Losing my religion: KSN looks into practices of Kansans

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Some believe we’re losing our religion, as more Americans stay home instead of going to worship.

On a Sunday morning, KSN visited three churches in Wichita: Methodist, Evangelical, and Catholic. All different, but much the same. All with a belief in God and Jesus Christ. But are local churches losing the people who pack their pews?

What about Kansas? Are Kansans faithful in the pews, skipping church, or have they stopped believing in God altogether?

“The thing that I would say is that I have seen this shift. The most active church member in America, regardless of the label on the front of the church, attends church on average 1.2 times per month,” said Pastor Jeff Gannon from Chapel Hill Methodist Church.

Pastor Jeff Gannon, Chapel Hill Methodist Church

The most active church member in America, regardless of the label on the front of the church, attends church on average 1.2 times per month.”                                      –Pastor Jeff Gannon

Some churches are growing.

“So, I know different churches are going to be experiencing different things, and we’ve been fortunate enough like this past year we’ve grown about 30 percent,” explained Life.Church Pastor Tim Doremus.

For St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, only about half of the parishioners worship regularly.

“We have 8,000 people who are registered as parishioners at St. Francis,” said Father Jarrod Lies. “About half of them come to mass every Sunday. I’d like to see all of them come to mass.”

There’s no denying faith is powerful in Kansas. In Wichita, there are hundreds of churches of different faiths and denominations, and there’s competition to bring in more followers.

At Life.Church it’s not only about the message, but the experiences. Pastor Doremus believes this type of service is becoming more popular.

“Our services are going to be upbeat. They’re going to be very encouraging, but you’re also going to get to hear about God, and what he’s done for you and how it might change your life,” said Doremus.

Chapel Hill Methodist also has a dedicated following. Pastor Jeff Gannon believes his congregation is strong. But his research about overall faith in Wichita is surprising.

RELATED LINK | Religious Landscape Study: Adults in Kansas

“But, in terms of a city, 16 percent of the east side of Wichita attend church on a weekly basis,” said Gannon.

He believes the wealth of people living on the east side could be keeping them away from church, believing planning for their financial future takes precedence over their spiritual future.

“Sometimes, we think that if we have all of our ducks in a row, we have our IRA in place, we’re gearing up for retirement, everything is good,” said Gannon.

At St. Frances of Assisi, Father Jarrod Lies says finances isn’t keeping his followers away. He believes a traditional relationship with Christ keeps them coming back.

“Here in Wichita the Diocese as a whole, we average about 48 percent mass participation,” explained Father Lies. “The numbers throughout the United States range anywhere from 20 to 25 percent.”

Nationally though, church attendance is declining. According to Hartford Institute for Religion Research, 40 percent of Americans say they attend church. But, only 20 percent actually show up. Also, from 2010 to 2012, half of all churches in the U.S. failed to add new members.

While Mississippi is most religious and, Vermont the least, Gallup says Kansas ranks 18th on the list. But, how long will we stay there?

(Map courtesy Gallup)

A study from the Pew Research Center shows 66 percent of Kansans do believe in God. Also, 50 percent believe religion is important. But only 33 percent of Kansans say they attend church once a week, while 47 percent attend seldom or never.

Pastor Doremus believes Life.Church, which started in Oklahoma, is bucking that trend.

“In the last 22 years we’ve seen God do some amazing things through that, we now currently have 27 life churches in communities all across the country just like the Wichita community and we’ve actually been in the city for 3 years,” said Doremus.

Will places like Life.Church and others stay connected with the younger worshipers?

A pew research poll showed 67 percent of what is called the silent generation, roughly those 75 years old or older is spiritual. Baby boomers 59 percent. Older millennials 44 percent. Only 38 percent of younger millennials, those born between 1990 to 1996, consider themselves religious.

RELATED LINK | 5 Reasons Millennials Stay Connected to Church

At Chapel Hill, Pastor Gannon believes his philosophy is bringing all generations back to worship.

“We seek to be an inclusive community of people of all ages and all backgrounds all across the boards. Socioeconomically we have people that are single, married, people that are gay, people that are straight. We seek to be an inclusive community,” said Gannon.

Father Lies believes Catholicism will remain strong in Wichita.

Pastor Tim Doremus, Life.Church

“So, we know God uses different churches to connect with different people and so we know there is a place for every church in Wichita.”          – Pastor Tim Doremus

“I think there is a certain tradition of handing down the faith from family to family to family. But, here at St. Frances, I know that we have, we’re averaging about 40 converts a year as well,” said Lies.

To keep up with the times many churches are turning to social media to reach new and current parishioners.

“We do use social media. We know that the average person in the Wichita metro area uses Facebook, a lot of people use Instagram. So, we use things like that to connect with people,” said Doremus.

The same goes for Chapel Hill and St. Francis, who use Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. Plus, you can watch their sermons online, live or at a later time.

Ultimately, for each church it’s about faith and making sure they don’t lose it.

Father Jarrod Lies, St. Francis of Assisi

“I think there is a certain tradition of handing down the faith from family to family to family.”                                      – Father Jarrod Lies

“What I know is there is about 600,000 people in the city of Wichita and they’re all different, we’re all different. So, we know God uses different churches to connect with different people and so we know there is a place for every church in Wichita,” said Doremus.

“So, l think it’s the whole system of commitment of the people of God,” said Father Lies.

“The bottom line is we need God, we need each other,” said Gannon.

We talked a lot about faith. But what about those who’ve not only lost their religion, but maybe never had it in the first place?

A study from the University of Kentucky shows as many as 26 percent of Americans are Atheist, and that number is expected to grow. Although many of them are staying quiet about it, because one in three Atheists don’t feel comfortable telling others they believe there is no God.


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