There is an ongoing silent migration away from the church of an estimated 3,500 individuals each and every day. A 2014 study indicated that over 1.2 million people will leave the church in the next year. Several factors are contributing to this trend, but the majority of individuals who are leaving the church report that they no longer feel connected. Can this be reversed? Can the church connect with these people before it is too late?
This movement away from the church has been ongoing for several decades. The number of churches that are closing their doors every year is leading to an overall decline in church attendance. In 2015, it is estimated that over 10,000 churches will close their doors.
When asked about the importance of church in their lives, 80% of 14-33 year olds reported that church was 'not important' to them. Millennials, as they are often called, have very different preferences of what church should look like compared to their parents. Millennials prefer worship spaces that are quiet and decorated in a classic style. They prefer casual dress and a sense of community over privacy. Clint Jenkin with the Barna Group says, "Millennials don't look for a church facility that caters to the whims of pop culture. They want a community that calls them to deeper meaning." In short, churches do not need to create ultra modern worship spaces to connect with young people, but rather create an environment that engages and inspires.
Diocese of Trenton plans sweeping parish mergers, restructuring
January 2017 article in NJ.com
17 catholic parishes will be merged to create 8 new parishes, reducing the total number of parishes to 98 from 107 by 2020. Another The reorganization is the culmination of a planning process that began almost 18 months ago.
Trenton, which covers Burlington, Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean counties, suffers from the same demographic and other trends that have plagued dioceses across the country for years. Among them are fewer priests as retirements outpace ordinations, fewer Catholics attending Mass or receiving the sacraments, changing populations and shrinking finances.
Only about 18 percent of the diocese's estimated 673,500 to 774,000 Catholics regularly attended Sunday Mass, according to annual parish reports. Diocese spokeswoman Rayanne Bennett says the diocese wants to avoid having small, inactive parishes. "We can do a lot more if we're pooling our resources than if we stay separate and limited by individual parishes," she said. "It's not just about saving money or surviving. It's about being robust and living up to our Gospel mandate. We serve God better when we position ourselves to be stronger and this lays out the way to do that."
Bishop David O'Connell said in a pastoral letter, "With these sobering spiritual realities confronting us in the Diocese of Trenton and beyond ... it simply does not make any sense to cling to sentimental memories of the 'way we were;' or to nostalgically fantasize about a return to the 'good old days,'" O'Connell said. "We must forge ahead to meet and embrace the future with a living, dynamic and active faith."
It was once the town's elite church, a quaint, hilltop chapel overlooking crowded streets and humming textile mills.But now the red velvet seat cushions are flat and faded, the choir robes are moldy and the guest book hasn't had a new signature in more than a year. St. Mary's Memorial Episcopal Church, the oldest church in Haledon and once the parish of choice for prosperous 19th century families, will close its doors for good Sunday after 139 years. "I haven't accepted it." said Mildred Dowd, 83, a member for 50 years. "And I won't until the last day comes and I realize we will not be coming back."
St. Mary's decline from its 1960s peak of 200 families to the current congregation of 18 isn't unusual. A similar saga is unfolding in many mainline Protestant churches in North Jersey and nationwide, prompting painful soul-searching among church leaders.
"We, as Episcopalians, never learned how to be evangelists," said R. Carter Echols, a canon with the Episcopal Diocese of Newark. Indeed, one-third of the 114 parishes in the diocese - which covers seven counties in northern New Jersey - are struggling to survive, Bishop John P. Croneberger has said. Thirteen of those parishes have begun discussions with other congregations that could lead to mergers or the sharing of clergy. More parishes are likely to take similar steps, Echols said.
In Bergen County, as many as 12 Lutheran churches are discussing ways they can share their ministries while remaining independent. Two Lutheran congregations, one in Fort Lee and another in Ridgefield Park, closed last year. The average Sunday attendance for the Bergen parishes has been about 54, a church official said.
"As some of our congregations have become small, and as resources seemingly grow tighter, we need to be very prudent," said the Rev. Scott Schantzenbach, an assistant to the bishop in the New Jersey synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. "You may see some streamlining, but in some cases you may see us make investments in vital ministries."
None of the above. There's also a new trend contributing to the decline: those who choose "none of the above." The number of American adults identifying with no religion jumped to 14 percent from 8 percent during the 1990s, according to a 2001 study by the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.
Episcopal priests in North Jersey, meanwhile, are telling parishioners that they can't simply sit back and expect their congregations to survive.
"It's not like a church in the 1950s, where it was, 'Here we are, and people will come, said the Rev. Mark Waldon, rector of Christ Church in Totowa, which draws 40 to 50 people to two Sunday services. "Seeing parishes like St. Mary's close has awakened us. We can't just wait for people to walk in the door."
Comments on the proposed Merger of Calvary and Covenant Presbyterian Churches:
On May 21 our two congregations met at separate meetings where the possibility of our two congregations uniting was first presented. On June 11, we will worship at Calvary, with another lunch and further discussion. Then on June 18 a survey will be taken to determine if the congregations are interested enough in uniting together that further investigation of the idea continues. No decisions about uniting our two congregations will be made during this process. As of now no decision has been made about where and when worship would be held, no location has been determined.
If we don’t have nearly everyone’s support, I don’t think the matter will be pursued any further.
Let us spend a moment in Silent prayer seeking the mind of Christ, let go of all thoughts and be still, and simply seek the presence of God, then spend a moment to pray for each and everyone’s health, happiness,and well being. This is the most important thing we will do here today.
Will the overall long term health of the congregations be better off separate or united?
When Pastor Debbie Cerra retired from Calvary, I had the idea of the two congregations uniting, but thought it was too impossible to bring up. But then I found myself sitting with the Session at Calvary in March, as their moderator, so I thought, while I’m here I might as well throw the idea out there. They were interested. The same thing with the session of Covenant, after further discussions the two sessions agreed that the idea had enough merit to present to the congregations for their opinion.
The basic reasoning is that the two congregations are now small enough that one full time pastor is probably enough, and the combined resources and financial savings would invigorate the mission of the church and enable it to start new initiatives aimed at reversing the downward trends and increase the number of children, youth, and young families.
Without the extra financial benefits of a united congregation and all the other extra resources that would bring, the thinking is, it will be much more difficult for the separate churches to bring in new children, youth, and young families into the church.
So why not? Why not have more members, more volunteers, more choir members, more committee members, more financial freedom, why not have the flexibility to hire new staff positions, create new alternative worship services, after school programs, arts festivals, youth choirs and children’s music ensembles, childrens theatre productions? I believe we need to staff and program for children and music. And our mission focus must be on compassion for those in need. And the emphasis on personal inner transformation through contemplation.
The other reality facing the church is the realization that it’s hard to get people to church these days.