WTVM Special Report: The Future of Worship

WTVM Special Report: The Future of Worship

(WTVM) - As Southerners, we're said to be living in the Bible Belt and many say Georgia is the "buckle" of that belt.

But with recent church scandals and controversies - like the uproar over the $60 million jet megachurch pastor Creflo Dollar asked church members to crowdfund - some are asking if there is still a need for megachurches, versus the smaller churches you see every day lining the streets of Georgia and Alabama.

On any given corner particularly in the Bible Belt South, you might find a church or two. Big, small, every denomination – church and religion are woven into the very fabric on America.

But these days, many churches are finding fewer parishioners filling the pews.

"That's a concern all over the world and I attribute it to the culture," said Bishop Ann Hardman with the

. "The culture that we're in is saying that there's no need for God or God is not relevant to this age."

How to keep God and the church relevant in ever-changing times is the question Hardman and religious leaders everywhere are trying to answer.

Even though membership is about a thousand strong, Hardman says many – young people in particular – are turned off by the church.

"I believe our generation played church so much, where we would come to church and go through all the antics and then go home and live something different and our children said forget that, we don't want that, it's not real," Hardman said.

Keeping it real, said Hardman, means churches have to change the way the message is delivered while never changing the message itself.

"We need to make sure that the word of God does not lose its authenticity," Hardman said. "Now the way you like to worship is the way you like to worship."

Church attendance is higher in Georgia and Alabama and other Bible Belt states than in other parts of the country. Still, the numbers are down nationwide with only about 20 percent of the population attending Sunday services on a regular basis.

"A lot of people have set bad examples and I think that's an integral part of why we're seeing a decline in church attendance," said Glen Smith, who attends Faith Worship Center.

Reverend Jeffer Howard pastors

in Waverly Hall, with just over 100 members and only about 40 active.

"We have become so preoccupied with the world that we sometimes forget that we need God," Howard said.

He also struggles with finding ways to attract new members. Still, he says small churches can be effective.

"It doesn't take a whole lot of people to do God's work, it just take some people that are determined and that trust God and believe in God," Howard said.

The numbers are growing at one of Columbus's newest churches. "

" opened six years ago and is now in the process of building a larger church. Their "come as you are" approach has many who may have been turned off by traditional church turning back on.

"There's no, no one judging anybody, nobody's problems are any worse than anybody else's," said Dewon Jacklett who attends My Church. "It's just a very accepting place."

"I think you would say we're different because we're targeting people unreached and targeting people who are younger," said My Church's Pastor Jeff Murphy.

And it's working. Murphy says about 1,500 people attend services regularly with an average age of 27.

"As a young person, your parents put you in a traditional church so you really don't know what direction to go in until someone invites you somewhere and you find the right place for you," said Maria Foust, who attends My Church.

"We're not selling a denomination, we're not selling a religion, we're just trying to make Jesus famous," Murphy said.

Most of the buzz about the church comes from good old-fashioned word of mouth, but social and digital media are key to attracting younger members, said Murphy.

From the biggest to the smallest, most churches these days find it's something they have to embrace.

"Older churches, more traditional churches, you don't have to change the way you look, you don't have to change your band or any of those things to reach the millennials, but you have to be authentic and so they find authenticity through social media," said My Church's digital media director Sandy Ellington.

Studies show 80 percent of pastors are now using the Internet to keep up with relationships, compared with only 64 percent 15 years ago.

Still, some religious leaders see technology as good and bad, a tool that on the one hand can help get people into church but on the other also be the distraction that pulls them away.

"We're going to have to step it up," Hardman said. "But I do see that there's going to have to be a war between technology and the church and the church as we know it today is not going to look the same."

No one knows just what that assembly will evolve into, but these pastors are all confident the church itself will stand.

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