United State is changing its demographics and the number of religiously unaffiliated is growing, while the number of self-identified Christians is in decline. Even in the South, the country pastors are losing their audience. In the South, more than three-quarters of adults identify as Christians, and more than 8 in 10 people consider religion to be somewhat or very important in their lives, more than in any other region of the country, according to Pew.
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 in the 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 on Sept. 2; and the dozens of churches that sit shuttered and empty around the state.
For example, United Methodists and Southern Baptists, which together account for more than 3,000 churches and nearly 800,000 church members in South Carolina, report five-year membership declines of 5 percent and 18 percent, respectively. Other denominations lost both physical buildings and people in the seats.
“The reality is that 80-plus percent of (S.C. Southern Baptist) churches are plateaued or declining, meaning they haven’t grown by any measurable percentage in 10 years, or they’ve actually lost membership,” said Jay Hardwick, who leads the church-planting team for the S.C. Baptist Convention. “And a large percentage of those are in a window where if something drastic doesn’t happen within five to 10 years, they’ll close their doors. They won’t have anything.”
The South is slowly catching up to national and European trends; for example, more than half of adults in the state believe homosexuality should be accepted.
A church isn’t the only place where someone can do good in the community. “If you just want to be a philanthropic person, there are a gazillion opportunities for you to feed hungry people, clothe cold people, do service projects, build a house,” said David Turner, the minister of music and worship at Ebenezer Lutheran Church in downtown Columbia.
Photo Credits: Sohu.com