Skip to comments.Christianity Under Fire: Why Fewer People Identify With The Faith
Posted on 03/09/2009 9:39:53 AM PDT by Alex Murphy
When it comes to religion, the USA is now land of the freelancers. That is the opening statement of Cathy Lynn Grossmans front-page article in the March 9 edition of USA Today concerning the fast changing face of Christianity in America.
In the article, Grossman looks at the results of the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), which is touted to be the most comprehensive look at American religious preferences available considering the fact the U.S. census report excludes questions concerning religious practice.
The news for people of faith is not good. Since 1990, the last time the survey was conducted, the number of people who claim no religion at all has risen from 8% to 15%. In contrast, all of the mainline denominations have seen a significant decline in the number of people who describe themselves as participants. According to the survey, the number of Baptist declined from 19.3% to 15.8%. Methodists dropped from 8% to 5% and there are now approximately 2.8 million people who identify themselves with some sort of new religious movement, including Wiccan, pagan, or Spiritualist. These numbers are all the more troubling when you consider the fact that the adult population of the United States increased by nearly 50 million during the same 18-year period.
ARIS also revealed a major demographic shift in the religious makeup of the country according to geographic region. The Deep South and California saw significant increases in the Catholic population while Protestant numbers in those areas remained static or declined. For example, my state of South Carolina saw shrinkage in the number of Protestants from 88% of the population in 1990 down to 73% in 2008. During the same time period, the number of Catholics rose from 6% to 10% and the number of those who answered none to the religious preference question more than tripled rising from 3% to 10%.
The only bright spot in the survey may be the number of people who indentify themselves as a generic Christian, by describing themselves, not as denominational but as born again, Christian, non-denominational, or evangelical. That number remained statistically the same at 14.2%.
The information gleaned by the ARIS will not come as a surprise for most Christian leaders. It doesnt take a survey to convince people who are on the front lines of Christian service and ministry that it is getting harder every year, not only to reach those who are unchurched but also to retain the churched. Why? Why are so many people in America leaving the faith and so few turning to Christ though faith? I believe there are many reasons both large and small but I think they can all be summarized in five broad categories.
1. Since 1990, there has been a significant rise in the number of people who are what I call aggressive atheists. In past generations, atheists have been a rather quiet group, preferring to keep their unbelief to themselves. But the last 18 years has seen a sharp rise in the number of aggressive atheists who proclaim their atheism with enthusiasm and have gone on what could be called an anti-evangelism or reverse evangelism mission with the goal being the destruction of any belief in God. This has a chilling effect on believers as they are caught somewhat flat-footed and unprepared to defend their beliefs against the attacks of these aggressive atheists. This leads us to the second reason for decline.
2. The abandonment by the local church of apologetics as a major part of Christian discipline. Many Christians are unwilling or unable to defend their faith because they havent been systematically taught the Truth and how to defend it. The concept of absolute Truth has been under assault since mid-19th century German liberalism began to creep into the theological thinking of many Americans. Truth must be defined before it can be defended and most churches spend little or no time teaching people how to do either. Focus on the Families Truth Project and other Para-church attempts at promoting apologetics are good but for the most part, they are not translating into the teaching of the local church.
3. The combination of traditional religious teaching with the new age concept of spirituality. The Oprahization of the church is well under way with millions now tuning in (through TV and the web) and turning on to Oprah Winfreys brand of homogenized religion. Being spiritual, as defined by Eckhart Tolle and others means simply believing in a nebulous force that might work well for Star Wars Jedi but in the real world, is nothing but new age nonsense.
4. The negative portrayal of Christianity in the culture by the media and the proliferation of scandals within the Church. The media loves a good church scandal and unfortunately, church leaders in America have been more than happy to provide the media with plenty of material. From pedophiles masquerading as Catholic Priests to Protestant ministers who cant keep their wedding vows, people are losing faith in their religious leaders. The media piles on with negative portrayals of organized religion portraying the extremist Fred Phelps as an accurate picture of typical evangelicalism.
