Is Christianity Dying in America?
Is America simply Europe, just 50 years behind?
Europe has, it appears, fully embraced secularism. Churches there, for the most part, are museums. Will our churches eventually be museums, too? The future is not looking so good for Christianity in America, but, with God involved, there is still hope.
Statistics released by Pew Research in November point to a decline in the number of American Protestants, but that might not necessarily mean Christianity is on the verge of extinction in America. The fact is, many in the United States who identify themselves as Christians do so only superficially. They may not actually be Christians.
Basically, there are three groups who call themselves Christians in America. First, there are “cultural” Christians. These cultural Christians use the term but don’t walk the walk. They never go to church, they never read their Bibles and they never pray. They often admit they never think about Jesus Christ and they never talk to Him, even though, by identifying as a Christian, they are claiming to have a personal relationship with Him.
Many of these culturals are choosing to give up the Christian monicker and are deciding to become “nones,” people with no religious label. Nominalism is nothing new among so-called Christians. When any belief system is widespread, people often choose to adopt it, many times with an extremely low level of connection. They call themselves Christians, but they are not.
When they fill out surveys, cultural Christians mark “Christian” rather than another world religion, because they know they are not Hindu or Jewish or Muslim. Besides, their family members have always called themselves Christians, whether they were or not.
It is very rare that I meet anyone who does not identify as a Christian. In many cases, I know for a fact that this or that cultural never darkens the door of a church, their Bible sits on the coffee table covered with dust and they do not spend any time talking to Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the One Who is supposed to be their best friend.
So, there are the culturals and then there are the churchgoers. Churchgoing Christians identify as such because they occasionally attend worship services. Sometimes, they even drop a little money in the offering plate. They never actually get involved in church activities, but they proudly tell people they attend church. Many times, they make sure they put it on their resume’, because it looks good in the business world and they also use the church as a place to prospect for clients. They are not into Christianity, they are into church. They are not into Christ, they are into church.
They sit in a pew, listen to a pastor preach his heart out, sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but they are unmoved. They never reach the point where they come under the deep conviction of the Holy Spirit and actually make a conscious, willful decision to fully embrace God’s Son. They surrender nothing. They commit to nothing. They simply go to church and label themselves “Christian.”
In addition to the culturals and the churchgoers, there are the conversion Christians. They have had a faith experience in which they were transformed, resulting in a deeply-held belief. They admitted they were sinners. They asked the Lord Jesus to forgive them of their sins and they committed themselves to honoring Him, pleasing Him and serving Him. They now have a vital, ongoing personal relationship with Him.
As a result, they attend church regularly and they read their Bibles regularly, because they know their soul needs spiritual food just like their body needs physical food. They pray regularly because they know spiritual growth comes when they talk to the One with Whom they have a personal relationship. They seek to know Him better and better every day.
The recent growth in “nones,” I believe, has happened because more and more cultural and churchgoing Christians no longer use a religious identification. They were not Christians to begin with, even though they called themselves Christians.
Now, the question remains. What does the future hold for Christianity in America?
First, Christianity is no longer the first choice of many seeking spiritual meaning and identifying as Christian is not necessary to be accepted in the culture. Until now, in America, Christianity has almost always been the “go-to” when it comes to religion. Not so any more. That does not bode well for the future of Christianity.
Second, people are opting to call themselves “spiritual,” as opposed to calling themselves Christians. A particular religion or denomination does not matter to them. They can call themselves “spiritual,” and for them, that covers a multitude of sins. That does not bode well for the future of Christianity.
Third, conversion Christianity still seems to be very much alive in America. Conversion Christians, often sitting next to cultural and churchgoing Christians, can be found in churches all over America, in every denomination. It is called the evangelical movement and it has remained generally steady from the early 1970s through 2010. That DOES bode well for the future of Christianity.
Each year, Gallup asks Americans whether they consider themselves to be a born-again or evangelical Christian. Since 1992, the percentage has fluctuated from a low of 36 percent in 1993 to a high of 47 percent in 1998. The 2011 number was 42 percent, very similar to the percentages over the past two decades. That means Christianity has not been replaced by the “nones.”
If Christianity in America still has a pulse, and I believe it does, what does the future hold? The present-day Pacific Northwest is probably what the American Christian landscape will look like in the years to come. A majority of the population in that part of the country claims to be spiritual, but not religious. Still, sprinkled all over are vibrant churches and devout Christians. In the middle of an increasingly secular environment, there are many powerful congregations.
Conversion Christians make up what is called the Church, that body of believers worldwide who hail from many different denominations. The Church will never be destroyed. Jesus said, “Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18b). That is God’s promise, so no matter how many “nones” there are in America, the Church will take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’.
Eventually, cultural Christianity and churchgoing Christianity will die, but the Church and conversion Christianity will live forever.
Ed Baswell is the host of “Crossfire Radio,” Monday through Friday, 7-9 am, on The Promise, 90.7 FM. The show is streamed live at promisetalkradio.org.