On Sunday morning, the pastor happened to mention one significant reason why he thought that Sunday School classes were empty – they hadn’t changed since the 1950s. Truth be told, I’ve complained more than once of the same thing, I’ve heard enough stories from the history books to know that there was a lot more going on in the 1950s than the Church lets on.
But what exactly were things like prior to the 1950s? Strict rules and regulations, demands of obedience to authority figures, that sort of thing. Why the change in the 1950s? After the Great Depression and the war years, people were finally allowed to breathe a sigh of relief. Circumstance wasn’t only in their favor, but there were thinkers who were giving some serious thought to Christianity. A young Billy Graham was even filling up stadiums full of people to talk about God on public television when the four channels weren’t airing Father Knows best or Leave it to Beaver. There was plenty to go around and plenty of time to thank God for that particular blessing. There was also a social expectation for people to go to church to get their acceptance – blue laws, ones that required that businesses be closed, made it possible for everybody to go there – partially because there was nowhere else to go.
How are things today? We’ve spent the last decade at war, the rationing of the past didn’t happen, but the reality of war didn’t change. We’ve been hit by a major recession, we can’t quite call it the depression yet, but people lost their houses, 401ks were wiped out, and with all of the men and women returning from war, it’s questionable whether or not there will be enough jobs to go around, or anything else for that matter. We do have 24/7 access to Christian teachings via television and the internet, but it’s sort of like the air we breathe – not something you’d notice unless it was polluted. We don’t have any blue laws either because it’s not a social expectation to get our acceptance from going to church. You can’t shame people into showing up anymore, you can’t shame them for not wearing their Sunday Best, and you can’t shame them for being anywhere else and doing anything else on a Sunday.
Sixty five years of doing the same exact thing and not getting the same results should be unequivocal proof that something somewhere needs to change – and unless a time machine can be invented, I don’t think it’s modern people. The problem is convincing the church that it needs to change. The nostalgia of way back when the pews were all full, way back when men wore suits and women wore dresses, way back when they had to add an extra fifteen minutes to the service because people kept on praying and praising God makes them forget about everything about the past that they couldn’t stand. The racism, the sexism, the fear, the hatred, and the worry that it was only a matter of time before the Cold War would turn into an actual war. Let’s face it, the seeds that sprouted into the 1960s civil rights movements fell through the cracks in the 1950s and were planted.
But the church embodies the past in the present. In the process they loose sight of the future. They also lose a great many members of future generations who have no love for this past in which they never existed. And that is why the Sunday School classes, the pews, the prayer sessions, the services are emptying out of younger generations.