5. A lack of emphasis in the Church on evangelism as defined by personal conversion and a reluctance by the Church to embrace new methods of communication for the purpose of evangelism. Many churches have stopped trying to evangelize and many of those that are still trying are using methods that were effective in 1955 but fail to connect in the 21st century. The Emerging Church movement tends to blur the lines between believing and belonging, therefore minimizing the need for personal conversion. Many churches that still believe people are lost and need to be saved are still preaching the truth but the message is getting lost in all the cultural background noise. The Church has to find a way to cut through the static and reach people through the building of relationships.
The Church in America must effectively deal with these challenges if we are going to reverse the decline of Christianity in the next generation.
There will always be far fewer on the narrow road than there are on the wide road.
Big government replaces religion and the family as the central, stablizing fixture in society.
Let’s not follow the way of western Europe.
It’s because Christianity requires you to govern yourself. Atheism allows you to run hog wild and do whatever floats your boat. So whichj do you think a bunch of fat, lazy, decadent American slobs are going to choose?
some have been chosen by God to members of the elect and to heed the Gospel call and others have not.
It only takes a shift of a few percent to wreak havoc in a society, or conversely to stabilize and return it to relative health.
We lose the political wars because we first lost the spiritual ones. Win the spiritual war and the politics will follow. In fact, win the spiritual and the politics become ever so much less important.
Good analysis. Add to (1) however, that education is more and more in the hands of practical as well as theoretical atheists.
All have been called....but just a few answer.
“The negative portrayal of Christianity in the culture by the media”
This is by far the biggest reason for the decline in religion. All studies show that the more likely someone is to be influenced by the media, the less likely they are to believe in spirituality, religion and traditional morality. The self-indulgent lifestyle celebrated by the media is not compatible with the values of traditional religion.
The Word of God, the Rock of Ages hasn’t changed with the times, but corrupt mankind sure has, only to become more and more rotten to the core with sin.
Somewhere along the way in the future I predict that many who have gone the route of non-monotheistic faith will have created such a void in their lives they’ll look for something to give them a sense of order (even if it’s Satanic), like islam.
I don’t think that atheists generally run wild, because this world is all that they have. Having accepted, in theory, the idea of oblivion, they choose instead the “gods”, small goods that allow them to get through from day today: their careers, the accumulation of money, Instead of religious rituals, they have routines, which give them a sense of security. Instead of faith, they have the “truths” of modern psychology, which rescues them from depression and allows them merely to be unhappy in a world that is, untilmately, meaningless. Life as pain management.
This is a reminder for me as a Christian debating politics. With so much deceit and propaganda, it's a challenge to fight the spiritual battle over the political battle.
Yes, which is why Islam has made such inroads among the black prison population.
I think that there are other reasons not addressed by the author.
1. Organizations used to respect Wednesday night as church night and Sunday morning as a time for church. Now they don’t.
2. Kid’s sports run 24/7 now. Tournaments and games during Sunday morning, Wednesday evening, etc.
3. TV dominates a too much of our life. In some sense, TV events have turned most weekends into holidays. Just ask the the advertising execs for cable channels.
4. If you are too busy to go to church, you are too busy. Period. No exceptions.
I don’t know the answer to these. Chruches can offer a great deal in terms of sports leagues that can help bring more people into the church.
I will say that most of the mainline churches that I have attended had become feminized and were a bit uncomfortable for guys and the attendance reflected that. My current church is male friendly. We hunt, we shoot, we fish, we go duck hunting, and we hold competitive barbecues frequently.
A breath of fresh air.
Let’s see ... decades of MSM and liberals trashing the Christian faith and removing it from any public venue, and fewer people identify with it? How did that happen? </sarcasm>
While I was raised Lutheran-Presbyterian, I’ve been an atheist for over a decade.
Why? Because I finished the fourth grade. Taken literally, Christianity is a collection of preposterous stories and hocus pocus. Ethically, Christianity teaches effeminate, sacrificial self-loathing— I’d rather have a beer with Christopher Hitchens than Andrew Sullivan.
6. Public schools.
7. The media.
The bible says there will be a “falling away” before the Lord returns so this is actually good news.
The interesting thing here is the RISE in the number of Catholics and “generic” Christians and the DROP in the number of “mainstream” Protestants.
I think THAT is the REAL statistical factor which his analysis ignores.
