Church Attendance and the Decline of Civic Spaces

Article/Op-Ed in Pacific Standard
Nov. 7, 2017

Chayenne Polimedio's article about how the decrease in church attendance can have political consequences was published in Pacific Standard

This decline in religiosity has meant that fewer Americans go to church. That's worrying—not because people should necessarily believe in God, but because Americans' atrophying church attendance means that one of the oldest spaces where Americans have been able to engage with other members of their community, and even fight for various causes, doesn't have the same resonance it once did.
Churches are an example of what urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg calls a "third place." Third places are spaces where people spend time between their first and second places—home and work, respectively. Third places serve as community builders. This means that they're locations where, in the case of churches, people can share their worries, rejoice, and renew together.....
....Churches, as third places, provide a relaxed and "low-stakes" atmosphere, and they foster trust between members of communities—and in the public institutions so fundamental to a strong and resilient democracy. Political science scholars have long bemoaned the consequences weak and declining civic institutions have on the health of a democracy. Alexis de Tocqueville, one of the greatest scholars of American democracy, believed that religion, as a political institution and voluntary civic association, was key to the preservation of freedom in a democratic society.
That's because voluntary civic associations, by virtue of bringing people together, can cultivate trust among individuals and create "civic capital." According to David Davenport, of the Hoover Institute, and Hanna Skandera, former secretary of education of New Mexico, "civic associations can serve as a kind of buffer or intermediary between individuals and public institutions. They provide citizens with an opportunity to give freely and generously, beyond both the obligations of law and the market's narrower interest in profit."

Related Topics
Civic Engagement and Organizing