Is Christianity Dead Or Alive In America?

Is Christianity dead or alive in America?

Recent polls proclaim that Christianity is dead in America. Wait, recent polls in America also proclaim that Christianity is not dead. So, which angle is accurate? Is this simply a shift in terminology? Or, is there grave cause for the concern that Christianity is dead in America? These conversations have become the go-to content for articles, blogs, and books lately. It will require that spiritual leaders in the Church become great Sociologists.

This is not a new argument. I, and many others, have been teaching on the rise of the Millennial's and their new religious traits for 6-8 years. The classic study from Howe and Strauss, or the exhaustive work of Christian Smith, not to mention the exemplary research of Kinnaman, are all works that have published caution and sounded the alarm that we are hearing now. 

Here are the latest links to the two sides of the argument:

It could be dis-heartening to focus upon the negative trends of religion in America. Especially as it relates to Christianity. Here is one article from this week that reads the trends one way:

And, on the other hand, here is another article from this week in the Washington Post with a different read on the religious trends in America:

There is a real need for balance between believing that "The sky is falling" in our religious culture in America, and, believing that we are living in a "Bed of roses" and our nation is enjoying a religious awakening. One of these is a negative response to everything going on. And the other is a positive response to what is going on. I guess it depends upon what we focus on in American religious culture. One thing for sure, the health of the church certainly has everything to do with the argument, and, for that matter, our nation's condition (Proverbs 11.10).

Reading statistics requires careful understanding

Rob Hoskins, the President of One Hope (formerly Book of Hope), a global missions movement, included the following graph in his recent blog. I believe this information from the Pew Research Center to be one of the best table reads on the trends of religion in America.
 Religious Affiliation by Age-01 
Looking at this statistical table, we can assume no angles. Simply facts from a 3-4 year data query that is clear in its categories. We see that every age group shows a rise in what has been termed the "nones", or, even the "dones", those who have no religious affiliation, and those who have left the church altogether. Notice that it is not simply the young people showing these trends. And that over the 4 years researched, the incremental loss of religious affiliation is consistent. Let me take my turn in breaking down the data.

Reading the rise of the "nones" 

1. The increases of those who are "nones" is minimal. But, consistent. Is this alarming or merely the subtle fall-out from an increasingly pagan culture?

2. The decreases of the affiliated is minimal. But, consistent. Is this alarming or merely the subtle fall-out from an increasingly pagan culture?

3. Although each of the age groups show subtle decrease in affiliation over the 3-4 years, the most significant reading to me is the disparity of the elder generation's commitment to affiliation (84% in 2014) and the younger generation's commitment to affiliation (63% in 2014).

4. Can we assume that this data is the result of the downfall of an unhealthy church in America? Or, more the result of the rise of a pagan culture in America?

Here are a few disturbing trends in the American church that could have something to do with the rise of the "nones". Research shows that the "nones" fault the church mostly. They complain that the church and organized religion is too narrow in their theological beliefs, old-fashioned and outdated in their style and approach, too political and divisive on cultural issues, hypocritical and judgmental toward other beliefs, and increasingly anti-gay and homophobic in regards to the Sexual Revolution and the  marriage issue. What we are seeing is an increase in 'Evangelicals' in the face of all of the data. But, for certain, there is a negative trend in the relationship of the church and the "nones" on most angles over the last decade.

Here are a few disturbing trends in American culture that could have something to do with the rise of the "nones". Social Media demands about 7.2 hours of time for the average American (Statistic Brain Research Center), $18.2T in National Debt is part of the cause of more than 32B people diagnosed with clinical depression (US Government), an increasing humanism taught in American education with some of the worst scores globally (Huffington Post), there are more people in prison per capita than any other country globally (International Center for Prison Studies), and increased social demands that do not revere church commitment. How you look at the condition of the culture in America is also a dangerous attempt at reading the pulse of the church and its relationship with "nones". I would say that the relationship is anecdotal, individually dependent upon each story.

Whatever the cause of the rise of the "nones", there is a redefinition of Christianity and an increasing commitment to the evangelical message. And the church must capitalize on this. There are no plans for the church's funeral yet. We must address these Millennial traits and trends directly in our philosophy and model of leadership in the church. Pastoral leaders wearing jeans, multi-site church planting vision, and changing our language are not the only answers. Any solutions that do not promote an allowance for the Holy Spirit to speak into this process are delusional.

Gamaliel: God's Sociologist

All of this and we haven't really broken down the other facet of the changing landscape of religion with the rise of the "dones". If Christianity is dead, as they say, given its history, I would say that Christianity is the ultimate movement to rise from the dead. If Christianity is simply redefining itself, then it would be wise for our culture to remember Gamaliel and the San Hedrin's counsel in Acts 5 that you cannot win the fight against the Church. And so, balancing our Christian beliefs with cultural reality is an important part of re-building the church and its reputation. And it will take God's spiritual leaders in the church becoming great Sociologists in the face of an increasingly pagan culture.