CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - If you’re a regular church-goer, you probably noticed it over Christmas. The pews were packed. But what’s it like the rest of the year? A lot of churches are struggling with attendance to keep the flock together.
A few months ago, a survey by Pew Research found over the last decade, the share of Americans who attend a religious service at least monthly has dropped 7 percent.
When you whittle it down to age groups, there’s a clear distinction - the number of Millennials going to church weekly is much lower than other generations.
Even of those who do go to church at least monthly - Pew found a quarter of them don't usually feel a sense of community. Two in five don't feel connected to their faith's history.
“People talk about Millennials a lot,” Rev. Ben Boswell from Myers Park Baptist Church says, “It's not easy to cut through a lot of the really bad messaging that the church has had. I mean, there's been Catholic abuse scandals, plus a lot of hatred for and exclusivity toward and judgment towards so many people”.
It’s why you’ll find signs that say, “Jesus was an undocumented immigrant. Just saying,” or "Women leaders welcome. No stained-glass ceilings here,” outside of Myers Park Baptist.
It's not something you'd expect to see outside of a 75-year-old church in one of Charlotte’s oldest neighborhoods. But that's the point.
“We want to kind of change that message and say, look, not all churches are like that,” Rev. Boswell says. “There are judgment-free churches, there are places where LGBTQ people are affirmed and loved and cared for. There are places where everyone’s cared for and advocated for and loved.”
It's a campaign the church launched about a month ago.
“You’ve heard secret shoppers,” Rev. Boswell says. “We had secret worshippers come and one of the things they said is, we were not seeing the sort of bold images of your progressive past, your social justice work, your history of inclusivity. And it took us the entire worship service to figure out who you were.”
It sparked a conversation - how can the church communicate that message in a bolder way?
How can they welcome more people into their services?
“We have one that says, ‘A pastor and atheist and a transgender woman walk into a church, no joke,” Rev. Boswell told Jamie Boll.
“And that happens here?” Jamie asked.
“Every week,” Rev. Boswell replied.
Rev. Boswell says it's not about converting anyone or finding new members. It's about changing perceptions of church and welcoming people from all beliefs and backgrounds.
“Even atheists are walking on a journey of discovery and trying to discover themselves, trying to figure out what it means to be an ethical human being, to care for other people, to live a moral life in this world. And whether they buy it all, that doesn’t really matter to us. We just want to walk with them on the journey,” Rev. Boswell said.
Rev. Boswell knows full-well, not everyone will agree with his church’s approach. But – he says, love comes first.
“We don’t feel like it’s our responsibility to always to just sit back and say nothing. You know, love can’t be silent,” he says, “We feel like that’s what Jesus was about. And we feel like our bold campaign is an expression of Jesus’s love for all people,” he said.