Going Postal & The Decline Of Church
I hate going to the post office. This week, I had to mail a package, so I drove out of my way to one of those storefront postal centers and paid an extra fee just to avoid the post office. Watching the clerk and his styrofoam peanuts, it occurred to me that postal centers have something in common with church.
Postal centers are one of many parasitic species of American business that pop up as alternatives to more established systems. Post offices render notoriously bad service, so postal centers fill the market demand for mail without the long lines. The Transportation Safety Administration isn’t exactly customer-centric, so CLEAR is growing as an alternative. Surly Wal-Mart employees consistently drive customers to Target. For anything bad, there’s a free market alternative. That’s the beauty of capitalism.
We also live in a religious free market, and the declining success of our churches shows in the list of knock-offs. Where we have failed to be loving, we have invited Unitarianism. Where we have failed to speak truth, we have invited culture warriors. Where we have failed to care for the oppressed and marginalized, we have created a niche for secular charities. Where we have failed to live up to God’s plan for marriage, we have invited alternative definitions of marriage. Way back in 2008, Barna research revealed that "a majority of adults now believe that there are various biblically legitimate alternatives to participation in a conventional church.” They seek to encounter God in nature or charitable service or sermon podcasts. When our neighbors find places other than church to connect with God, the problem may not be with their maturity so much as ours.
The way of Jesus is demanding and countercultural, but it is also winsome, love-filled and attractive. If the post office would do its job well, postal centers would go out of business. If the church would do her job well, we would have much less competition for our message.