Americans are exiling church from their lives

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons.

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons.

(OPINION) To imagine what the church in exile looks like, consider a trend in wedding ceremonies. Or read what most Americans do on Sunday.

For many Christians, it’s hard to imagine what the church in exile looks like. An exile is an outsider. The church in exile means American Christianity operates outside the arenas where cultures are mostly made. It’s an outsider. But what does that look like?

Look at wedding ceremonies. According to wed­ding-plan­ning web­site Wed­ding-Wire, only 25% of today’s cou­ples mar­ry­ in a re­li­gious in­sti­tu­tion or ceremony. This is according to a re­cent sur­vey of 18,000 cou­ples. Most get married apart from any recognition that Christianity has something meaningful to contribute to marriage.

This is especially true for millennials and Gen Z. Most want cus­tomized ceremonies created from scratch. Couples outsourc­e vows to on­line consultants who typically have little knowledge of the Christian tradition. They’re often asked to of­fi­ci­ate the wed­ding.

Or consider what an increasing number of Americans do on Sunday. Years ago, I started reading the “Sunday Routine” in the New York Times. I’ve yet to read of anyone going to church. For example, take a look at how Candace Bushnell spends her Sundays.

Bushnell is best known as the creative force behind “Sex and the City.” She lives in a one-bedroom apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Sundays start with “poodle time” (Pepper and Prancer), then reading (“news binge”), writing, yoga, leisure, dining, and errands. No mention of ever going to church.

Or consider Anne Welsh McNulty, a former managing director at Goldman Sachs. She’s now the chief executive of the McNulty Foundation, focused on locating and nurturing the next generation of leaders. In the last three years alone, the foundation has given more than $18 million to organizations with that goal in mind. McNulty is looking for individuals seeking to address seemingly intractable problems. How does she spend her Sundays? Reading, relaxing, dining, and spending as much time as she can with her three grown children. No church in the picture.

Or consider Tracy Pollan. She lives in Manhattan’s Upper East Side with her husband, the actor Michael J. Fox, their daughter, Esme, 17, and their Great Dane mutt, Gus. Sundays are about enjoying the city. “We’re super active as a family and get out and explore.” No mention of ever exploring a church.

I realize the New York Times can be a bit biased when it comes to the church. But you’d think that somewhere, somehow, at some time, someone would merit a story about going to church on Sunday. I bet some of the city’s influentials do, but to date, none have been highlighted in what Gawker says is “the best part of the Sunday paper.”

I experienced this firsthand as a consultant for an international company. I would occasionally travel to New York City where some of its innovation lab people work. Over lunch one day, I mentioned a number of churches in the city trying to solve problems in the workplace. I asked which ones they had heard of. None.

This is what the church in exile looks like. It means Western Christianity is largely outside the arenas in which the greatest influence in cultures is exerted. We can help the homeless but don’t help Whole Foods.

I’m encouraged that a few Christians feel exile. There are young leaders like Pat. He works for an international sportswear company in Baltimore. Pat will tell you God-talk would be very awkward at his company. Pat and I are working on reframing the faith so that his company might one day take the gospel seriously.

America’s influentials — whether in New York or elsewhere — have forgotten what happened in 321 AD. The church established Sunday as a day off for worship. No more working seven days a week. But that was then. This is now. Sunday is a day for everything but worship. If you doubt it, look at trends in wedding ceremonies. Or read the “Sunday Routine” in the New York Times. Let me know when the word “church” appears.

Republished with permission from The Clapham Institute. The author is the president and founder of the institute.