The New York Times reported earlier this week on the sharp decline in the number of Americans who self-identify as Christians. I’m guessing Christians will likely blame this on shifting cultural values or some other outside phenomenon. As for my take, I think the church should probably be able to manage faithfulness with or without cultural approval. If you want my full take, read Shrink. The book gives my interpretation of what’s going on, and why it’s really not a reason to mope around. Here’s the most succinct way I can say it:
The wholesale acceptance of the cultural value of the bigger, better, higher, stronger, and faster has had a profound impact on the Western church. Perhaps the most powerful reason the church is in decline in North America right now is that the church’s way of being in the world does not represent a genuine alternative to the way of the dominant culture. When the church becomes an agent of the culture, indistinguishable in most ways from society at large, people cease to see the value in belonging, and they opt out. For the most part, the Church looks exactly the same as the culture… just not as cool.
Brunch… now there’s a growing cultural phenomenon. Maybe the church should provide brunch…
You wanna grow your church? All you have to do is affirm people in the deeply held beliefs they already have. Help them tick that pesky religion box and they’ll reward you with their presence every week. Throw in some sentimentality and they’ll tithe.
This strategy, however, has a short shelf life, which is why large churches have such a wide back door. Why get up and go to church on Sunday when I can spend the morning at the gym, or reading the paper at Starbucks? If I can catch Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday and get the same gist, why should I come see your dog-and-pony show?
As Stanley Hauerwas is fond of saying: “Jesus is Lord, and everything else is bullshit.” Success has become the lord in our society; a god to which the church genuflects dutifully. People already have “American” descriptor, why call themselves “Christian?” It has become redundant.Here’s an excerpt from the NYTimes article:
The Christian share of adults in the United States has declined sharply since 2007, affecting nearly all major Christian traditions and denominations, and crossing age, race and region, according to an extensive survey by the Pew Research Center.
Seventy-one percent of American adults were Christian in 2014, the lowest estimate from any sizable survey to date, and a decline of 5 million adults and 8 percentage points since a similar Pew survey in 2007.
The Christian share of the population has been declining for decades, but the pace rivals or even exceeds that of the country’s most significant demographic trends, like the growing Hispanic population. It is not confined to the coasts, the cities, the young or the other liberal and more secular groups where one might expect it, either.
“The decline is taking place in every region of the country, including the Bible Belt,” said Alan Cooperman, the director of religion research at the Pew Research Center and the lead editor of the report.
The decline has been propelled in part by generational change, as relatively non-Christian millennials reach adulthood and gradually replace the oldest and most Christian adults. But it is also because many former Christians, of all ages, have joined the rapidly growing ranks of the religiously unaffiliated or “nones”: a broad category including atheists, agnostics and those who adhere to “nothing in particular.”