Why Christianity Must Change or Die

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Why Christianity Must Change or Die

Written by: Julia Smolucha

The Reverend Dr. William A. Evertsberg

You’ve heard me say before that in the last year or so, I’ll be out walking the dog thinking about nothing in particular when suddenly a random parishioner’s face will pop unbidden into my brain, and I’ll say to myself and the dog, “You know, I used to spend a lot of time with this person, but I have not seen him since St. Patrick’s Day, 2020. I wonder if he is still part of this flock.”

The virus absolutely hammered American congregations. Nationwide worship attendance is about 85% of what it was pre-pandemic. Some experts predict the country will lose 30% of its congregations. It may take 20 years for some of them to succumb finally to their virus-inflicted wounds, but the virus will ultimately prove to be terminal for some churches.

However as I’ve frequently said, the virus didn’t launch, but merely accelerated a shrinkage that’s been going on for 50 years. When the Presbyterian Church (USA) ordained me to the ministry in 1985, the denomination had over four million members. In 2022, we had 1.1 million, a decline of about 75%.

To oversimplify, but not much, this all has to do with the skyrocketing secularization of the West since the cultural revolutions of the 1970’s. The younger you are, the less likely you are to believe in an unseen world. The younger you are, the even LESS likely you are to express that belief by attending and joining a religious institution.

Quite a while ago actually, in 1998, almost at the end of the last century, Episcopalian Bishop John Shelby Spong theorized that the Christian Church is in such trouble because its faith is obsolete. He writes:

The God of the past no longer has any real work to do…this God no longer fights wars and defeats enemies. This God no longer chooses a special people and works through them. This God no longer sends the storms, heals the sick, spares the dying, or even judges the sinner. This God no longer rewards goodness and punishes evil. Yet this virtually unemployed deity is still the primary object and substance of the Christian Church’s faith. 

The title of his book—Why Christianity Must Change or Die—doubles as his thesis statement. The title is a sweeping exaggeration of course. Christianity probably won’t change as much as Dr. Spong wants it to, and it probably won’t die from that stubbornness either; after all the Christian Church is probably the oldest and largest entity on the face of the planet; it’s survived far worse than this.

Nevertheless a few of us have been gathering at church on the third Monday of the month to make our way through Dr. Spong’s hyperbolic book, because we want to be ready for what’s next in American Christendom.

Even if the prophets are right that America will lose 30% of its congregations, Kenilworth Union will not be among the dying; our forward-looking, multidenominational, welcoming faith; our sheer numbers; and our financial resources will ensure that we’re among the last standing.

But Dr. Spong’s thesis rushes our group to the inevitable follow-up: If Christianity must change or die, must Kenilworth Union change or die? Come help us figure it out.

Date Section Page #’s
February 20 Preface
Chapters 1–4: Creed, God, & Atheism
March 20 Chapters 5–8: Jesus 70–133
April 17 Chapters 9–10: Prayers & Ethics 134–167
May 15 Chapters 11–13: The Church & The Future