Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Is this why our churches are so empty ?

Post by Graham

I read a survey in a newspaper recently which had as its theme the falling attendances at church over the years.One of the explanations given was the greater life expectancy for us all these days. The article went on to say that those in the first flush of youth and even those in their fifties and sixties were loath to attend church until such time that they felt perhaps that their end was in sight and it was time to make peace with their God. Such people were clearly concerned about the after-life and missing out on the glories in heaven. It was for this reason it was pointed out that most churches these days are frequented by the grey-haired brigade and that, unless a church was particularly lively and geared towards the younger generation, it would find few younger members in its ranks.

As a Unitarian and as someone over seventy myself I found this all very suprising. I was raised as a Baptist, was a regular churchgoer until my early twenties, lapsed, in spite of always retaining an interest in religious and spiritual matters, and then, to my delight, came upon Unitarianism about four and a half years ago. Since then I have been a regular attendee at my local Unitarian church and can honestly say that the thought of heaven has never once crossed my mind. In fact, it has been so liberating to find many aspects to religion other than this personal relationship with Jesus that will redeem me from sin and send me on my way to the `Pearly Gates`. I realise that religion is indeed a personal matter, but that it should be concentrated on the individual alone and not on society, or the world at large, I find perplexing and worrying.

It is inevitable that as one gets older one`s thoughts turn towards the end of one`s earthly existence but, if it is the worry about heaven and hell that is the sole thought that motivates a person to lead a good life, then I feel there is no real substance to that person`s religion. Thank God, then , for Unitarianism, which has opened up for me a broader spectrum of religion and spirituality which embraces not just me but the whole of humankind !


  1. An interesting line of thought Graham. Your last paragraph was intriguing.

    Out of curiosity I might just show up at New Meeting one Sunday, when next in the Kidderminster area.

  2. I don't think that a longer life span is to blame. In some ways, yes, life in modern times is easier and we've become a more secular and rational society - or, at least, we'd like to think so. In other ways, we've become a more insular and individualised society. We live a more fast-paced life, leaving little time for extra-curricular activities. We have lost the sense of community, as children move away from home and lose touch with old friends. A lot of us aren't brought up in a church-going family, making churches strange, and sometimes disturbing, places. Younger people don't feel the weight of tradition for tradition's sake. If institutions such as churches are to survive, they have to explain why they are there and make a case for survival.

    The evangelistic movement has done this. They have made themselves relevent to younger people and given them a message they can follow - at least, some of them. They make promises, in my mind false ones.

    Unitarianism is dying, in my opinion, because we don't (or won't) evangelise enough. We are unknown to the wider community. I feel that we need to let people know we exist and what we stand for. I feel that we need to tell people why we are here. For that, we need a clear message. Are we still a Christian church? I would certainly class myself as a Unitarian Christian, but how many of us are there?

    There are a lot of people out there who have a vague belief in God and call themselves CofE as a result, because that is what they know. Some out there believe something, just not necessarily what the doctrinal Christian churches preach. How many of these people would come to think of themselves as Unitarians if they only knew that our faith existed?

  3. I would have to agree that survey conclusions tell a very limited story. I have heard of surveys that report the majority of those who attend church, even within denominations that include an afterlife in their creeds, do not actually believe in life after death. I suspect the presumption that church attendees were only there because of worries concerning a possible after life originates from a non religious or a non church going observer. In my experience most people attend church to find expression for their own spiritual or religious beliefs; that a belief in an ‘afterlife’ (free from hell) is a bonus for those who hold to it. I suspect most of the convictions that are held inform us on appropriate ways of living now and how to make sense of life on earth.

    Judging from the popularity of, TV programs that are based on afterlife experiences, studio mediums, the belief in angels, sell out theatres for the likes of Derik Akorah and Colin Fry, and a buoyant book culture on all things spooky; far more people hold a belief in life after death outside of conventional religion than do inside.This phenomenon covers all ages. But even within Spiritualist Churches where a living spirit is core, the emphasis is on getting the most from life now, and on the love that is available to us here as we tread our path. That no matter how good it may be to be close to God when we make our transition, the greatest gift of all is the privilege of physical life. No one (for them) is dammed.

    Damnation is the real crux for the fundamentalist, (a group that also span the generations) not that we are going to shed our mortal body, but that when we do that if we have not chosen the right version of the ‘Truth’ we all go to hell.

    Considering that most denominations consider that they are the fortunate ones who have got it right, and by definition everyone else is woefully wrong, going to any church to ensure paradise seems a bit of a lottery however sincere your beliefs, however old you are. I think the older generation go to church because they know of no other way of consolidating a lifetimes of experience that tells them there is more to life than just the chore of survival. That there is a joy in life, an upliftment in life, and a love in life which needs to be celebrated, to be properly appreciated. That we have a spiritual nature that needs nourishing as much as our bodies do.