The fact of the matter is “mainstream” Protestants, far more than the Catholic CHurch or generic Christians, have fallen victim to socialist humanism - adopting homosexuality and abortion as norms, along with the kind of dogmatic pacifism which would have amazed their antecedents.
Christians need a church like the Catholic Church or fundamentalist Protestant Churchs which draw a clear line of distinction between morality an dimmorality and defend and support traditional American values.
The Methodists, Presbyterians and Episcopalians - at least their leadership - no longer due so, and their congregations are voting with their feet and their tithes.
In the meatime, the viper of Islam lies in wait to bite the heels of future generations.
Upside down heathens just walk away from loans. Heathens with money will do anything to get more, lots more.
By the way, when's Madoff going to jail?
Funny, I would have attributed it to exactly the opposite cause - the average education level (or, more accurately, actual knowledge level) of the American population as a whole is going down. This is concomitant with a steady drop in the ability of American to use logic and reason. My church is in an extremely well-educated, economically above-average county and our congregation reflects this - even though we're a true-to-life fundamentalist Baptist church - the average IQ of our congregation would definitely be above the national average, as would our education level, and concurrently our ability to rationally defend the faith against all comers.
The problem is that most of the people who we're rationally defending the faith to - including many self-professed atheists - are not themselves capable of using reason. I've seen this first hand on many occasions. Emotion guides their thinking. They reject Christianity because it would keep them from doing something they want to do. Often, what they're rejecting is not even authentic Christianity, but a media-created caricature, which they've never bothered to rationally assess versus the real thing.
No, sorry, the problem isn't that the country's getting too "smart" for Christianity. If anything, it's just the opposite - the country's getting too dumb for it. The country's getting to the point where our publik skools are churning out hordes of mouth-breathers who can't think, can't reason, couldn't understand the ins-and-outs of theological doctrines well enough to truly decide whether they believe them. And the colleges are the same way. We need to understand that intelligence and the ability to think are not necessarily correlative with increasing education, even when you get to the advanced degrees, even when you're talking about "hard" subjects like the sciences. I've met plenty of science PhDs who struck me as being dumb as a pile of bricks, and left me wondering who in their right mind would give them a doctorate.
Christianity is a leap of faith that many are not strong enough to take. It’s especially hard for the type of people that seeing is believing.
Once you take the leap, you personally experience God in your life.
My husband and I are engineers. We both love science and are the type to only believe things we see.
I took the leap of faith in Christianity, but my husband didn’t. He can’t get over the fact that he can’t touch and feel God. I know he questions this because he thinks maybe God has been involved in some aspects of our lives.
There are plenty of “Christians” that turn me (and especially my husband) off of Christianity. However, the people that are routinely the nicest most self-sacrificing people I know are strong Christians. They are humble and kind to everyone. To me, they are strongest witness to Christ by their behavior.
“Ethically, Christianity teaches effeminate, sacrificial self-loathing Id rather have a beer with Christopher Hitchens than Andrew Sullivan.”
So where does your sense of morality come from? If we are descendants of animals, we can act like them as well, right? Why not? From that perspective, right and wrong becomes modifiable and up to individuals because it has no foundation.
Truth is, without God, there is no morality. The result of kicking God out is what you see today in the world. And it will get worse...
“My husband and I are engineers. We both love science and are the type to only believe things we see.”
I am also an engineer and know exactly what you mean. However, for me seeing the works of God in my life is enough. Someone said to me one time just because you can’t see something doesn’t mean it is not there. Wind and gravity are good examples.
Try listening to Chuck Missler if you get a chance. He is the author of Learning the Bible in 24 Hours. He is a Phd and has a strong background in science and engineering. He presents Scripture with a science perspective.
God Bless and good luck!
I think a lot of people just see themselves as being their own authority even if they have a basic belief in God and are not militant atheists. That’s why there is an increase in kind of loosey-goosey feel good about yourself therapeutic churches, wicca, etc. because they are not strongly authoritarian (strong dos and don’ts in the belief system.
Being raised Roman Catholic, I am far from exemplary in its practice, but I do see (I wish I were ignorant, it’s so blissful)the connection between our Judeo-Christian heritage and the classical liberal foundations this country and Western civilization in general was built on.
