I read a recent article in The Atlantic which noted that about 40 million Americans, 12 percent of the population, had stopped going to church (or other religious institution) in the past 25 years. This represents the largest concentrated change in church attendance in American history. The authors do note that religious abuse and corruption play a role in lower attendance—people have been hurt in religious community—but a larger share of those who have left religious community have done so because American life in the 21 century does not support participation in religious community. To quote the article, “Contemporary America simply isn’t set up to promote mutuality, care, or common life. Rather, it is designed to maximize individual accomplishment as defined by professional and financial success. Such a system leaves precious little time or energy for forms of community that don’t contribute to one’s own professional life or, as one ages, the professional prospects of one’s children.”
The Atlantic writer, Derek Thompson, coined the term “workism” in 2019—work changing from a means of material production to a means of identity production—work as a kind of religion which supports identity and community. Work can become a guiding principle of our lives and cause us to drop other priorities —congregational attendance being one. But Thompson also believes that work cannot actually take on the role of a faith community. The “workism” culture has left many lonely, anxious, and uncertain about where we fit in society.
How might we push back? How might we build supportive spiritual lives? Yes, we might intentionally take time to come together in religious community, in a traditional religious setting—and also embrace online faith communities, faith-based social justice actions, conversation groups outside the traditional religious services, personal reflection, study time, and sabbath commitment. As Jake Meador writes, “Churches (religious community) could model better, truer sorts of communities, ones in which the hungry are fed, the weak are lifted up, and the proud cast down. Creating an environment where people can ask more of one another, and give more in turn, seems like a wise rule of thumb for any community…”
May our congregation become such a model faith community.
Submitted by Rev. Dr. Natalie Fenimore, Lead Minister and Minister of Lifespan Religious Education