The early Church fathers clearly included belief in the Church for a reason.
How do we know this? Well, it’s listed right along with their belief in God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. While we would not likely find ourselves questioning the import of God, we might find ourselves tempted to see the Holy Christian Church as somewhat of a minor character, as if the writers of this creed were a high school or college student, looking to say a few more things so their paper will be the required length.
It must have meant something to the Apostle Paul, who spent his life establishing churches in so many towns where he visited. It must have meant something more than having a group to collect a tithe from; otherwise it would not have been worth dying for. In our heritage, it must have meant something to John Wesley, who refused to evangelize someone unless there was a local church to connect the newly converted with.
But times have changed.
We currently have an obvious issue, in that people do not revere the Church like they should.
A survey (in 2013) by Barna Group asked over 1,000 American adults the following question: "What do you think about going to church?" About 30 percent of Americans say attending church is very important, about 40 percent are ambivalent about attending church, and 30 percent say attending church is not important at all. Those who are ambivalent about attending church gave two reasons for their ambivalence: "I find God elsewhere" (40 percent) and it's not "personally relevant" (35 percent).
If the main product for which church exists and the main practice for applying said product are both absent from Church, then we should agree that Church has lost its purpose.
Millennials who are opting out of church cite the following three factors with equal weight in their decision: the moral failures of church leaders, hypocrisy, and the church's irrelevance. 20 percent of Millennials say that "God is missing" from church and 10 percent sense that doubt is prohibited. Also, when asked to list "What made your faith grow?" the church didn't even make the top ten.
~Jon Tyson, Sacred Roots (Zondervan, 2013), pp. 14-24
But here is where it gets interesting.
Research shows that the great majority of Americans who say they have "no religion" are still quite religious, or at least "spiritually inclined." In 2011, an Associated Press poll found that 8 in 10 Americans believed in angels—even 4 in 10 people who never went to church. In 2009 the Pew Research Center reported that 1 in 5 Americans experienced ghosts and 1 in 7 had consulted a psychic. In 2005, Gallup found that 3 out of 4 Americans believed in something paranormal, and that 4 in 10 said that houses could be haunted. More than 90 percent of those who do not belong to a church say that they pray, and 39 percent of them pray weekly or more often. Half of those who say they have "no religion" frequent New Age bookstores, and they are especially prone to believe in ghosts, Bigfoot, and Atlantis.
~Rodney Stark, America's Blessings (Templeton Press, 2013), pp. 28-29; T. M. Luhrmann, "Conjuring Up Our Own Gods," The New York Times (10-17-13)
While it would be really tempting for us to scoff and just laugh at these people for considering Big Foot to be in any way connected to spiritual matters, it is vital that we ask how the Church has become so irrelevant in a people who so clearly are hungering for the spiritual in their lives.