COLORADO SPRINGS — There are more than 400 churches and places of worship in the City of Colorado Springs, but polling data suggest a growing number of people across the country don’t belong to a church, or choose not to identify with a religion at all.
During the pandemic large gatherings were frowned upon and were even deemed unsafe, which made gathering in-person for church a challenge.
In an attempt to pivot, church became something people just watched online and while most worship services are now back in-person, in many cases faith leaders tell News5 they’re seeing two challenges at once. Declining membership and people who still haven’t come back.
”Even before the pandemic we knew the millennials and younger than that are kind of leaving the church and drifting away,” said Bishop James Golka of the Diocese of Colorado Springs.
”We’re coming out of the pandemic and a lot of guys still have a big question mark, the biggest question mark is who is coming back?,” said Trace Church Lead Pastor Aaron Pennington.
Recent Gallup research found church membership is at an all-time low in the U.S. with 47% of people saying they belong to a place of worship. It reflects a continuing decline in church membership across the country for more than two decades now. It’s a trend happening across all age groups.
”I’d say the percentage of people church leaders are experiencing is about 60 to 75 percent is where they are at now compared to pre-covid,” said Pastor Pennington.
”We find our Catholic churches are, some are shrinking in number, but other ones are growing in number. So, to picture 20, 40 years down the road, yeah, if a good number of people have left the church then what do we look like then? I need the Lord to help show us the way to help figure that out,” said Bishop Golka.
Researchers say they believe these changes are due to a rise in Americans with no religious preference. Over the past two decades the percentage of Americans who do not identify with any religion has grown from 8% from 1998 to 2000 and then 13% from 2008 to 2010 and most recently to 21% during the last three years.
”During the pandemic we found students did better in school than at home. Being together in community helps us and that’s the basis of faith also,” said Bishop Golka.
”You have a healthy place where people can experience community. One of the things we say here is you can belong here before you believe. And so if you just need to come here and wrestle with doubts, the church should be a healthy and safe place to do that instead of feeling like you have to pretend,” said Pastor Pennington.
The future of many churches will hinge on their ability to adapt and convey the significance of what they offer to millennials and their families specifically.
While there has been a decline in church membership for all ages, in the last decade millennials have had the most rapid decline. Gallup research shows just a third of millennials belong to a church. That’s down from more than 50% a decade before.
Trace Church in Colorado Springs has reversed the trend with this age group and is actually seeing significant growth right now. Pastor Pennington credits transparency and the significance of a small group ministry.
”When life happens and it kind of catches you off-guard, having a group of people who know you more intimately in that moment is probably one of the best things you can have. To pray with you. To walk with you,” said Pastor Pennington.
Bishop Golka says that sense of community remains a cornerstone for the catholic church too.
”Being connected to a community of faith we have a much better chance of finding our way through difficulty. We say as a Christian we can’t do it on our own, we need other people. I think the best healer of mental issues is being in a community of faith and worshiping together,” said Bishop Golka.
If you’d like to check out these trends and the polling data for yourself you can find it here.
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