Americans packed churches, synagogues and and all manner of houses of worship in the weeks after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Some were seeking comfort among family and friends, others wanted to find answers for the evil. The media was filled with images of churches full to capacity and bishops, priests and laymembers were interviewed and panel members on talk shows. National leaders and even politicians were calling for prayer and for people to turn to God. Patriotism was at an all-time high. It was all about Unity, God, and Country. By some estimates, on the Sunday following the terror attacks roughly half of the adult population in the United States attended a religious service.
Neighbors, colleagues, family, and friends alike, were in a kind of stunned stuper, slowly waking from a bad dream and not comrehending where they were. In fact the nation as a whole was in a collective shock. Then the questioning began almost immediately. How could they do this to us? Why would they do this? What did we do to deserve this? We must reach out and understand them.
While many expected American houses of worship to be permanently jammed with parishioners seeking refuge, community and a place to grieve experts say attendance quickly dwindled; pews thinned within two months.
An article on Fox News declared Church Attendance Back to Normal only one year after the September 11 attacks. Senior pastor of Fellowship Church in Dallas Texas, Ed Young, attributes the initial attendance spike to human nature. “I think when we are riddled with fear, when things fall apart around us especially when we are struck at the heart of who we are, people suddenly respond and they’re turning to God and asking those deep questions in an even deeper way,” he said.
“When things are going bad we want to turn to God and want to get right with him and we want to attend to church,” Young said. “When things level out we tend to forget the most important things and drift away.”
Mark Chaves, a Duke professor of sociology, religious studies, and divinity, said, “People thought this type of crisis of national significance would lead people to be more religious, and it did,” he says. “But it was very short-lived. There was a blip in church attendance and then it went back to normal.”
Church attendance increased by about 25 percent nationwide after the attacks, according to Barna Research Group, a California company that tracks social, religious and political trends.
But by some estimates attendance was back to normal levels just two months later.
The attacks on 9/11 supposedly “changed everything.” Yet sixteen years later, we still sleep. Why?
My heart echos Ravi Zacharias’ prayer:
“Sixteen years after September 11, 2001 we still live under the cloud of a world dramatically changed since that terrible day. Anyone who travels sees and feels what a murderous ideology has done to our world. May we never forget what happened and ever be in pursuit of wisdom and courage to deal with those whose philosophy thrives on hate. Today our prayers are for the families that lost a loved one and with gratitude for those who came to the rescue.
Civilization is always threatened by ideologues who embrace the moment and lose sight of the essential value of every human life. Answers will only be found in embracing the God of love and living by His precepts. Loving God and our fellow human beings are the two laws on which all other laws stand. May God guide our leaders. The Scriptures call us to understand the times and know what to do. May we be faithful.”