Churches adapt to changing beliefs and congregations

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- Americans’ belief in God isn’t going away, but research and church attendance suggest it is changing. Pew Research Center’s latest data reports 90% of Americans believe in God or a higher power. But, far less believe in God as described in the Bible.

Pastor Tim Milner centers his life around leading people to Jesus Christ by way of the Word.

“The Bible speaks to this, deep down, every one of us knows that there is a God," Milner said to Huntsville, Alabama's WHNT.

Milner is pastor of Essential Church in Huntsville. Their focus is a ‘church for people who didn’t think church was for them.’

"Here's what we're singing, here's what we're doing, here's our outreach,” Milner explained. “We're asking, how would somebody who's never been to church, how would they react to this?”

Essential Church is nondenominational, part of a growing group in Huntsville.

“I think that you find in many of those congregations where you have less formalized methods of worship, people who are speaking to the real issues and needs of people in their congregation,” Kenny Anderson, Huntsville’s Multicultural Affairs Officer, said. “Those congregations, in turn, are speaking to the real needs of the community. For that reason, those congregations seem to be growing a lot more than traditional congregations.”

Anderson said nondenominational churches are redefining what it is to be a Christian. He added those churches are making changes in response to the changing environment surrounding them.

“If you have a church that's not meeting the needs, or a faith congregation that's not meeting the needs of the people in the community of which that building exists, you should ask yourself that fundamental question, ‘does it really matter that we're here,’” Anderson said.

The Pew Research study which found 90% of US adults believe in God or a higher power were polled from December 4 through December 18, 2017. Despite the 90%, their research found just over half of people believe in the God of the Bible. Anderson said traditional views are challenged by what's happening to our neighbors.

"In spite of the fact that people are going to church, they're still experiencing financial crises, unemployment, they're experiencing all kinds of family dynamics that create dysfunction in the home. So, there are a lot of people searching for answers and there are a lot of people asking the obvious question, ‘where's God in all of this? That is a legitimate question that I don't even think God doesn't appreciate because God expects us, I think, as intelligent human beings to ask questions that are important.”

Pew Research found less than half of people between the ages of 30 and 40 years old believe in the biblical God. In contrast, 80% of people ages 18-29 said they do believe in some sort of higher power.

“A lot of people don't think about spirituality in a person, they think of spirituality in terms of nature, they think of spirituality in terms of the universe,” Anderson said.

“At the heart of this Gospel, there's this idea that Jesus Christ came not to save a bunch of good people,’ Milner said. “He did not come to save people who deserved God's favor. Jesus Christ came to save messed up, jacked up people just like me.”

“Jesus' fundamental teaching was love,” Anderson said. “We've got to find a way to really make love real, we have to make it pragmatic, we have to make sure that people feel it every day

The challenge for all Christian denominations is finding a way to make a big God, personal.