I am a self-admitted church hopper or at least I have been for almost a year now. Late last summer, I embarked on a project, “52 churches in 52 weeks.” If you Google this title, you’ll find that other individuals have taken this same journey. So far, I have visited about 46 different churches, all but three of them located in Miami County. I have attended Methodist, Lutheran, Baptist, Nazarene, Presbyterian, Apostolic, United Church of Christ, Church of God, Brethren, Catholic, Assemblies of God, and non-denominational services, and the list goes on.
When my husband and I relocated to Miami County a few years ago, one of the questions people frequently asked us was, “Where do you attend church?” However, this might be the wrong question if you are trying to decide whether you share a similar faith experience and denominational or theological stance. After all, statistics from the website www.city-data.com reveal that the largest population growth in religious attendance in Miami County is in the category of those who do not attend at all. In a county of approximately 104,224 people estimated by July 2015 data from the United States Census Bureau, currently about 64,347 individuals are not attending or claiming affiliation with a religious group. This is a 21 percent increase from the 52,998 individuals who claimed no religious affiliation in 2000 when there were approximately 99,000 residents. Of course, this dramatic rise must be adjusted for the population growth that has occurred in Miami County.
This is not a phenomenon peculiar to Miami County as nationwide especially mainline denominational churches have seen a tremendous decline in attendance in recent years. This is often attributed to the large proportion of the young adult (millennial) population who are not church-goers. It was this statistic about those with no religious affiliation which originally spurred me to investigate the churches in Miami County. This began as a private project for possible publication, because while completing a master’s degree in ministry some years ago, my studies included a personal emphasis on church growth.
The project was eventually accepted as my research report to fulfill a Leadership Troy requirement. As a part of the 2016 class of Leadership Troy, it has been an interesting journey documenting my experience visiting dozens of our county’s houses of worship to prepare to write a report not about specific churches, but about the local faith community in general. I hope to let you in on the results in a few months, but for now, if I haven’t visited your Miami County church or other religious fellowship, temple, etc., and you would like me to, please send me an email, being sure to include service times and location. In my report, one of the items to be addressed is that some religious establishments are neglecting Internet postings through a website, blog, or Facebook page regarding basic information like service times. Although there are also fellowships that are doing an exemplary job of having an Internet presence to get their information out.
On a positive note, I have been profoundly changed on this path. About halfway through the project, there was a Sunday when my husband and I visited a West Milton congregation. As the sunlight streamed through the stained glass windows, tears filled my eyes. Not tears of sadness, but of gratitude for what I have witnessed in fellowships all across our county. Whether it was 30 elderly seniors gathered in a century-old brick building singing traditional hymns or hundreds of people of all ages clapping and making a joyful noise in a converted bowling alley, I have been privileged to observe local residents expressing their faith.
Witnessing the zeal of many church attendees reminded me that there are citizens who still care deeply about this nation, and about this community. Those who want to do the right thing and support the schools, the elderly, the poor, the sick, and to battle the county’s heroin epidemic like the 40 plus area churches that joined together for the Hope over Heroin event in July. I gleaned all this information from reading church bulletins listing numerous outreaches mostly led by volunteers, and by listening to heartfelt Sunday morning prayers and sermons. I have been blessed by friendliness and inspired by devout dedication, relieved to find that there are thousands of wonderful believers alive and well in Miami County. To be continued …
Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and inspirational speaker who earned a master’s in ministry from Mount Vernon Nazarene University. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.