Friday, July 29, 2005

Falling Church Attendance...

You may have caught it in the news. In Texas last week, the largest church in the country opened, this one a non-denominational, Pentecostal-style one operated by a dynamic preacher named Joel Osteen. It is an incredible story. Each week, Osteen's two services each attract 16,000. They had to move the church to what was once the Compaq Center, home to the Houston Rockets, which the congregants easily fill. Preaching an optimistic view of life, he draws like a professional basketball game. When he is on the road, Osteen fills places like Madison Square Garden. He is on television across the United States and in many other countries; his book is the New York Times number-one bestseller some weeks (in the self-help category); and last year his ministry took in $55 million.
That's about a fifth of the Vatican's entire operating budget.
And Osteen is just one of many wildly successful non-Catholic,
non-mainstream-Protestant Christian preachers. In the past two decades, churches with no affiliation to the larger institutions have taken over the scene. Osteen isn't even the only mega-preacher in Texas. These are folks whose television shows greatly outdistance anything in the Catholic world and whose books sell not in the tens of thousands (which would make them a Catholic bestseller) but in the millions -- and in the case of The Purpose-Driven Life, the tens of millions
CBN. TBN. And Osteen, who is carried by 6,000 television stations in 100 countries and who presents the joy of the Holy Spirit in a way that millions find palpable.
There are those who criticize him, and rightly so. There are those who point out that Osteen may be too optimistic -- nearly a feel-good approach to Christianity. This is where serpent weaves a nefarious lie. Osteen in his apostasy NEVER addresses issues such as sin, homosexuality, abortion, addiction, the pitfalls of evil, the reality of the devil and worst yet the true existence eternal fires of hell. Those criticisms are stinging but sadly accurate. Truth lies not in attendance records, not in stadium lighting, not even the New York Times bestseller list. No, truth lies in the infallible words of Jesus Christ found in the Gospels bound in the best selling book of all time, the Bible.

Mix glitz, worldliness, with a lot of glib catch phrases like ‘We don’t teach the Gospel sad, We teach it GLAD!’ and what you have is what Christ warned us of, the Elect being deceived. Often, when T.V. ratings, thousand dollar suits, and porcelain veneers for that perfect smile, are found there is almost a forgone conclusion that the Cross is forgotten about. In the case of Mr. Osteen not only is the Cross absent from the Mega-Lakewood location, so is anything that could remotely be related to the ‘Passion and Suffering of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ’. No stations of the Cross, No Crucifixes, No pictures, No paintings, no images at all that depict the true depth of sacrifice that our Lord Jesus Christ made for each and everyone of us.

However, there is no arguing with Osteen’s success in reaching large numbers of people. Not only reaching them but in giving them inspiration in their own lives, and there is no doubt that such churches are replacing mainstream Protestant ones. "I don't care what the critics say," said Grace Kiarie, a 32-year-old pharmacist and three-year member of the church who is originally from Kenya. "Pastor Joel gives me enough word to make it from 12:15 on Sunday to 10:45 the next Sunday. He gives me practical ways to live my life."
Just this week, Pope Benedict XVI commented that mainstream churches seem moribund and the reason is that they are not reaching people. "The so-called traditional churches look like they are dying," said the Pope, according to a text published by the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano. Participation at Sunday Mass in some developed countries was as low as five per cent, a recent Vatican report said.

A combination of an increasingly secular mentality and the lure of more "simplistic" sects was challenging the relevance of the Church, especially in Europe, Australia and, to a lesser extent, the United States, the 78-year-old Pope said.
Meanwhile, there are now 155 million Bible-toting Pentecostal types in South America (formerly solid Catholic territory). Mexicans swarming into the U.S. provide an excellent opportunity to increase the Catholic presence in the U.S., but many of them are changing to churches like Osteen's, and the only way to stop this is to fill in voids.
The Catholic Church is not doing nearly as badly as the mainstream Protestant ones (Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and similar ilk are dying quickly), but it is bad enough, and we must ask: why?

