January 19, 2019

Dying Churches Of America
(My Own Included)

For two centuries the cultural stability of America came from it's deep Christian moral identity, but that is no longer the case. We are now a nation adrift. 

Thus, in the foolish new world of post-Christian America, fewer and fewer people attend Christian churches. According to Kevin Swanson, church attendance in America has been declining for the past ten years. He says that, "given the current trends, only 4% of Americans will identify as Christian by the year 2045."

And so it is that churches by the thousands are closing their doors. This Recent Article states that 6,000 to 10,000 churches a year are shutting down. The church I attend is probably going to be one of the casualties. The handwriting is, as they say, on the wall.

My church is only a few miles from my house, on Oak Hill Road. I remember when it was the Ettinger Farm. Back in 1978, when I had a chimney cleaning business, I cleaned the fireplace chimney for Joe Ettinger.

In the early to mid 1990s the property was sold. The house, and a few acres were purchased to start a new church: New Hope Bible Fellowship.

The large farmhouse (pictured above) became the parsonage. A very large pole barn behind the house was transformed into the church building. 

My family started attending this church in 1999. Our three boys were 11, 8 and 5 years old in 1999.

A lot of people attended the church in 1999. But things have changed. We no longer have services in the cavernous sanctuary. Instead, a remnant of less than 20 people gather in the fellowship hall. My sons are not among them.

The few people who still attend my church have our Sunday service in this fellowship room. I sit near the center of the picture, where you can see two hymnals on top of each other. 
Actually, it's a lot less than 20 that now attend. That's because Lois Weed, our oldest churchgoer, passed away last month at 95 years of age. She was there when the church started up, and she was in church 3 weeks before she died in her home from brain cancer. 

Another woman who was always in church but isn't any more is "Aunt Ginny." She is 94 and recently went into a rehab center. It's unclear if she will be able to come back to church.

Aunt Ginny's younger sister (by only a few years) is Marion. She has had a lot of surgeries in recent years, but always gets back to church as soon as she can. She comes with her daughter, Debbie, who was a class ahead of me in school. Marion always sits to my right, and she often asks me if I've been behaving myself. :-)

Floyd and Charlene are an older couple who come to our church. They went to the local Methodist church for a long time, but left a year or so back because, as I understand it, the woman minister there is a homosexual. Biblical Christianity and homosexuality are not compatible. 

Floyd was a dairy farmer for many years. He got into farming when he was a young man by working as a hired hand on a farm. In time, the farmer he worked for helped him get a farm of his own. Floyd farmed with horses in his early years. I like Floyd a lot.

There are a few other folks who attend. For the most part, they are people I've known for 30 years or more.

This is a view from the kitchen into the fellowship hall.

Only one young couple with three children (the only children) attend our church. The father, Jonathan, is Lois Weed's grandson. His children would be her great grandchildren. 

I have a picture in my mind of Jonathan's youngest, Erin, a boy of six, going over to talk with Lois during our Sunday morning greeting time, which takes place after we sing a hymn, have prayer requests, and a prayer is said, and before the sermon begins. 

I see Lois sitting in her chair, facing Erin, who is standing just a little taller than her. Lois has her hands up, holding each of his arms at shoulder height. She is looking upwards into his face and speaking words I can not hear from where I am on the other side of the room. But I can see Erin looking directly into his great grandmother's eyes, listening intently. I mentally burned that image into my memory. And a month later Lois was no longer with us.

Jonathan and his family have decided to leave and start attending another church. It was so good that they stayed until Lois was gone. Lois had 17 grandchildren and 51 great grandchildren. Two great-great grandchildren (that I know of) are due this year.

So, we will be down to around 12 people for Sunday services. I feel like our church is a metaphor for America.


I haven't told you why no one comes to my church like they once did. That's because I don't want to get into all that. Suffice it to say that there are a multitude of things that conspire in little congregations to, in time, diminish their attendance and close the doors.


I experienced the drama of a once-vibrant rural church being ripped apart by factions within the church when I was a teenager. It was traumatic for me. Didn't the adults realize what a horrible example they were setting?

I have come to realize that we humans have an incredible capacity for justifying any kind of really bad behavior and, sad to say, Christians are not immune to this reality.

The root of the problem is, of course, pride, along with multiple layers of self-deception and self-justification that pride feeds. Love and forgiveness take a back seat when pride is driving a person's attitudes and actions. 

There is a verse in Proverbs that comes to my mind...
"These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren."

So it is that I hate church drama with a passion, and avoid it like the plague. I resolved as a teenager to never join a church because of that early experience, and I never have.


They had the calling hours and funeral service for Lois Weed in our church, on a Sunday afternoon. Me and Debbie, and her husband, Jerry, spent a few hours cleaning, vacuuming and setting up chairs the day before. 

There isn't a lot of parking space so, on the day of the event, me and Jerry helped get cars parked. It was raining. I got good and wet. A couple hundred people showed up for the service. It was real nice.


