The Church building is closed today due to weather. Please email us at if you need help with anything.

The True Cost of the Churchgoing Bust

I remember when going to church was the norm. Friendships were formed at church. Good parents brought their children to church. My mother told me I should meet the guy I would marry at church. (Sorry Mom, I met him at Penn State- We Are!) When you moved into the neighborhood, even before all the boxes were unpacked, you found a church. I know that I am dating myself… but many of you who read this letter remember those days. The heyday of Lenape Valley Church happened during those days- new housing developments yielded a flock of willing members crossing the threshold seemingly without any effort on the part of church leadership. Every Christmas and Easter it feels like the return of those days, but only for a moment, and then our new reality returns, where churchgoing is a quaint practice that falls in importance behind grocery shopping, mowing the lawn, and every youth sports game. Oh, for the days when a pastor did not have to beg people to meet Jesus. I know I must sound like every other church leader who yearns for the days of full pews and children running the halls of our Sunday School buildings.

The slide had already begun years ago, but the Pandemic isolation gave people permission to stay home. Unfortunately, it seems like that permission has been extended well after all the prohibitions against gathering in groups have been lifted. I keep waiting for our families to return, but they have found a new practice. At best, they gather together in their pajamas eating pancakes while watching virtual-church. Thank goodness for the pandemic blessing of live streaming! But my big fear is that those gatherings become less and less frequent as the demands of a busy life claim every spare minute. We are raising the next generation with connections to the ‘church’ that hang by a thread, and how quickly that thread can be broken. This Easter, as church attendance once again received its oneday bump in numbers, two articles were written that caught my attention- one by a Catholic Archbishop and the other by an agnostic Jew- both exploring the true cost of the ‘Churchgoing Bust.’

Both authors identified a profound loss of community as a casualty of our turn away from churchgoing. Derek Thompson, columnist for The Atlantic and self-described ‘agnostic’, writes: “A relationship with organized religion provides many things at once: not only a connection to the divine, but also a historical narrative of identity, a set of rituals to organize the week and year, and a community.” While Thompson admits that most of his life he has seen this decline in faith practice in positive terms, he now finds the resulting loss of community leaves American hyper-individualism unchecked. He cites a 2023 study by the Pew Research Center that reports religiously unaffiliated Americans are less likely to volunteer, less likely to feel satisfied with their community and social life, and more likely to say they feel lonely. Thompson concludes, “Clearly more Americans are spending Sunday mornings on their couches, and it’s affecting the quality of our collective life.” Many people, having lost the scaffolding of organized religion, seem to have found no alternative method to build a sense of community. Instead, we have developed a new relationship with technology, with a resulting digital life that is “disembodied, asynchronous, shallow and solitary.” By contrast, religion encourages contact with the divine in the presence of others, thus religious ritual is typically “embodied, synchronous, deep, and collective.” Thompson concludes that finding meaning in the world is always hard, but especially when the oldest systems of meaning-making and their safe-haven of community hold less and less appeal.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York city, echoes Thompson’s concerns and conclusions. He writes, “There are very few social gatherings in which ordinary people can enter and not sense critical eyes sizing them up, assessing their status and guessing their motives.” Where else, other than church, do people gather to sing, recite shared faith, and listen to ancient wisdom to guide their lives? (Some fans might argue that a Taylor Swift concert offers the same, but I would beg to differ.) Where else do people gladly give away their hard-earned resources, their time, and their energy to benefit others they may never meet? Where else do people find identity and meaning together that strengthens individual identity and meaning? While faith is deeply personal, it isn’t private, thus the use of ‘family’ language to describe a faith community. Those surges in pew numbers for Easter and Christmas are often called “coming home.” Dolan points to the witness found in the Bible, where God calls Abraham’s family to be a chosen people with the purpose of together bringing ‘light to the nations.’ In the first century, Jesus called his disciples to form the church- a people no longer bound by race but united by faith in him. St. Paul describes the church as a ‘body’, where each member is an integral part of the whole- without which the whole is incomplete. American hyperindividualism would want God as Father, but each as an only child; Jesus as the Good Shepherd with a flock of one lamb. Many want Christ without Christians. The result- a growing lonely isolation.

This past weekend, I found a glimmer of hope in this rather stark reality- our Genesis girls. They chose to gather for a weekend retreat, leaving behind their sports commitments, their technology, and all their usual entertainments. Their commitment to each other goes deeper than any shared affinities. The safe-haven they create for each other is inspiring. They are living proof that what is lost can be found again. Will we try?

With you learning to reclaim home and family,
Posted in


Peter Gregory - May 5th, 2024 at 5:38pm

In my retirement from the “church” I have been filling pulpits in about 4 neighbor counties in Pa NJ. Most are small under 40 members and most have been without clergy full or part time for years if not decades.

In one church I frequent meets in a home basement in a room. 12 to 15 people in a basement no stained glass no choir no multi staff programming etc etc. in communion we stand up in a circle and hold hands and face each other. We pray and share the elements passed about. No gloves no distance no fear of the other no elaborate protocols to follow. We share we pray and bless one another. In my career I have served or preached to 2K at the Naval Academy and to Presidents at Camp David and White House. In those Sundays at some one’s home in Mercer Co NJ. I am at church or closest I have ever come to such in over 40 years of professional ministry. We all like big. Big salaries big budgets big programs big this and that. Bigness or business in the Bible never really a Christian virtue. I have come

To believe the future of the church is in people s basements not so much next stewardship or capital campaign.

Georgia - May 6th, 2024 at 10:29am

I didn't read the article because it was behind a paywall- but the other part that is missing when churches close are the following- information about your community, a usually first stop for the poor in spirit and finances. Clergy also serve as critical web former of care- meaning they provide resources and knowledge about where to go. They also achieve no financial benefit for their work to the establishments they refer persons. Because I live in a semi rural are churches are one of the few places we can receive information and assistance.