Thursday, 23 November 2017 19:17

Unchurched Pt. 2 Featured

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STATEWIDE - We have explored a number of reasons why Maine has one of the lowest populations of people attending worship services on a regular basis. 

Individualism, abandonment of the Gospel, diminishing appeal to young people and a general view that worship service is not needed were all explanations in the first part of our series, "Unchurched."

"I kind of have to see it like Charles Dickens' 'The Tale of Two Cities,'" says Kirk Winters, senior pastor at The Rock Church in Bangor. "It is the best of times, it is the worst of times."

Nationally, attendance at regular worship services across the United States is declining.

"The whole culture of individualism has really taken root in the last 50 years or so," says Cliff Guthrie, professor of ethics and humanities at Husson University. "As a nation people are becoming less likely to join other groups in general."

Around 22% of the Maine population reportedly attends worship services on a regular basis, a steady decline from years past.

The Catholic Church, which makes up Maine's largest religious denomination, has also seen decline in the past decade.

"It seems like a lot of churches are closing their doors and shrinking," says Winters. "But on the other hand, there's a new generation of churches that are proclaiming the Gospel boldly, that are growing, that are exciting, that are reaching young people."

There has, however, been a slight growth in the non-denominational evangelical faith across the nation according to the Pew Research Center's most recent religious landscape study.

The U.S. Religion Census also says by 2010, these congregations in Maine reached nearly 26,000 members in more than 170 congregations compared to a much smaller amount in the 1990s.

"To see the lights come on in people's eyes as they understand that we serve a good God, that wants a relationship with his people," Winters says about his favorite part of his job. 

He's experienced growth first hand at The Rock Church in Bangor.

This is Winters' second church he has started after establishing one in southern Maine earlier in his lifetime.

With the contemporary music, the casual atmosphere and its adherence to preaching the Gospel, his Bangor church regularly sees more than 1,200 people over its four weekend services.

"If we will have a welcoming environment and we'll open our doors to everybody," says Winters. "We have a great chance to turn the tide to see Maine no longer be in the bottom, but in the top. "

But should we even want to see Maine turn these numbers around?

"I think having less religiosity in the United States would be an amazing thing," says Marissa Lopez, an atheist in the greater Bangor region.

Lopez grew up with a religious family and attended church as a young girl in Dixmont. 

She says she has yet to find a god belief that she can understand. 

"There were always questions," says Lopez. "There were always things that didn't make sense like if this is supposed to be an all loving God, why does he want to punish so many people."

She is also a member of the Maine atheists and Humanists community group and says a worship service is just another place to congregate with people that share the same beliefs.

"It's kind of putting yourself in an echo chamber, you're surrounding yourselves by people who have the same beliefs as you who are reinforcing those same beliefs over and over again."

Husson University's Cliff Guthrie says sometimes people join a particular church, not because of its ideas or beliefs it presents, but because of self-selecting individualism that has not only trickled into our culture, but into our church selection process.

"The sociologists of religion will point out that people will convert to one religion or another based on their relationships with other people," he says. 

One member of The Rock Church says he found his relationship with God with the help of a relative, before deciding on what church to go to.

"It wasn't until i actually moved in with my grandmother that i found the Lord and really had a change of heart," says Justin Damico. "I just didn't feel the need before then to come to church."

Since his search for the right place of worship landed him at The Rock, he has seen a significant change in his life.

He says coming to worship services regularly is something people should consider.

"Maybe they haven't felt the need to surrender to God," he says. "Maybe there's nothing else to live for other than Christ and that he's the reason we are living."

We reached out to local Catholic churches and Jewish synagogues for this story and either did not hear back from them or were declined an interview.

Blake Lipton

Morning Anchor/Reporter
[email protected]

Blake Lipton joined the ABC 7 and Fox 22 news team in January of 2016 and is excited to start his career in television as a morning anchor at our station!

He is a recent graduate of the University of South Carolina and has previously interned with the ESPNU/SEC Network, Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic and the WOLO sports department in Columbia, South Carolina during his time in school.

Blake also worked with the Weather Channel to help cover the historic South Carolina floods in the fall of 2015.

While most of his experience is in sports, Blake is thrilled for the opportunity to host the morning show at Fox ABC Maine and become a more well-rounded journalist and storyteller.

When he is not anchoring or reporting, Blake enjoys hiking, reading and talking anything football. He is also a fan of coffee and hip-hop music.

Feel free to reach out to him with story ideas at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @Blake_Lipton for the latest updates on everything Maine!