Nov 26, 2013 2:18 PM by Mike Gillaspia
CORPUS CHRISTI - It has been said that religion is one of the topics you should never discuss in polite company. Many see their faith as a deeply personal matter. But now there's a rapidly growing group of Americans not claiming any faith, and they're forcing religious leaders to do some soul-searching.
Taking even the most casual look around the city reveals the strong influence of faith on the people who live here. Even the name, Corpus Christi (from the Latin "Body of Christ"), suggests deep spiritual roots. No question, many here do consider themselves "religious."
And yet, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 20 percent of adults in America (about 46 million people) have no religious affiliation. That's up from 15 percent just five years ago.
For those under the age of 30, the numbers are even more telling. 1 in 3 Americans no longer see church as essential to life.
Michael Fehlauer serves as the Lead Pastor of The Summit Church in Corpus Christi. He is increasingly aware of the growing disconnect between Americans and formal religion.
Fehlauer says "Those statistics don't lie. They do mean something, and they should get our attention. For whatever reason, that age group - that generation - just sees organized religion or the average local church as being irrelevant to their needs, and to what they're looking for. And yet at the same time, they're saying they believe in God, that they're spiritual. They're looking for truth. They're looking for something beyond just their normal lives."
While the ranks of the unaffiliated have grown significantly, the Protestant share of the population has shrunk. For the first time, fewer than half of American adults (48 percent) now claim to be Protestant.
Fehlauer says,"That really challenges us as Christian leaders, to make sure that our places of worship and our local churches are relevant; that they are communicating the Gospel in a language that makes sense to this generation."
Surprisingly, it's not just Athiests who have rejected the church. Nearly 3-quarters of the religiously displaced say they believe in God in some form. They still consider themselves spiritual, just not religious. In fact, most are not hostile toward religious institutions, they just don't want to belong to one.
This trend is not without implication. One thought is that the decline in church-going could also lead to a decrease in charitable activities.
Carole Murphrey is the Executive Director of the Good Samaritan Rescue Mission. It is the largest homeless shelter in South Texas. Everything they accomplish there, they do without government funding. In addition to private grants and donations, those who lead this effort also depend in on local churches.
"Well, our source is God, not the churches," says Murphrey. "I have both my hands in His pockets. But He uses the people of the churches and they will bring either a class or an entire congregation. And who is more likely to help with feeding the poor and taking care of charitable issues than the church?"
There is ongoing debate about whether the church can do anything to reverse the seemingly clear trend of people abandoning religion. And while the problem exists on a national scale, any successful attempt at a solution will most likely come on a local level. According to Murphrey, Good Sam is trying to make a difference here at home.
Murphrey says, "The greatest need that a homeless person has is to be plugged back in, where someone cares if they wake up in the morning. They've been disconnected from their entire life, and so we want to provide far more than shelter or food. We want to provide a family."
So what might a decline in the number of people attending church mean for organizations like the Good Samaritan Rescue Mission?
It's hard to say.
There will most likely always be people who are willing to give, and even to serve. But the questions remain: Will they ever again feel compelled to do it through a local church, and does it even matter?