Faith constant while church attendance declines nationally
RELIGIOUS DROPOUTS Church attendance is decreasing, according to national surveys and studies. However, local churches are seeing a steady flow in attendance, with some pastors reporting increases. Photo illustration by Paula Merritt/The Meridian Star
By Ida Brown/The Meridian Star
Dec. 15, 2001
Despite a national survey that shows church attendance on the decline, leaders of congregations in and around the Meridian area have a different take.
A recent study showed an increase in attendance at Briarwood Baptist Church. And the Rev. Elvin Sunds, pastor at St. Patrick Catholic Church, said attendance there has remained "fairly constant."
Yet Meridian churches could be among the minority. A November Gallup poll showed a decrease in church attendance, two months after it swelled because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Area church leaders, though, say that was to be expected. The Rev. Grant McLain, pastor of the York Baptist Church in York, Ala., said people seem to have less of a spiritual focus when they have more luxuries.
Sunds said that church attendance increases in times of a natural disaster and a national or worldwide tragedy.
A survey by Barna Research Group, which studies religion trends, found that weekly Bible reading and prayer were unchanged since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
And a poll in November by the Pew Research Center found that 16 percent of Americans were attending worship services more frequently.
A report in the May-June issue of Christianity Today notes that church attendance in America has remained "quite stable for the last 60 years."
The Gallup poll reported in 1939 that 41 percent of adults attended church weekly, the publication said, while in 1999 Gallup reported 43 percent said that they had attended church in the past week.
Religion sociologist Wade Clark Roof estimated two-thirds of Baby Boomers raised by their parents in a religious tradition dropped out in early adulthood. He said fewer than half returned in middle age.
The Rev. Jamie Lamoreaux, associate pastor of Briarwood Baptist Church, said it's important for parents to set an example of going to church for children to follow.
Church leaders say that "coming together as one" is a necessity to spiritual growth.
McLain said he noted a decline in attendance. At the same time, he said, he has noticed more church involvement among the youth particularly in Southern Baptist circles.
At Lost Gap Independent Protestant Church, the Rev. Jerry Read said he has seen an increase in attendance within the past year.
And Lamoreaux said his church is "probably at a high right now." He said the way to increase attendance is for people to read God's word.
The Associated Press and Scripps Howard New Service contributed to this report.