No arguing that the Catholic faith is the true faith. This is the Church founded (literally, for those who adhere so closely to the Bible) on the "rock" of Peter. If not for the Catholic Church, there would be no Bible.
Nothing in any denomination is as powerful as the sacraments and Mass.
This is the true and oldest Christian faith. And it will last forever. Bank on that.
But it is time to wonder why it is so poorly attended.
Why do Catholic parishes struggle with pews less than half full? Why do they have to support themselves on bingo?
"I will tell you that the fastest growing church is not necessarily the best, or even good," notes one viewer. "The Bible tells us that in the end times people will seek out preachers who 'Tickle their ears.'

In these Last Days the Lord is assembling a 'remnant' to fight in his army, in Mary's army. God has never sought quantity from His people, but always quality."
Mother Teresa once said, "We are not called to be successful, we are called to be faithful." No truer words have ever been spoken!
Is there anything to be learned from the Osteen’s of the world?
What could a God fearing Priest who has the Spiritual interests of his congregation in mind. A congregation that includes not only those who show up on Sunday, but those who WOULD show up if the proper thought, preparation, and LOVE FOR GOD were applied.
Many Catholics who no longer attend regular services were asked why they left. When the people spoke, what did they say? What were they looking for? The following are some of the answers…

Believing and Caring Shepherds:
The failure of many Priests to defend the faith and responsibly carry out what parishioners expected of the clergy was a theme throughout the survey results.
For example, many respondents complained that their Priests hardly seemed to believe in Christianity themselves. Said one churchgoer: "Often clergy do little to try and convince us that God exists, let alone outline the logical reasons behind our belief in the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection."
Priests also came in for serious criticism when it came to conducting worship services. The report said many churchgoers complained about "shoddy services" and "Priests who simply were going through the motions," even to the point of virtually speed-reading through the sermon or preaching it in a voice that was "inaudible" or without any "real conviction or sincerity."
One middle-aged couple said, "We used to go to church expecting very little and came away with nothing. This has now changed to expecting nothing and coming away with even less. What we want are services taken with Conviction and a Passion for Jesus Christ."
Many people said they wanted clergy "To give greater priority to home visiting and pastoral care, in order to reflect God's love and concern for the individual. We want them to care about us! Why go to a Church who doesn’t care about you except to mail you collection envelops? Why go listen to a Priest who doesn’t even bother to learn your name? "
As one woman said, "It is a very uncaring world now, and the church should not be emulating this but rather standing against it. The Catholic Church should be seen as a loving caring community."
However, due to organizational priorities in their Parishes, parishioners said Priests were given so many administrative duties that they had no time to tend to the needs of the people beyond quickly conducting services.
Solid Teaching:
The report noted that there is "A ravenous spiritual hunger among congregations for a greater understanding of a wide range of relevant Gospel topics.”
Most Christians say that they aren't getting Spiritual substance. Time and again, respondents complained that they were getting only "platitudes," "political and social sermons with little or NONE spiritual significance."
A churchgoer declared, "I need help to grow in my faith and help to become the person Christ wants me to be. Not advice on who to vote for or when the next bake sale is going to be!"
A good point to ponder is that ‘Tinkering with service times or liturgy won't work if the message isn't there," said one churchgoer. "The heart of the matter is that congregations want to hear what the Bible says in a relevant way, with CONVICTION and PASSION!"

A Worshipping Community:
"People want Priests and Churches to give priority to the ministry of worship, satisfying all the various aspects worship involves," the survey report found.
As one might expect, there were thousands of responses dealing with the form, or style of worship in the service. While some called for more traditional liturgy, and others for a more modern approach, both sides conceded that a balance of styles would be fine. Almost all were in agreement, however, that services that "bordered on entertainment rather than worship" were the most disappointing.
Anyone who has walked the hard difficult arduous road to spiritual enlightenment realizes that their spiritual journey was not and could not be taken alone. Not if one is to be successful in capturing the true essence of the Gospel message. It really is not surprising that "the sense of fellowship" was something so important that many Church goers left mainline Catholic Churches looking for it. Fellowship with other Believers makes a difference for spiritually hungry churchgoers.
"They said that they derived pleasure from worshipping with others, it gave them a sense of belonging," the report said, "a sense of comradeship and a sense of being part of a 'spiritual family.'"
The desperate need to belong to a spiritual family has been made more critical because of the brokenness of relationships, marriages and families in our modern times.