Liberal democracy did not happen under the auspices of an Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, or animist civilization—but under a Christian one. Opponents can go scream and cry about the religious wars that followed the Reformation or the Inquisition or even the Crusades, but that doesn’t take anything away from the progress that was made—the intellectual jump that was required to develop a classical liberal democracy. Western thought from the ancient Greeks to the scholastics to the philosphers from DeCartes onward provided the trampoline upon which to make that jump.
I don’t see that trampoline being provided in an Islamic or Buddhist millieu.
Me too. This is just something that keeps repeating itself in my mind. I'm not a natural evangelist. But I'm convinced that this is where I need to focus my attention.
With the shift of only a few percent you can see that the two parties no longer even share a common political language. At one time you could easily find believers in both parties; and as a result there was a common language between us even if we differed widely on policy. But as one party has steadily squeezed its believers out, the common language has broken down.
That is what has struck me lately, not just that we differ on policy but that there seems no longer to be a common language, there seem no longer to be any common fundamentals, no common understanding of history, no common understanding of essential morality, no common understanding of the purposes of life itself.
In the conversations I've had with friends in the Obama camp, and the Clinton camp before that, what I've found is that persuasion was impossible. It wasn't just that they were wrong about the facts, which is solvable, but that they view the facts through a completely different lens. Thats a deeper problem. That you don't solve with a debate about policy.
Exactly what I thought when I heard it on the radio this morning. :)
That is so true!
That sounds like it’d be a good thing for someone to write about! ;)
I don’t think that missionaries that risk their lives in Muslem countries or in China are feminized. I think that is fairly “badass”. I personally know of people that were jailed in a Muslem country because they were suspected of preaching the Gospel.
Those missionaries are willing to give up their lives to preach the Gospell of Christ to unreached people groups.
I think they are amazing!
That is why I’m choosing to leave my cradle denomination and join the Orthodox Church, where I have found humility, spiritual growth with historical roots, and a true reverence to the Triune God. I’m tired of the “I’m going it alone” and “a’ la carte Christianity” that we’ve chosen as a society.
The Bible also says that the Lord wishes that no soul be lost. Remember the Parable of the Good Shepherd? I prefer to believe in a loving God, instead of a wrathful God.
You make some good points. Christianity does promote socialism to some extent most of the Catholics I know are darn-near communists. And the pussiness is there too, as if somehow, being a spiritual person ( and I find this even more prevalent in eastern religions and new age ), means that one should never have an angry feeling. That is nuts. God did say that he would rather have people hot ( angry) or cold, but not lukewarm. Another problem think is our cultures confusion of love with codependency. This is due, in part, to Christianity itself. True ove is not always kind and yielding, but sometimes must be fierce, and even hurtful.
They say that man who stood in front of the tank in Tiananmen Square was a Christian.
I had not heard that, but I am not surprised.
I made the same journey three years ago. You will not regret it.
There it is. The "Christians" that turn you off Christianity are the loudest and those are the ones people see as examples. Which is what turns people off to the idea of a loving God. Sadly, until known on a personal level, the hunble strong witnesses aren't always as noticeable.
Perhaps my expectations of a church are too much. I want the country, basic Bible kind of church, without tons of fire and brimstone. I believe in confessing my sins straight to God and not to a priest or minister.
My church rents space on Sundays at a local school. It’s small, but very personal. I like it like that. I miss some of the activities of a larger church, but I like knowing almost everyone in my current church.
Is it a non-denomination or ?? Many times I have asked people their religion on here and they think I am baiting, but really want to know. Both because I am looking into such a church as I described and because I generally have been studying different religions for a few years (in reading for interest). It might be noted that H.G. Wells even said the religion that made the most sense was that of Jesus Christ.
It’s non-denominational. It used to be related to the Vineyard movement, but it became independent last year. Our minister thinks men should be head of the church, and the Vineyard movement was moving away from that.
I’ve never been to another Vineyard church, but I’ve read that they are very charismatic. My church is not that way. For example, they believe that people can speak in tongues, but in over 5 years attending I’ve never seen anyone speak in tongues at our church.
I believe in the God of the bible, not the God I prefer.
You’re obviously twisting my words, and you know it. You should be ashamed.
I'm not and you know it and you should be ashamed for complaining and for your original statement.