Monday, November 17, 2014

Why is the church in decline? Ask the middle class.

Fascinating article:
In America, church has always been a free market commodity primarily oriented toward the middle class. In class conflicts, the church has generally sided with management. Church congregants have not been working poor, but rather business owners and managers. Even the noble response of the initial social justice movement of a century ago was bourgeois. Its purpose was not to find solidarity with the poor, but to lend a hand to the poor to hoist them into the middle class 
....the long decay of the church over the past generation coincides perfectly with the long decay of the middle class. 
Even more haunting is Charles Murray’s Coming Apart. Murray explains that for the past several decades, church participation within the middle class has hardly changed, but it has disappeared almost entirely within the working class. His observation is easily confirmed by attending worship services. The working class is poorly represented in our congregations; people in lower classes have little means to support a congregation with time, talent, or treasure, and they perceive little value in the institution. 
Christians around the country are wondering why churches are in decline. The reason is not Darwin or Marx, science or atheism, culture wars, or competition. It’s economics. As goes the middle class, so goes the church.


JCF said...

I've seen this article, and pushback to it.

My gut reaction was to seeing Charles Murray cited, WITHOUT acknowledging he's an unrepentant racist. >:-/

Robin Garr said...

Concur. Approach Mr Murray only with deep skepticism.

James Pratt said...

I had lunch with Charles Murray about 25 years ago (shortly after his controversial book The Bell Curve). I was skeptical of his theories then, even more so now. In short, his world view is a 1950s, Leave it to Beaver suburban society.

The whole article suffers from this same narrow vision. The author is talking about white mainline quasi-establishment protestantism, which is not so much about faith as it is about good social order. In Murray's view, having the working classes in these churches means that some of the middle class values and mores will rub off on them, to create a better society.

But the lower classes have not abandoned the church. Pentecostal, black Baptist and other denominations that have historically drawn their membership from the poor and working classes are still going strong. In my own diocese, our two largest parishes are both immigrant parishes; other parishes are strong because they have embraced social, economic and racial diversity.