The following Wednesday I headed over to the church to clean the bathrooms and get the fellowship hall back in shape for the upcoming Sunday service. There was a meal after the funeral and, among other things, I had to scrape dried bits of chocolate brownie out of the carpet. 

Those brownies were good, but it's not good when little (and some big) brownie bits fall on the carpet and then get walked over.


As I was there, on my hands and knees, in the reverie of my brownie scraping, it occurred to me that I should take a few pictures. They are pictures for me to remember, and for you to see...

The sanctuary is cavernous. There are 200 chairs in there and it isn't even half full. Lots of room for kids to play in after church. And it was an ideal place for the once-active AWANA program.


  1. Mr. Kimball,

    You stated that you felt as if your church, and its decline, is a metaphor for America. The decline of your church, and many others, I feel is more than a metaphor. The decline, which reflects the overall spiritual health of the nation, is directly linked to the state of the country. Every major crisis we face be it how we deal with unborn children, a corrupt financial system, the increasing trend towards the embracing of "ism's" (thinking about your previous post), environmental, ... you name it. Link them all to not following God's word. I also think about what "church's" seem to be growing? While I have no data to back up my opinion, it seems that at least around me, the huge mega-churches continue to launch "satellite" campuses where one can watch the preacher (at a different location) preach on a big screen. Of course, you do have what is all-important at service present, not virtual ... the worship band, kid's programs, and coffee bar. Wouldn't get folks through the door without those! Perhaps the growth of such places is also metaphorical? A focus on entertainment, being told things to make you feel good about yourself (it is all about our feelings, right?), and the adoption of the post-modern, Westernized, nannie-state in church with regards to child care; namely, a continue abdication of such responsibility to others. Anonymity is also a side benefit from large congregations like this - there is an inverse relationship between anonymity and accountability. I don't know what to think about all of this sometimes, it is overwhelming. What will my sons face? Like you state often, my thoughts turn to prayers and I just pray "God help us".

    Best Regards,

  2. We're in the pathway of a pretty big storm here in Middle TN, so there's not much I can do in terms of getting my garden prepared for spring. I guess that gives me a chance to attend to favourite websites and comment if I'm of a mind to. Accordingly, amen to Brother Tim (from Ohio)! However - and in light of your previous post, Brother Herrick - I do believe there's hope in all of this.

    There's nothing like hardship for driving folks together; implicit in all your writings and vlogs for years now has been a devotion to true localism and community. God's Economy hasn't changed since the beginning (I think too of Joel Salatin's work, especially in "Folks, This Ain't Normal", and "The Marvelous Pigness of Pigs"), nor have we as humans.

    Just on the church front, while there are mega-congregations that are doing the Lord's work, I just don't believe they can ever do the majority of the heavy lifting the church as a whole needs to be doing. While not impossible, it's mighty hard to not get lost in such large crowds, and being "Christian incognito" during hard times just isn't of much use. I believe, then, we're going to have to do what my family did here in TN during the Depression, heck, what my/our ancestors did for centuries, that is, rely on our families, kith and kin, communities (I'm including churches here), interdependently, in order to make it through. When times are hard, there's just no economic benefit to a good many behaviours we get away with during more prosperous times. We'll have to come together or quite possibly, die.

    My $0.02 anyway.

    David Smith

  3. I do enjoy your blog, you have many thought provoking comments, that cause me to think and evaluate my life and what I do and say. Yes things are not so good in our country in many ways, but there is still a lot of good going on. It is sad to see the congregations declining in so many churches across the country. I too am a christian and belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of latter Day Saints. We have lots of young families and children in our churches, altho there are some areas in the country where our congretations are small. But be they large or small, we look out for one another, we minister to each other, just as you do in assisting with the funeral and cleaning up the church. I believe the gentleman who posted above is correct that we will need each other and our churches in the future to make it through. Keep up the good work, Bro. Herrick, I too believe there is hope as we have faith in God and his son Jesus Christ. Keep the posts coming.
    Grandma Zee, out West.

  4. First, I enjoy your posts and always look forward to a new one.

    I live in a very remote area in the mountains of Idaho, the closest town is an hour away and in the winter the drive can be very treacherous. It’s hard to get to town.
    Thankfully a group of dedicated Christians decided to get together in an old Idaho Standard one room school house turned community center the second Sunday and the last Sunday of every month. Sometimes there are few, sometimes there are many who attend. We meet, hear the Lord’s word, take communion, and enjoy fellowship with each other. We share our joys, our sorrows, our lives. We help each other when we are needed, we mind our business otherwise. Yes, sometimes drama tries to sneak in. I ignore it and double down to mind my own business like we are instructed to do.
    We aren’t incorporated, we collect no monies, we don’t answer to government, only to the Lord. Each of us is trusted to take care of our responsibilities to help the Lord’s church where we want to give our money and it is between the Lord and the person/family.

    My husband and I both feel blessed to have our church community.