A Prophetic Church:
There was a real desire expressed in the survey responses for more teaching emphasis "on the nature of God's holiness and the present and future implications for Believers."
Many said this message had been missing from the church for decades, having been gradually replaced by a one-sided proclamation that God was "loving and nothing more."
Approximately 75 percent of respondents -- more than 10,000 in number -- saw the lack of a clarion call for holiness as a very real explanation for the decline of Christianity's influence in our modern times.
"Many who used to attend church are now filled with apathy," the report summarized. "They no longer see any point in attending, because the message they have been given is that 'God loves me anyway,' regardless of whether or not they attend church or change their lives, so why bother going to Church?"
This was one of the central laments of the Christians that answered the ERC questionnaire. People "are calling on churches to robustly defend moral values with conviction and courage and cease being 'silent' and 'lukewarm' in the face of moral collapse" in our modern times.
To accomplish this, the church must rise up to defend it’s "DIVINE CALLING" as a prophetic voice in the modern world. The church was given the task of "Being the moral conscience of the world!’ A reflection of the true character of God."

Defense of the Faith:
In the face of an entrenched secularism in the Untied States, many respondents said they wanted churches to "To challenge a doubting society."
This was a factor that was mentioned in 73 percent of the letters received. Said one churchgoer: "It is a myth to say that the people of this country have rejected Christianity; they simply haven't been given a modern example of a Davidic leader they can rally behind!"
The lack of both a bold declaration of the Christian faith and a vigorous defense of Christian truths -- apologetics -- seems to have occasioned much discouragement among those Christians in the United States who remain true to the faith.
"If churches started defending these much maligned and beleaguered Christian values, the effect would be profound, galvanizing and encouraging millions of ordinary decent people!"
What else do Believer want?
Interesting sermons with a personal feel to them. Life affirming sermons that touch people on a Human level. Osteen brings Scripture alive in a way that the average person relates to, with a manner that is not professorial or stodgy. Does that mean adopting Pentecostalism? Of course not!
But if there is a liturgical crisis it is in the manner that "Homilies" have become an ill fitting, boring, after thought which is tacked on like a bad hair piece. Many Parishioners say unfeeling and hard to comprehend ‘Homilies’ actually dissuade folks from coming to Mass. Their complaint is that Masses which are already emotionally dead and overly long become painfully laborious to sit through.
God bless those priests who give good ones! But let us quickly begin to learn from those who are experiencing success, and let us quickly begin to reorient the way we train seminarians, and the way we deliver lectures. Let's take a look back at Archbishop Fulton Sheen!

The answer is not to change Catholicism, but in fact to go back to its traditional roots and bring the sacraments alive! Mass should be a soaring experience of Spirit. A saintly Priest should spread ‘Charisms’ in the community as well as the pews (like Padre Pio did, without even having to give a sermon). Make it as interesting as it can and should be! Make it come alive as Christ intended. Heal the sick. Lay on hands on the suffering. Exorcise evil from it’s hiding places! Don’t just talk about the Gospel, LIVE IT! Put the flame to it so that the Believers can feel the true and living power of the Holy Spirit.

How? Simple just add the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, mix well and you have HEAVEN!

Call on Mary the mother of Christ for inspiration. Call on all the Choirs of Angels. Call on all the Saints in Heaven. Storm the Gates of Heaven and I promise Grace will fall like rain.

If you have any questions as to what you should do then simply state the following…..”I BELIEVE in God the Father, I BELIEVE in Jesus Christ the son, I BELIEVE in the Holy Spirit.” The answers will be forth coming shortly I promise!

When people see and feel the over whelming Power of the Holy Spirit, they fill those pews to overflowing. Don’t believe me? Try us!
There is nothing like the Catholic faith! It is the Church Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior predicted. Hell itself will not prevail against it.
God Bless You

Bobby Anding

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