Fairbanks is never more segregated or divided than on Sunday morning. There are over 30 different Christian denominations in Fairbanks with various churches within each denomination. You can find everything from liturgical traditional services to contemporary high production worship sets. With such diversity among the churches, one would think anyone could find a church that best fits their passions and preferences, but the fact of the matter is that most people do not attend church at all. Sunday morning is compartmentalized into races, doctrinal persuasions, personalities and traditions. Some of these traditions vary from shining your black dress shoes to waking up at noon hung over from the night before.
The Pew Research Center and Gallup polls have found about 38% of Americans attend a weekly church service, but these numbers are declining. Right now, the fastest growing religion in the US is Wicca (a form of pagan witchcraft where participants worship various deities and nature). Unofficially, it appears that, in Fairbanks, 38% of people attending a weekly church service is quite generous.
What has caused such a division in the church and why are people leaving it? I think there are a few primary reasons: One is that people have stopped believing what the church is saying. The church says, “Love people! Take care of the poor! Believe the Bible! God’s love brings peace and joy and forgiveness!” but when you stop listening and start looking at what the church has become, it leaves you wanting. Rightly so: the world responds with, “Stop telling me and show me! If God was so good and loving, why don’t you so-called Christians live like it?” It has been said, “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians ... who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the (church) door and deny him with their lifestyles. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”
I am not wagging my finger at anyone but myself. I am a pastor within this broken system, so if anyone is to be held more accountable for this misdirection, it is the pastors and church leaders. Also, this short article is not an exhaustive account of activities of the Christian church. There are a lot of very good things happening within our community that are led and invested in by the church. I am attempting to empathize with the person who has given up on church or recognizes the issues that plague it.
I believe there is a solution to this dilemma, and it is already active, albeit in its infant stages. Christian men and women are strong. We are fighters. We believe in and feel very strongly toward our convictions. The problem is we are fighting: 1) the wrong enemy, and 2) for the wrong things. Therefore, our strength and efforts are being wasted. We are so busy fighting over minor issues and personal preferences that we have been distracted and lost sight of what really matters. I would like to propose that what really matters is the simple good news of Jesus Christ for forgiveness of sins.
We can disagree in love toward minor beliefs about worship style, music, church attire, baptism, or whether we allow coffee in the sanctuary, but when it comes to church unity, I feel these things need to take a back seat. When the Gospel of Jesus is not on the primary purpose of the church, it loses. It loses its identity, its unity, its strength, therefore the church loses people. I desire to see every Christian church in Fairbanks, no matter the denomination, to make sure the Gospel message of Jesus is at the center and focal point of their ministry.
If the churches stop shaming people into the “right behavior” and start telling them about the amazing grace and freedom that comes through forgiveness in Jesus, I believe people will return to the church — but it starts with the church putting down their personal preference swords and picking up their Bibles.
Rodney May is the pastor of Shannon Park Baptist Church. Insight is sponsored by the Tanana Valley Christian Conference.