There has been much discussion in our country this week about how to interpret a new research report from the Pew Research Center on the state of religion in the United States in 2015. You can watch the editor of the report talk about the research on the PBS Newshour. The most common national headline has been about the “decline in Christianity” in the USA. But if you dig deeper into the numbers, they reveal something more nuanced and interesting:
As Ed Stetzer writes in USA Today, evangelical Christianity continues to grow in our country. The most massive decline is among those who used to associate with mainline Protestant traditions or the Roman Catholic Church. Now, when asked, a growing number of them self-identify as having no religious affiliation. This isn’t necessarily growth in the number of atheist or agnostics, but growth in the number who have no religious affiliation.
Russell Moore reads the report as saying that nominal Christianity (a form of civil religion) is in rapid decline because fewer people feel pressured to say they are Christian when they are not. In other words, they don’t feel any social obstacles to revealing their true religious convictions. Moore thinks this is bad for America (a decline in general Christian identity) but maybe helpful for the church (in making true Christianity more clear).
I personally think the report reveals what we see all around us every day: a decline in the importance of religious faith for many people in our country. The research shows an increase in the disinterested middle of the nation – those who simply don’t care about God and religious faith at all. This is seen in the fact that former self-identified “Christians” are not converting to another religion, but to no religion at all.
Here’s my take: as a church, we are living in a time in our nation’s history when more and more people are apathetic toward the church and indifferent toward issues of faith. We live in an era of constant distraction and entertainment, and we are seeing the results around us – a lack of attention toward faith and worldview. What does this mean for us as a church? A few things:
1- We need to feel an increasing urgency for evangelism right here in the United States. Many times, we wrongly assume that Americans are Christian or have heard the gospel. This is an increasingly wrong assumption. May we be the generation who takes serious our charge to re-evangelize the 320 million people who live in America.
2- We need to prioritize our outreach to the next generation. The highest percentage of Americans who describe themselves as having “no faith” are the youngest millennials. We need to prayerfully consider how we can share the gospel effectively with the newest generation of young people.
3- We need to live as an attractive counter-culture inside the larger secular culture. I believe one of the reasons that non-Christians find Christianity unattractive is that the Christian community fails to present a true alternative to the larger cultural narrative. In other words, we look too much like the world around us.
This Sunday, I’m starting a sermon series called Contrast: A Study of 1 John where we will be looking at the distinguishing marks of the Christian faith and the Christian community. The apostle John helps us understand how we can know that we have experienced the true Christian faith and not a distortion of the truth. I hope that you will join us for this powerful and life-changing study of God’s Word.
What were your take-aways from the Pew Research?