I have been thinking about my last post, and the comment that it came from. And I ended up looking back at one of the events that prepared me to think about the problems in today's church structures and practices.
Back in the mid-'90s we were living in Dearborn County, Indiana, on the Ohio River just west of Cincinnati, Ohio. The state of Indiana had recently decided to have riverboat gambling on the Ohio River, and various counties were deciding whether or not to get involved. Dearborn County's officials chose to pursue it, and the issue was put on the ballot.
Now Dearborn County was a changing area. The eastern part was turning into suburbs of Cincinnati, with subdivisions filling in the open spaces. The towns--Greendale, Lawrenceburg, and Aurora, were picking up some new residents from the city, but hadn't visibly changed yet. The western half- to two-thirds of the county was still predominantly rural.
It also appeared to be as religious as any other small-town/rural area. There were the usual mainline Protestant churches in the towns, and a Catholic church in Lawrenceburg. There were a couple of megachurches in Bright, up in the suburban area near the Ohio line, a Methodist one and a Christian Church/Church of Christ. And the countryside was dotted with church buildings, mostly of the traditional denominations--Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, and a sprinkling of others. They weren't on every crossroads, but there were plenty of them.
There was an appearance of strength of religious faith in the area. And when the ballot issue on riverboat gambling came up, nearly all the churches opposed it. (And it wasn't often they agreed on much.) Yet when the vote came, the gambling issue sailed right through, regardless of the opposition of the churches. Within a year the casino was open. The churches of Dearborn County were not as strong as they appeared to be.
I guess this event caused me to look a little closer. I began to notice that those numerous country churches mostly had only six to ten cars in the lot on Sunday morning. I got wind of a Methodist pastor and his wife, also a pastor, who served two churches each to make a living. Former church buildings in the region ended up with new uses.
And to be quite honest, that gambling initiative could not have passed without the votes of a significant number of churchgoers. That leads me to think that many churchgoers are not living lives shaped by their faith, but by the general culture. The church system in this country has for many years been producing churchgoers, but not real disciples.
Since that time, I've seen a lot more: surveys documenting that most Christians live pretty much like their non-Christian neighbors, estimates of 20,000 churches that will close their doors in the next decade or two, church leaders who don't live and behave like Christians...the list could go on and on. But things started getting a lot more obvious to me after that election.