I see him frequently in a local business, and we often joke a bit when I’m in his check-out line. Recently he was on his knees stocking shelves when I came in.
“It’s good to see you on your knees praying,” I said with a smile.
When he came to the counter to help me after I got what I needed, he said, “I don’t pray. I’m an atheist and it works out well for me.”
I was a bit surprised by his serious reaction to my light-hearted comment. Then he continued, “I don’t fear for eternity. I think I’ll be fine.”
I suppose I navigate in a tight circle and don’t often meet self-proclaimed atheists, though some studies suggest around 12 percent of Americans say they don’t believe in God. I’m in a hobby club with an atheist and we’re friends. I tell my friend frequently that I pray for him that he’d find Christ. And I responded to my clerk friend, “Well, eternity is one thing, but serving Christ in life is a happy experience.”
It’s not just atheists that the church meets, but also those who are apathetic. Fewer people attend services now than in the past. One source suggests 40 percent of Americans attend worship, but only 28 percent of those between 23 and 37. And it’s not unusual to see many churches having fewer services or even closing their doors. I saw in a home and garden magazine in a doctor’s office about an architect who transformed a chapel into a family residence. We have a former church in our community that’s now a police annex.
Churches have reacted to new realities in a variety of ways, including additional service times, website and online giving options and using social media. Even Pope Francis has more than 10 million Twitter followers.
Our church installed a projector a few years ago when we re-lamped the sanctuary. One lady was outspoken in opposition, fearing that we planned to “put the hymns on the screen.” We didn’t until an 80-year-old saint requested it. She said she had carpal tunnel in her hands and holding the hymnal could be painful. A senior adult prodded us to try something new!
Stats also assert that about half of unchurched Americans would consider attending church if invited by friends. All of us rely on friends when we move to a new community and need a doctor, dentist or hairdresser. And Christians who make friends can be true friends by inviting others to worship with them.
And we mustn’t discount the power of prayer as Christians. We believe in the power of God that can melt hard hearts and bring people to faith.
Reflections is a weekly devotional column written by Michael J. Brooks, pastor of the Siluria Baptist Church in Alabaster. The church's website issiluriabaptist.com.