Predictions of Christianity’s Comeback

Predictions of Christianity’s Comeback April 18, 2023

What with the Nones, declining church membership, declining church attendance, and consistently bad PR, Christianity seems to be fading from American culture.

But as John Blake writes for CNN (no less), in a story with this headline, Predictions about the decline of Christianity in America may be premature.

He brings up various factors, but here is his main point:

For years, church leaders and commentators have warned that Christianity is dying in America. They say the American church is poised to follow the path of churches in Western Europe: soaring Gothic cathedrals with empty pews, shuttered church buildings converted into skate parts and nightclubs, and a secularized society where one theologian said Christianity as a norm is “probably gone for good — or at least for the next 100 years.”

Yet when CNN asked some of the nation’s top religion scholars and historians recently about the future of Christianity in the US, they had a different message.

They said the American church is poised to find new life for one major reason: Waves of Christians are migrating to the US.

And they said the biggest challenge to Christianity’s future in America is not declining numbers, but the church’s ability to adapt to this migration.

More immigrants come to the United States than any other country and lots of them are Christians.  This is starting to allow the U.S. to become a part of what Blake calls “the booming of Christianity in what is called the ‘Global South,’ the regions encompassing Latin America, Africa and Asia.”

According to Blake, “Latino evangelicals are now the fastest-growing group of evangelicals in the US.”  He quotes New York Times religion columnist Tish Harrison Warren:

“The future of American Christianity is neither white evangelicalism nor white progressivism,” Warren wrote. “The future of American Christianity now appears to be a multiethnic community that is largely led by immigrants [or] the children of immigrants.”

I know what some of you are thinking. . . .But we have so much immigration because we don’t have control of our borders!  That’s not sustainable or desirable!  Are they going to take over our churches too?

Well, not all immigrants are here illegally.  You can oppose illegal immigration without opposing legal immigration.  And you can appreciate fellow Christians wherever you find them.

The article says that the effects of “the booming of Christianity” from the Global South might be muted if white Christians do not accept these new believers.  But this will not just be a problem from the conservative side.    Blake asks, “What if progressive Christians prove unwilling to align with non-White immigrants who tend to be more conservative on issues of sexuality and gender?”

I daresay that American “progressive Christians” will have more problem welcoming these immigrant Christians than conservative Christians will, due to their commitment to Biblical morality.  Already the United Methodists are willing to tear their church apart rather than accommodate the beliefs of the Methodists from the developing world who were voting with the white evangelical Methodists in rejecting same-sex marriage and homosexual pastors.  These immigrant Christians, few of whom are “liberal” theologically, should prove extremely helpful in keeping the American church on the right course.

I’ve been attending some urban Lutheran churches lately–confessional, conservative, Missouri Synod Lutheran churches–and I’ve been impressed with how those particular congregations include worshippers from Africa, India, Japan, Korea, Latin America, and other of the new Lutheran centers around the world.  Some of these are first generation immigrants, but others are second or third generation, being quite assimilated to American culture, except that they are committed church goers.  Everybody seems to welcome everybody else and be glad to see each other.  I know some churches have intentional ministeries to some of these groups.  Others just let it happen naturally, as Lutherans from Ethiopia or Brazil simply seek out a good orthodox congregation for them to attend.

Do any of you have any experience with this sort of thing in your congregations?  Do the immigrant Christians have any problems fitting in with the rest of your community of faith?  Is there any resistance to them from other members?  Do you think this phenomenon has the potential to revitalize Christianity in the United States?

Photo:  “Worshipers from the India Evangelical Lutheran Church receive the Lord’s Supper during a service on the campus of Concordia Theological Seminary, Nagercoil, India, in June” by Jonathan Shaw, Lutheran Reporter

HT:  Tom Herring

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