A recently published study suggests “a decline in religious practice” leads to an increase in “deaths of despair.”
Deaths of despair are defined as deaths from “suicide and alcohol or drug abuse.” The increase is particularly noticed among middle-aged Americans, both male and female. The relationship between the increased decline in religious participation — not necessarily a decrease in belief, just participation in church — beginning in the 1990s and the increased number of deaths of despair was clear.
The takeaway is remarkable: We cannot underestimate the importance of spiritually healthy churches!
Recognizing the negative impact of the recent pandemic on church attendance, North Pacific Union and our three smaller conferences — Alaska, Idaho and Montana — have agreed to collaborate on the challenge of growing local churches.
Local conferences are providing strategy and lots of effort for church revitalization; NPUC is providing needed additional financial resources requested by each conference and church member and board training from our department directors. You'll read about several initiatives in this issue of the Gleaner.
The foundation of all church growth and revitalization is prayer. There is, of course, more to church revitalization than this, but prayer is the most important. Without Christ, we can do nothing. With Christ, nothing is impossible.
The one major way to invite Jesus Christ to be actively involved in church revitalization is to earnestly pray. Incidentally, prayer is also the primary means by which we invite Christ’s activity into our personal spiritual lives.
We cannot underestimate the power of an active, spiritually healthy church. It’s important to note that church is not bricks, mortar, nails and wood; church is the members. When church members are active and spiritually healthy, the churches they attend usually grow.
Church attendance does impact positively the growth of a local church and the salvation of those in the community. Another part of being a spiritually healthy church member means recognizing the total dependence we have on God and the need to talk with Him in prayer.
My children have taught me several things about revitalizing churches. Malinda and I were pastoring in Littleton, Colorado, when two of our children, Jesse and Jared, gave us an important lesson on the relationship between total dependence on our Heavenly Father and prayer.
One late Sunday afternoon many years ago, as I walked a departing visitor out to the front porch, Jared — age 3 — began to cry. Jesse — age 7 — heard his brother’s cry, went over and picked him up.
Knowing where I was, Jesse carried his brother, with tears still in his eyes, out to me on the porch. Jesse then lifted Jared up, as far as possible, and said, “Daddy, Jared’s crying; you take care of him.” Jesse paused a moment as I reached down, pulled Jared up, held him and wiped away the tears.
I’ll never forget what happened next. A big smile lit up Jesse’s face as he turned around and ran back into the house. He was fully assured Jared’s needs were being met now that he had placed him in his father’s hands. No worries or doubts filled his heart.
In a similar way, we can bring the people we know and love — family, friends, neighbors, fellow church members, co-workers, etc. — to our Heavenly Father in prayer. God has big, strong hands and He will wipe away their tears. When we leave our place of prayer, we can go without a worry or doubt that our Father will take care of them.
We may not see it instantly like Jesse did, yet the death Christ on Calvary gives us the blessed assurance that Jesus is always interceding, full of mercy and grace, for those we lovingly bring to Him. With Christ, nothing is impossible.