OK, so maybe religion is still relevant ... but what about the Church?
Well, let's look at that from two perspectives. First, the Church, as the formal body of the religion. I am most familiar with the Christian Church. Not specifically with any specific denomination (although I have been members of several, and attended many more), but the Church (capital "C") as the body of Christ here on Earth.
Just what is the purpose of the Church?
We are given several examples of what the early Christians did. They worshiped God. They prayed They had instruction in living a holy life. They fellowshipped together. Fellowship? What is that? To put it simply, they were a community. They ate together, helped each other, supported each other in difficult times, and did fun stuff together ... kind of like parties, I guess.
Of all these things, we are commanded by Jesus to love each other, and again by Paul not to quit getting together. So, that "fellowship" thing must be pretty important.
Of course, look at the times they lived in ... in many places, becoming a Christian meant you lost your job. In others it meant you were executed. One of the Roman Emperors would have parties, and for light in the evenings, he would dip Christians in tar, hang them on poles and light them on fire. Others were thrown to the lions in the arena. The lucky ones got to live as slaves on the ships. So, it meant a lot to have a community to share your sorrows, and your hopes ... people to help you when you lost your job, or your family.
How about today? There are few in the U.S. who have lost their jobs because they converted to Christianity. Fewer who have been executed because of it. What does the Church offer us today?
Well, for one thing, it offers us the chance to share our abundance with our suffering brothers around the world who are losing their jobs and their loved ones because they have converted to Christianity. (You may not think of that as a big opportunity, but having been on the giving end and the receiving end of the stick, I can tell you, it really is much more blessed to give than to receive.)
Another thing it offers is the chance to worship God and to learn about Him. (You might be thinking that you can do that as well, or even better at home by yourself.)
But one of the best opportunities it offers is the opportunity to make true Christian friends. (Oh joy, I hear you say, sarcastically, just what I need, some "Christian" friends ... boring hypocrits.) I won't argue that I have met some folk in church who I wouldn't trust to water my plants, but I will say that all of my very closest friends have been fellow Christians - people that I would trust with my life and the life of my family. I have met Christians, through other Christians, who on our first meeting were willing to open their house to me in a time of need.
I do not claim to be a prophet, but I can tell you this, there will come a time in the not too distant future when it will once again become very unpopular to be a Christian in the U.S. I don't know that people will be jailed for it, but I do believe that it will mean losing your job and becoming a social outcast. When that happens, all those folks who go to church on Sundays because it is the "thing to do", or because it is a good place to meet business contacts, will stop coming. Only those people who put God ahead of all else in their lives will be in church. That is when it will be a great time to be in church. That is when you will once again be able to trust those people with your life and the lives of those you love with no reservations.