All around me are churches that are nearly empty on Sunday mornings. The church where I have been preaching has four members who still come to Sunday morning worship. In the vicinity are many other churches whose attendance has steadily declined. Churches that once had 250 or more in attendance now see 35 or 40. Yet the population has not decreased, it has increased.
You can blame any of a number of factors – television; more activities on Sundays such as shopping and sports; the breakdown in traditional families; demographic changes; more people are working on Sundays. The sad fact is that church attendance has steadily declined in importance. It is steadily losing priority to more and more other claims on people’s time.
The churches have responded in various ways. Some have tried to make worship more attractive with colored lights, upbeat music, drama, and shorter sermons. Others have focused on community outreach in various forms – feeding the homeless, clothes closets, food pantries, community activism. Church services have become more and more about being happy in this life and less and less about pleasing God and looking forward to eternal life with Him.
Churches advertise in a variety of ways in the newspapers, on social media, with outdoor signs and billboards, on the radio and television. What the churches have failed to do so far is to give people in their ads a compelling reason why they should come to church. In the early days of the church the message that Jesus Christ rose from the dead drew people of every nation to hear this good news proclaimed.
That is still the Gospel the churches have to proclaim. Why isn’t it a compelling reason for people today to come to church? Why is living for the here and now so important that people do not consider what will happen to them when they die? Is their working assumption that everyone who dies goes to heaven or else everyone who dies ceases to be?
If there is no everlasting punishment, then there is no compelling reason to go to church to find out how to escape it. Worse than that, if there is no belief in everlasting punishment, there is no effective deterrent to violence or terrorism or any other sin. The decline in church attendance should be a flashing red light warning of disaster ahead for civilization.