- The first trend involved the upward social movement of the original parishioners and their children. Many of this “genesis generation” left the area for the suburbs for safer, cleaner neighborhoods and for higher performing schools
- The second trend occurred because nature abhors a vacuum. As previous generations left the area new immigrants arrived who came from different regions of the world with competing faiths and religious and spiritual traditions. So the Church became a sort of Alamo, a building foreign to the new inhabitants who viewed it not as a sanctuary but as a symbol of “the other”
- Lastly, the final reason for the closure comes from the fact that consolidation of parish ministries has been occurring everywhere and for years as people look less to formal ritual and a physical church to either pray or validate their spirituality
But this isn’t just an issue for old, large church structures and their patrons alone. This group of formal churches and other immense houses of worship in the United States have been closing for decades because of low attendance. And the trend in attendance continues to decline across most if not all religious faiths and denominations.
Just search the Internet and you’ll see religious leaders, the media and social scientists all acknowledging these low attendance trends. Over at Church.com, an article appeared both explaining and forecasting seven trends about the growing lack of religiosity in America.
At godlikeproductions.com, their site notes that thousands of churches are closing yearly. In 2007, Churchleadership.org, presented an article on the decades long and ongoing decline of formal worship. In 2012, Thom Rainer of Lifeway Christian Resources wrote that there are 13 trends which are negatively impacting church membership and attendance including but not limited to the impact of the “Nones.”
how banks are foreclosing on churches that borrowed money to build or expand and who, because of falling attendance, could not keep up their payments to make good on their debts.
But what comes with the closing of churches or other houses of worship?
- First and foremost these closings can allow for economic development. As in the case of the church closing next to my office, the land purchase has meant a multi-year boon in both demolition and new construction jobs.
- Secondly, the reimagined land use provides for wider and better housing options for the people living in the area and for new families who move to the area.
- Thirdly, there comes economic development as the new housing may bring individuals and families with higher incomes - or at least just more individuals and families into the area – to grow the local economy. This infuses local business and new businesses alike with the energy and potential capital to meet the service and consumer needs of the new neighborhood arrivals and current residents.
- For the local, state and federal government it means additional tax revenue. Real estate taxes alone drive money back into the neighborhood to support local services from education to street cleaning to garbage pickup. Appropriate taxation allows government to return in labor and public service to the community something the community could not afford to do itself.
- It may also mean greater social connections and social mobility because groups who ordinarily would not mingle or coalesce find themselves together in common physical space. Although any new building project could mean gentrification which can alienate and create a whole litany of stresses within communities - both for those currently indigenous to the neighborhood and those moving into the area – the role and goal of renewal can be healthy if managed successfully.
However, New York City, like many cities in America and around the globe, is a city that has been a place of constant social, economic and political movement. If we could identify one central variable of what it means to live, work or exist in NYC, it is that things don’t remain the same and that there is constant change. Such transformation can be very healthy because it underscores the opportunity (and the danger) of movement.
In fact, the lessening of faith gives the ownership of how we think and behave back to the people who reside within close proximity of each other, negating the idea that community needs a religious bridge or center to define who is good or bad or worthy of our communication and presence.
And isn't that what we all work for? A human connection to others, religious or not, whereby we can all live with respect and dignity within the confines of secularism. With all the legal rights and responsibilities given to us not from an outside deity but from all of us agreeing what is humane and just based on secular law, personal ethics and the finest essentials of humanism..