant to the Gospel. And it fails too when people with God-given gifts remove themselves from the church instead of trying to fix the problems they see.
Let's stop the folly of Darwin Sunday and get back to teaching the Gospel and living like Christ to the extent we sinners can (which is quite a bit if we allow Him to change us! Amazing!) In that way we attract more people - no, in that way God attracts more people to Himself through us.
*(Jollyblogger also talks about the book by Barna referenced by Ed. Christianity Today touches on the subject too.)