Grandma’s church is dead

When I was a kid, I would visit my grandmother on the weekends.  She would sometimes take me out for errands and shopping.  I didn’t much care for the errands, but I liked stopping at Burger Chef for lunch.  We always stopped at Burger Chef for lunch.  She always bought meat at the same butcher shop.  “What have you got for me today, Arthur?”  “A very nice pork roast, Ma’am.”  “That sounds nice, I’ll take it.”  She always bought fish at the same fish market, too.  She always bought shoes at the same shoe store.  She always got her hair done at the same hairdresser.  It always seemed to go the same way.  “What have you got…I’ll take it.”  On Sunday, we went to the same church her parents went to.

I think a lot of people in my grandmother’s generation were like that.  They went were they always went.  They got what was available.  I imagine there might have been days when they weren’t completely happy with it, but they still came back every week.

Those days are over.  That world is gone.  That boat sank.  That train has left the station.

When my family goes shopping now, we look at the flyers, check the websites, visit several stores, compare prices and if we aren’t happy with the service, we go somewhere else.  Choosing a church was like that, too.  We chose a church that meets our spiritual needs, respects who we are and helps us be the people and the family we want to be.

A few days before I attended the Faith Formations training in Connecticut, I read a story in USA Today entitled “Survey finds 19% without religious affiliation.”  The author of the article begins “Unbelief is on the uptick.”

The article spoke about the increasing number of Americans who are reporting that they have no religious affiliation.  They are the “Nones.”  Anyone involved in church leadership knows this is true because almost all denominations and churches are experiencing declines in attendance and membership.

The Pew researcher who authored the study offered:

 “Young people are resistant to the authority of institutional religion, older people are turned off by the politicization of religion, and people are simply less into theology than ever before.”

My grandmother’s church is dead.

I don’t believe that “Unbelief is on the uptick.”  I believe that a new spiritual and faith-filled world is rising from the ashes of the old world.  As many as a third of Americans describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious.”  This tells me that people still have faith and hunger for a spiritual life.  Some call us “religious tinkerers.”  I call us “spiritual consumers.”  Spiritual consumers are searching for places to grow spiritually that will meet their needs.  We won’t simply take what is being offered.

Faith organizations that will survive in the new world have to be organized around meeting people’s needs.

If you left your church because they stopped meeting your needs, there is good news.  You don’t have to figure it out on your own.  Churches are getting the message.  Go shopping.

Leave a comment


  1. Thanks for this eye-opener, Barry! I hope we can turn this trend around, as you folks are in Taunton!

    • Thank you for your kinds words. I think the future of churches that focus on serving rather than being served is very bright. The statistics speak to an increase in spiritual people who might be thrilled to join a faith community committed to adding value to people’s lives.

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  • Barry Sanders

    Barry is the Director of Religious Education at First Parish Church. He is also a husband and father of two, a social worker, an avid soccer fan and an aspiring harmonica player.

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