Empty pews

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 16, 2002

The statistics are startling.

According to a study by the American Society for Church Growth, an average of 62 churches close each week in the United States.

A study by the World Evangelical Research Center reveals that the number of Christians has declined over the past 100 years, while the number of people claiming no religious affiliation has increased.

Email newsletter signup

But a number of pastors of churches in Selma believe that it’s possible to buck those trends and that churches can still play a vital role in people’s lives.

Buddy Salsman, pastor at Living Waters Worship Center on Deep Woods Road, believes that the key to churches attracting new members has changed over the past years.

“I remember when I was younger and I was attending church, the question we all asked ourselves was, ‘What can I do for my church?'” Salsman said.

“Now that has completely changed. The question everybody who bothers to attend church now asks is, ‘What can my church do for me?'” he said. “Compared to when I was growing it up, things are a lot different now.”

Dr. John Fain, pastor of First Baptist Church on Lauderdale Street, agreed that the people who attend church in this day and age are looking for something different.

“They are looking for a life changing experience, something that will move them spiritually,” Fain said. “That is really the reason people attend church, and that is what our church tries to bring to those who normally attend.

“We are basically there for the purpose of moving them spiritually and making them feel closer to God,” he said.

The pastors interviewed by The Times-Journal said they offered various other services to attract and keep people in churches. They cited things such as programs targeted specifically at youth, Sunday School, food and clothing for the needy, and, above all else, a sense of friendship and belonging among all members.

“What we try to bring to our members is the promise of friendships, especially among the youth and elderly in our church,” said James Jackson, pastor of Brown Chapel AME Church on Martin Luther King Drive. “This is what many of our members look for.”

Most pastors, when asked the time of year when the highest number of people usually attend church, said the fall months were usually the highest, while the summer months, especially after July, were the lowest.

“When people leave for summer holidays, we usually seem to see a general decline in numbers in the church during that time,” Fain said.

Salsman noted that during times of crisis, such as during the Persian Gulf War and after Sept. 11, there is not only a greater number of church attendees but also a much greater spiritual devotion among people.

“People, during those times, just seem to become more dedicated to the Word of God,” he said. “I remember during the Gulf War, I saw many more coming to the church than I had ever seen previously.”

Richard Penaskovic, a professor of religious studies at Auburn University, said he believes the statistics are misleading and that the United States is, in fact, a more spiritual nation now than ever before.

“Based on the information I have, I really do believe those numbers are not quite right,” Penaskovic said. “We are, and always have been, a very religious country. I think now more than ever people are going to church, and I really do believe we are more spiritually minded than we have ever been.”