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Where are the faithful?: Major church membership decline

"It's alarming and disheartening"
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Posted at 6:23 PM, Mar 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-30 18:23:42-04

New research from Gallup finds a major decline in church membership. The report says it is at an “all-time low” in the nation.

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Outside St. Paul’s Cathedral, Buffalo.

“At face value it's alarming and disheartening,” stated Derrick Fetz, dean, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Buffalo.

The record low membership number of 47-percent is down from 50-percent in 2018 and down considerably from 70-percent in 1999.

Gallup researchers say fewer Americans are choosing to align themselves with a particular church or religion, some say they don't believe in church teachings, others say they don't believe God.

Derrick Fetz, dean, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Buffalo.

“What would you tell somebody who walked in right now and said I don't believe in God,” Buckley asked.

"I would invite them to discuss why and I would simply listen at first and then if it seemed applicable and appropriate — I would respond — why I do believe in God,” replied Dean Fetz. “Where the disconnect is, that organized religion, the church, Christianity or Judaism or Islam, — I think sometimes there is a disconnect in terms of listening to people and in terms of what they need.”

But despite the decline in church membership, church leaders say it is a chance for them to entice more people back to the pews.

Derrick Fetz, dean, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Buffalo.

“How do we respond to the needs of society today? We have to do our homework. We have to humble ourselves. We have to listen to what people actually need because I think there is a hunger for meaning and purpose,” replied Dean Fetz.

“We need to find ways to engage with people in different ways, but, of course, I think nothing can replace community and coming to church,” stated Father Christos Christakis, Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Buffalo.

Father Christos Christaski, Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Buffalo.

Father Christakis says the decline in church membership is challenging, but you can not force people to follow God or religion.

“And I think the challenge we have as people of faith is to really reach out and until I find some misunderstandings,” Father Christakis explained

The Gallup research shows church membership is also linked to age:

  • Born before 1946 - 66%
  • Baby boomers - 58%
  • Generation X - 50%
  • Millennials - 36%

In the Greek Orthodox Church, it's about family tradition.

Inside Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Buffalo.

“We are really connected over many generations and we have a very strong sense of identity and faith and continuation of the faith,” Father Christakis remarked.

At St. Paul’s not all church goers are members, but attend regularly.

"We have a number of people who aren't officially Episcopalian. We have a lot of people who we can't actually officially say they are members, but they are affiliated and they are active and they are doing God's work in powerful ways,” Dean Fetz said.

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Inside St. Paul’s Cathedral, Buffalo.

Church leaders say their goal is to keep people connected, and help lead them in life, and faith.

“Every 500 years Christianity goes through a major change and the last time that happened was the great Protestant Reformation — 500 years ago and we're at that point now, so I tell people you get to be reformers now,” Dean Fetz declared.

“I think the message of the church and of the faith will always be relevant,” Father Christakis reflected. “I’m very optimistic that my church and churches in general will be able to respond to this change and maybe with new ways — innovated ways we can reach out.”

Father Christakis noted that the pandemic has “broken the sense” of church community, but modern-day digital technology allowed churches to bring services virtually, a chance to expand worship to those who don't attend services in person.