If you have your social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter locked and loaded from the major news sources you trust, then you likely saw a report today on the decline of the percentage of Christians in our country. As a pastor, I note the following:
A) It is hard not to feel there is some larger group with an agenda out there. Almost all the reports today are based on a study by the Pew Charitable Trust which projected faith groups up to the year 2050 based on current trends. The issue is that the Pew Report came out weeks ago. Why, on this Monday, this popped up again as “news” is, I suspect, a drive by everyone for hits on their websites (versus some grand agenda against Christians). Someone must have reported to our media sites this weekend that the Pew Report has generated an unusual number of hits in the first stories of its findings went out on the web. All these news sources want to show their relevance by the number of hits on their websites (which helps them generate advertising money). So, here comes a few weeks old report – again – in the news. I saw it today on PBS, CNN, BBC, Christian Science Monitor, Pew Charitable Trusts, both area newspapers, a radio station, and all of the local television station’s sites. But the plot isn’t against us but rather to generate hits. I was also pleased a pastor I know in New York saw it coming and sent words of encouragement to many of his clergy friends.
B) Christians can also take solace in this – the reported decline is really focused on our society. This decline is not a worldwide phenomenon. As a matter of fact, Christianity continues to grow in the places where most people live on our planet. Yes, there are projections that Islam with catch up with Christianity by 2050. But such growth comes from births largely, not conversions. Also, projections like these are problematic at best. Consider what the projections of today would have been thirty five years ago. Keep in mind as well that the center of Christianity has been on the move since the Church’s inception. Today is no different. Our brothers and sisters to the south are likely to have much more influence than they have had in the past. That might not be a bad thing. