I just read a sort of parable shared by Fritjof Capra. I'll paraphrase it. You are driving along in your car and a red light comes on. It is the warning light that the oil in your car is very low. You know little about cars, but you know that a red light signals a problem. So, you take your car to the mechanic. You tell him the red light is on. He says not to worry. He finds the wire to the red light and cuts it. There, he exclaims, the red light is off.
I just love this little story. It so plainly exposes the problem of dealing with trivial, outer things as if symptoms can be solved by manipulating them, rather than finding underlying causation. The car obviously needed oil, not the signal cut.
Looking around our world, I see this very problem in many, maybe most, situations. People are fiddling around with the trivial in an effort to diminish the symptoms, while ignoring the underlying causes. For me, the most germane to my life is religion.
I am certain that there is a deep spiritual yearning in the hearts of most/all people. For the most part, churches are not satisfying that yearning by offering real spiritual experience. The leaders play around with externals such as decor, hours of service, newsletters, bulletins, music, prepared homilies, etc. But they don't get to spiritual leadership that offers spiritual experience. Maybe part of that is that they have no way to lead there, as they themselves have not experienced The Holy One.
On top of that, genuine teaching is obscured by illogical teachings around scriptures. The rich and meaningful myths are taught as fact. The ignorance of history and archeology treat scriptures as if they are historical accounts.
Some examples. Pilot, one of society's more vicious people, is turned into a kinder, gentler version in the Gospels. He killed thousands of people, such as Simon, the Samaritan prophet, and 30,000 of his followers, among others. He was not a nice, kind man. Gospels were written between 70 and 120 CE by Greek speaking people who were far removed from the actual events and after the temple and Jerusalem were destroyed. They had an interest in not upsetting Rome, and by that time were mostly gentile and anti-Semitic. We don't even know who wrote them. They were called memoirs until the 150's CE when they were finally given names. We don't have any original copies either, the first a small fragment from the 5th century. You can see just some of the problems.
So, in my opinion, there are two main causes of shrinking churches. 1) They do not provide or lead to genuine spiritual experience, partially because the leaders don't know the way. 2) They teach without regard to history and archeology, promoting fantastical ideas that anyone with Google can check out.
There is a huge downward trend in church attendance. Shall we address the causes or continue to fiddle around with the trivial? Will the people have to find their own way to God? Will people give up? Will religious leaders step up? We'll have to see.