USA - Why South Carolina Is Abandoning Its Churches

Arno Froese

South Carolina churches are shedding thousands of members a year, even as the state’s population grows by tens of thousands.

At least 97 Protestant churches across South Carolina have closed since 2011, according to data from the Lutheran, Presbyterian, United Methodist and Southern Baptist denominations. An untold number of other closings, certainly, are not captured by these statistics.

Many churches are dying slow deaths, stuck in stagnation if not decline. And if they don’t do something, anything, in their near future, they’ll share the fate of Cedar Creek United Methodist, a 274-year-old Richland County congregation that dissolved last year; Resurrection Lutheran, a church near downtown Columbia that will hold its last service; and the dozens of churches that sit shuttered and empty around the state.

The South is slowly catching up to national and European trends shifting toward what many call a “post-Christian” culture—that is, a society with characteristics no longer dominantly rooted in Christianity.

Studies and surveys have documented the decline of self-identified Christians and the rise of “nones,” or the religiously unaffiliated, across the United States for years.

The Pew Research Center describes the United States as in the midst of “significant religious change.” The share of Americans who identify with Christianity is declining, while those who say they have no religion is growing rapidly.

While Catholics are actually increasing in number in South Carolina, largely driven by influxes of northern and Hispanic newcomers to the state, major Protestant denominations report declines in membership and numbers of churches in recent years.

A church, particularly a Southern church, used to be a community center.

It was where you made friends and kept up with friends, where you ate supper on Wednesday nights, played on a softball team, sent the kids after school, fulfilled your community service duties, made business connections, got your musical fix in the choir and maybe joined a reading or knitting club.

Not only all of that, but being a part of a church once was, essentially, a status symbol for many people in the South.

“Where do you go to church?” was a regular get-to-know-you question; the answer said something about who you were.

“You didn’t have a choice when I was a child. You went to church,” said Happy Meglino, who grew up in a Southern Baptist church and now attends Whaley Street United Methodist with her husband, Mark, and their 5-year-old daughter, Julianna. “My mom played the organ, and my brother and I were going to be there every time the doors were open. And your friends were there, too. … If you were going to be a good Southern girl, accepted socially, you went to church. If you didn’t go to church, mmm, we don’t know about you.”

When a church becomes more concerned with looking inward at itself rather than reaching outward to the people around it, it’s lost its core function, said Jay Hardwick, a Southern Baptist church planter.

“Relevance has nothing to do with how cool and creative the church is, if the music’s cool and the lights are great and the staging’s just right,” Hardwick said. “Relevance has everything to do with making a difference.

“If this church disappeared, would anybody in our community know or care?”, 9 August 2018

Arno's commentary

Prosperity leads to more independence from God. This is quite evident when one looks back a few decades ago; Germany, for example. The churches were full to the brim after the war. Today, only here and there a few couples, mostly elderly, are seen occupying some of the many empty seats in the church. Most experts, even theologians, agree that the world offers a variety of much more enticing things to do. Sports has become one of the gods of the new world.

While the article also emphasizes that some unconventional churches are thriving, history shows it’s only temporary.

Only a few decades ago, Sunday was the day of rest. Stores were closed. Today, it’s almost the opposite: virtually all stores are open, business as usual 24/7.

Having said this, we must realize that the church in general has very little relationship to the real invisible Church—what the Bible calls “the body of Christ.” That is where real growth still continues, and millions upon millions are being added to the Church globally. This Church, also called the spiritual temple, will be completed soon.

Based on this writer’s experience (5 decades), the Church should be “looking inward at itself.” That simply means open the Bible, read it, hear it, preach it, and receive it. Whenever that happened, supported by the fervent prayers of its members, then the last sentence of Acts 2 becomes a reality: “And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (verse 47b).

When the real Church disappears (in the rapture), the whole community, actually the whole world will care; in fact, they will panic.

Arno Froese is the executive director of Midnight Call Ministries and editor-in-chief of the acclaimed prophetic magazines Midnight Call and News From Israel. He has authored a number of well-received books, and has sponsored many prophecy conferences in the U.S., Canada, and Israel. His extensive travels have contributed to his keen insight into Bible prophecy, as he sees it from an international perspective.

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