    Peace and blessings,


  5. My eyes filled with tears as I read your post. So many things that are the truly "ultimate issues." Thank you for sharing what you do. You remind all of us of the things that are truly timeless and priceless. It does make me even more treasure those in my small congregation. We have been through the drama you spoke of and every time, many are lost to the world. God knows. He has a perfect plan for this world and for each one of us. I have no doubt. One of my favorite parts of scripture is the LORD'S word through Jeremiah to the surviving exiles who had been carried off into Babylon. This speaks to me of our responsibility while in "captivity" which I think fits this nation now and as we go forward. "This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 'Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.'" Carry on, Brother Herrick! You are doing just that!

    1. Jeremiah 29. That's a very good scripture to keep in mind. Thank you, Lorraine.

  6. The Church must stand on the authority of Genesis chapters 1 to 11 or it will not survive. Not saying that yours doesn't, but I'm speaking as a whole in general. The position is very defend-able and it really is the only logical explanation for how the world came into being given all the scientific evidence. There are lots of resources out there. Genesis chapters 1 to 11 is the reason for everything we believe as Christians. It is the foundation upon which our entire belief system is built. If we don't take it seriously, then no one will take us seriously.

  7. “The church” is the entire body of believers. “Church” is something that wouldn’t be recognized in the New Testament times, especially among those who knew Jesus personally.

    I am a Christian. I don’t attend any formal services, and haven’t for about 16 years.

    The farther I’ve gotten from “Church”, the closer I’ve grown to God.

    1. I agree with you that in Scripture the church does indeed refer to the collective body of believers. I'd also agree that what constitutes most of what we find in mainstream "churches" nowadays is a radical departure in both content and form from what is found in the early church described in Acts. That said, Scripture does exhort believers not to forsake assembly, provides requirements for leadership amongst local churches, and certainly does not endorse in any way shape or form the modern idea of a "lone ranger Christian". I don't know if you meant such in your post, but certainly hope that you didn't. While my experience is that solid, Bible-believing, family-integrated, SMALL congregation is hard to find, once you do find one the benefits and blessings are amazing.


  8. "The success of any organism or organization will ultimately lead to it's demise." Such are the rules of nature. Acceptance is often challenging.

  9. Elizabeth L. Johnson said, Great blog, great subject, Herrick. My dad's Methodist church, in Siloam Springs, Arkansas is down to about 20 people. Mostly really old attendees, and no young people in sight each Sunday. He's sorry it will some day not exist. The proverb was appropriate, and here's another from Luke 11:23 in the Elizabeth version, Whoever says, does not doubt at all in his heart, believes what he says, it will be done. Thing is, it works in the positive and the negative. You mentioned pride and division. Well, it all starts with words; hence, the verse, In the tongue lies the power of life and death. From words in our thoughts, they move into words in our heart, and then words coming out our mouth. No wonder we need forgiveness and walking in love. But, people forget the words of the Bible and say their own words and you get pride and a very small congregation. I don't go for mega church congregations. Those are always in huge cities. I attend a congregation of several thousand; once in a while. We really enjoy watching you tube sermons mostly. What do I think is best for us out of the Bible? Many of your commentors talk about small community congregations. I was so surprised driving through the farm/ranch communities of south Missouri. Church building every mile! I'm not exaggerating! Never see that in my state of California, not even up here in conservative northern California. Yep, small is the ideal, for personal relationship and accountability. I know the big church congregations have core group, and home group, and probably works out very well on a personal basis. I know our church is doing fantastic things of the Lord for the community and city: fantastic things only a large congregation can afford. Small is ideal, though. I guess there's a place for each in God's will. Small congregation is personal, loving, close, accountable, helpful, relational. But, as a friend told me, who is very much involved in running "church" programs, the Lord told him, It's not about the programs, remember, it's about Me.

  10. Many churches are dwindling simply from generational attrition. I have a sibling with 3 married children. She is grieved that one has become agnostic, and another largely a Christian in name only. Of course this means that my sister's grand kids will also not grow up with a strong Christian influence. And that will obviously affect the next generation to come. This trend has been occurring for at least a generation. In the country, some of this is due to the same reasons that are causing the demise of small towns. Many churches are attended by 40+ year olds because the younger ones have all been forced to move to the city. It's a terrible cycle. I personally see it as a sign of the end times. Could say much more, but I'll leave it at that. We currently attend a smallish conservative church in the big city with a membership under 500. Decades ago, well before we joined, it had 3 full time pastors, and the services had large attendance. Now we primarily have one service which is typically 3/4 full, maybe 150 attending. The silver lining is we do have an encouraging crop of families with young children. At my own blog, I posted about this decay of small town community if you're interested in my take. https://growingfromscratch.com/2018/11/21/make-milk-great-again-got-it/

    1. I just checked out your blog, Mickey. Very nice. And I subscribed to get updates.

  11. Thanks for stopping by and subscribing Herrick. I've been reading your posts for years, and have learned a lot! Still revisit some of the longer essays on Deliberate Agrarian now and then.