There was much wringing of hands this month as The Pew Research Center released a survey regarding the religious temperature of America. The statistics show between a 7% and 9% increase in among those who hold no faith in particular and similar decreases among those who self identify as Christian. Mainline protestants were received some of the largest losses. Collectively religious leader’s anxieties turned to teens and twentysomethings, a demographic that has seen great losses. There is worry that the church is dying and that the next generation is not willing to carry the torch of Christendom. However, I specialize in working with this demographic. I do not seek to be a Pollyanna about these loses but I would like to ease some troubled hearts.
- The church is not dying: Pews continue to empty and it is easy to think this might be the end of the line for Christianity. However, the truth is that the collection of believing people seeking to follow after Jesus known as the church is healthy. It is only in our own demographic, historically white traditionally western mainline denominations, where we are seeing decline. South America, Africa, and China are more than picking up the slack. There is no end in sight for the Church universal.
- We are rising to the challenge. Even in the faith traditions in decline we find that some of the most exciting and innovative movements of the Holy Spirit. As traditional protestants are removed from the privilege of the majority we are also freed to re-imagine how our understanding of the mission of God is expressed in our time. The Pacific Northwest is a perfect example of this. Seattle is one of the least religious areas in our country yet hundreds of churches are being planted. To learn more on this I would encourage you to look at the PhD level research done on the NPR featured website Jesusdust.com.
- No church does not mean no faith: It is not always fun to self identify as a Christian. Many people try to avoid of the stereotypes associated with Christianity: self righteousness, small mindedness, judgmental-ism. Younger people, who already have problems committing to titles, would rather not say they are Christian while still going to church, volunteering, and maintaining an all around healthy spiritual life. Religious interest is down but those wanting to find spiritual significance in their life is healthy.
- Let us never forget God is at the helm: I think part of the anxiety is based in the belief that we have done something to cause this decline or that we have to do something to get out of this decline. We make this issue about us. But in truth this an issue about God. We must be willing to acknowledge that God is powerful enough to bring people to himself and that he will when the time is right. Our job is not to save the world. It is to be faithful in our own lives to our God regardless of the statistics.