By Abbey Robuck
The Church is no stranger to challenges. In our long and rich history, we have experienced everything from persecution to adoration. However, in recent years, the American Church has had to face a new foe: irrelevance. The General Social Survey (GSS) found that the number of Americans who identify as non-religious (23.1%) is close to the number of those who identify as Catholic (23%) or Evangelical (22.5%) (Sparks 2019). But why is this occurring? While this issue has many facets, one main and very concerning reason is the epidemic of division within the Church. From squabbles between members to denominational disputes, our divisive behaviors not only negatively affect us, the Church, but how we interact with the secular world as well.
Even though division is a growing problem, it is nothing new for the Church. Paul speaks to this issue in 1 Corinthians, where he urges that “all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10b, ESV). He sees that there is division among them and asks them, “is Christ divided?” (1 Corinthians 1:13a), foreshadowing his instructions in chapter 12, where it says that the Church “…is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:12b). So, to emulate Christ, we as the Church must remain united in our goal to bring the light of Jesus to the world.
Unfortunately, this goal has become considerably more difficult for the Church in America to attain. We have ignored the Bible’s teachings and have let our differences become greater than our identity as one body. We argue about everything from church doctrine to “what type of green beans the church should serve” (Rainer 2015). And already the Church is seeing the consequences for this behavior. According to the 2006 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, there are currently over 200 Protestant denominations in the U.S. and Canada and countless other churches that consider themselves to be non-denominational (Sparks 2019). No longer are we one body, brought together through our love of Christ. Rather, we are now hundreds of small Churches, many of whom are unwilling to look past doctrinal disagreements that, while important, should serve to create open dialogue, not breed feelings of anger and resentment.
The consequences of our division not only affect us, the Church, but also those we are trying to serve. Already we can see the negative effects of our divisive behaviors. When Pew Research Center asked non-religious individuals to explain why they were “unaffiliated,” responses ranged from “too many Christians doing un-Christian things” to “I see organized religious groups as more divisive than uniting” (Lipka 2016). Another survey asked people between the ages of twenty-three and thirty why they stopped attending church and found that a common response was hypocritical/judgmental church members (Earls 2019). Clearly, our actions are beginning to catch up to us. Our divisive tendencies have caused more and more of America to turn away from what could help it the most: the kind of love and peace that only Jesus can bring. We have disobeyed God’s instructions and are paying the price for it.
However, there is still hope. We as Christians must put aside our differences and come together as one body. This could be accomplished by anything from open conversations between people of different denominations to partnering with another church to volunteer in the community. A Baptist church in Georgia exemplified this perfectly when, after massive storms swept the state, they opened their building to a local Methodist congregation whose church had been damaged. The two churches then worked in their community to rebuild homes that were destroyed (Parker 2019). Too often let our theological differences take precedence over broader issues in our communities, instead of working together like the churches in Georgia did. Rather than letting our human tendency toward division define us, let us instead come together and be an example for America to follow by building our fellow Christians up, helping those in need, and growing our communities. By doing these things, we can begin to mend the damage that our division has done to the Church in the United States of America.
Earls, Aaron. 2019. “Most Teenagers Drop Out of Church as Young Adults.” LifeWay Research. January 16, 2019. https://lifewayresearch.com/2019/01/15/most-teenagers-drop-out-of-church-as-young-adults/.
Lipka, Michael. 2016. “Why Some Americans Left Religion Behind.” Pew Research Center. August 24, 2016. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/08/24/why-americas-nones-left-religion-behind/.
Parker, Marilyn. 2019. “Churches, Volunteers Work to Restore Damaged Homes in Miller County.” https://www.walb.com. October 10, 2019. https://www.walb.com/2019/10/10/churches-volunteers-work-restore-damaged-homes-miller-county/.
Sparks, Hannah. 2019. “Christianity Is Losing Ground in the US, New Survey Says.” New York Post. April 3, 2019. https://nypost.com/2019/04/03/christianity-is-losing-ground-in-the-us-new-survey-says/