In a 1969 radio broadcast, Father Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) made the following prediction about the Church:
“From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge — a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes, so it will lose many of her social privileges.”
The Declining Number of Believers
More than half a century later, his prediction slowly seems to be coming true. According to the Pew Research Center, Christians now only make up only 63% of the U.S. population compared to 75% just a decade ago. In the UK, data from the Office for National Statistics showed that while the number of Christians decreased by 13% in one decade, the number of people with “No religion” increased by 12%. For the first time in England and Wales, less than half of the population (46.2%) were reported as Christians.
Even without reading the statistics, we can sense the declining faith of Christians all over the world. We only need to read the news or browse our social media channels and we’d see how fewer people now believe in religion or even acknowledge the existence of God. Even books and movies contain more and more stories that denigrate the faith.
Could this be a part of what Jesus Himself has seen when He said, “But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8, NABRE)
What The Future Could Look Like
If the number of Christians continues to decrease, what kind of world could we expect to see in the next ten to twenty years?
What would happen to the next generation of children that would inhabit the world in the future? What do we do to help protect their souls? How do we preach the Good News in a world that detests those who profess their faith in God?
Deep within the heart of many believers, one final question may be found:
“Why must the Church become small?”
Why must all these things be allowed to happen to the Church? Why should it be humbled more and more?
Very soon, we may be living in a more secularized world. A world where most people don’t know God.
The World’s Deep Hunger
We could never truly fathom the deep wisdom of God. But we must continue to believe that He sees the trials the Church is going through. He also sees the deep hunger of the world that can only be quenched by the love of God.
For this to happen, however, the Church may need to undergo a transformation that will purify and humble her. The Church should be more like Christ when He lived among us. Poor, approachable and meek. We should resemble Him whom even the prostitutes and the tax collectors sought. The crucified Lord who was able to save the repentant thief at the last moments of his life.
Perhaps the Church needs to become smaller and more humble so that it can reach those who are intimidated by its strength. People who see the Church now as judgmental, elitist or domineering. People who can immediately brush aside any truth a believer yearns to share.
When the Church has become smaller, maybe it would also gain a different spiritual strength. The kind of strength that can only come from God Himself.
Didn’t God choose only 300 out of Gideon’s 32,000 gathered soldiers?
“The troops with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand. Israel would only take the credit away from me, saying, ‘My own hand has delivered me.’” – Judges 7:2 (NRSVCE)
And wasn’t the smaller David who defeated the giant that was Goliath?
“…the Lord does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand.”- 1 Samuel 17:47 (NRSVCE)
Trusting in God’s Strength
Let us go forth in faith, trusting not our own strength, but God’s strength. We may become fewer but not necessarily weaker. God can turn the whole world around like He once did. And it all began with only 12 apostles who were sent to proclaim the Good News throughout the earth.
“But when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church. Men in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely. If they have completely lost sight of God, they will feel the whole horror of their poverty. Then they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new. They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret.” – Pope Benedict XVI
Pew Research Center, Dec. 14, 2021, “About Three-in-Ten U.S. Adults Are Now Religiously Unaffiliated”
Office for National Statistics (ONS), released 29 November 2022, ONS website, statistical bulletin, Religion, England and Wales: Census 2021
Jocelyn Soriano is a freelance writer and the author of Defending My Catholic Faith. “You and I have been called to live at this very hour.”