Monday, September 21, 2015

Don Aines Hagerstown Herald-Mail: Numbers going to church steady, but churches seek more

Don Aines Hagerstown Herald-Mail: Numbers going to church steady, but churches seek more

Don Aines Hagerstown Herald-Mail Saturday, September 19, 2015 8:30 pm

It might seem as though America is a less religious nation than in years past, but the numbers have remained remarkably steady over the decades. About four in 10 Americans report attending church weekly, a figure that's changed little from year to year, according to a Gallup poll conducted in 2012.

On the occasion of Pope Francis' upcoming visit to the United States, The Herald-Mail spoke to local clergy and religious leaders about the state of religion in Washington County and found them working to build their congregations amid generational shifts in how people relate to religious institutions.

Washington County is about as religious as the rest of the country, according to a 2010 profile the Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA), which found about 38 percent of county residents said they attended religious services regularly.

Faith in the future

The Rev. Sarah Dorrance, pastor of Middletown United Methodist Church in Middeltown, Md., noted 20 percent of Americans and 30 percent of people under 30 are "none," or people with no religious or denominational affiliation.

"Those numbers are growing by 20 percent year after year," she said.

Following that trajectory, it will not be too far into the future when America is like Europe, a continent where about 5 percent of the people still regularly attend church, she said.

"I have a heart for Millennials," Dorrance said of this generation of young adults, adding that they are the generation "most absent from all of our churches."

Like Metzner, she said churches have to ask the question, "How can we serve you?" to bring people into the faith life and into church.

"Worship is not necessarily the first point of entry," Dorrance said.

Churches like hers try to build "on-ramps," ways to get people involved in church. Many young people are interested in serving their communities, and churches working alongside them can be one of those on-ramps, she said.

If churches reach out with excitement, rather than despair, they can bring people closer to God, she said.

"The message is still the same, the way the message is delivered does change," Dorrance said. "Jesus is still as relevant in our lives as he was 2,000 years ago."

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