There’s a depressing title line for a post on Sunday, eh? But it’s actually a direct quote from a reverend in Baltimore, where church membership across the board has plunged steadily to the point that a number of congregations from different faiths are either closing or merging with other houses of worship. It’s been going on for some time now and there are no indications of congregation size seeing a rebound anytime soon.(Baltimore Sun)

For a decade and more, Govans Presbyterian Church and Brown Memorial Woodbrook Presbyterian Church have labored in the manner of many Mainline Protestant congregations: Working ever harder to provide spiritual resources for dwindling number of congregants…

But with attendance stagnating, maintenance costs rising and the population of Christians from which to draw shrinking, the two have decided to join forces. If the Baltimore Presbytery gives its approval next month, they’ll become one congregation before the end of the year, bringing more than 280 worshippers and 230 years of history together under one roof.

The merger would be the latest example of an increasingly common phenomenon: faith leaders closing or consolidating houses of worship as a way of adjusting to a culture that has grown less hospitable to their mission.

It’s not just the Presbyterians, nor really even just the Christian faiths. Some other examples listed by the Sun include:

  • The Episcopal Diocese of Maryland has closed eight churches in the past ten years
  • The Delaware-Maryland Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran church combined eight churches into three
  • Temple Oheb Shalom and Har Sinai Congregation have announced plans to combine

The Sun interviewed The Rev. Daniel Webster, canon for evangelism and media for the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland. He’s been watching this happen for decades and seems to have grown resigned to the inevitable.

“When I was growing up in what I call the salad days of the 1950s and early 1960s, the question in the neighborhood was ‘What church do you go to?’” Webster says.

“Now it’s, ‘Why do you go to church?’”

We no longer live in Christendom. We really have to accept that it’s a thing of the past.”

That’s one of the saddest statements I think I’ve heard in ages. When a lifelong man of the cloth in an American city is saying that we “no longer live in Christendom” it seems like a warning of the apocalypse.

But is this perhaps just a symptom of things figuratively going to hell in Baltimore? Sadly, the answer seems to be no. The Atlantic covered this story on a more national level back in April and reported that this pattern is repeating all over the country. They found that the number of people who believe in God but reject formal affiliation with any organized church was only 6% in 1992. By 2014 that figure had risen to 22%. And among millennials today it’s above 35%.

What’s causing this? I blame the internet. Okay… that’s partly a joke because I essentially blame the internet for everything these days. But there’s also some truth to it. An age of mass, instant communication and exposure to not just an ocean of good facts but an epic amount of conspiracy theories, dystopian drama and culture wars are probably driving more people toward despair and a loss of hope in any sort of greater good or lofty ideals.

I don’t think this is a case of the churches “failing to keep up with the times” or somehow veering away from the needs of the people. It’s the people who are choosing to leave the church and raising new generations of children who are never brought into the faith to begin with. Being religious isn’t mandatory in the United States, but the more we veer away from such beliefs as a nation, the more coarse our culture has become. Or at least it seems so to me.