The internet has been abuzz over the last few weeks about the steep decline of Protestantism in America. There is a growing percentage (up to 15% from 7% 40 years ago) of people that claim “no religion.” This is particularly noticeable among younger Americans (18-22 years old) who are half as likely to be affiliated with a religion as their boomer generation counterparts.
So…not so good news.
But, is it as bad as it seems? Certainly, numbers don’t lie, do they? Well, maybe not lie, but certainly don’t tell the whole truth.
Now, there is no question that there is work to be done, but is America just years away from becoming the next Europe, like is being indicated? Researcher Ed Setzer doesn’t think so. Click for his USA Today article.
In particular I want to highlight his last paragraph:
So, if not extinction, what does the future look like? I don’t think it looks like Europe, shaped by historic religious wars and legally mandated religion. Instead, if trends continue, I believe that the future will look more like the present-day Pacific Northwest. There, we find a majority of the population is spiritual but not religious, yet vibrant churches and devout Christians abound.
For example, in the Foursquare Church (a mid-size Pentecostal denomination), the Northwest District oversees 150 churches. Fifteen years ago, 66 of those churches did not exist. Those 66 churches alone report 40,000 new believers. Similar examples of such vibrant growth, there and elsewhere, demonstrate the point.
The future of Christianity in America is not extinction but clarification that a devout faith is what will last. Christianity in America isn’t dying, cultural Christianity is.
He believes we will look like the Pacific Northwest across the country. Spiritual but not religious – yet with a number of vibrant churches peppered across the landscape. Interesting.
Sounds like there are lessons to learn from Oregon and Washington right now, even as we in this part of the country are striving to learn, grow and adapt to the changing cultural landscape ourselves.
The bottom line of Ed Setzers research and application is this:
“Christianity in America isn’t dying, cultural Christianity is.”
What if we’re coming to a time in American history when the sheep are being separated from the goats? What if the words of Jesus to the church in Laodicea (Revelation 3:15) about being hot or cold but not being lukewarm are being lived out in our generation? Many that formally associated with “cultural Christianity” are no longer doing so.
I’m thinking that may be a good thing for the American Church?
By “Church” I’m not referring to the “church” loosely connected only by buildings, religious codes, traditions and cultural, historical and family structures? But rather, the “ecclesia” – the true “called out ones” – the congregation of God’s people firmly founded upon the person and purposes of Jesus Christ.
By the way, Jesus is the Christ, upon which God will “build my (Jesus’) church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18).
That sounds pretty enduring to me.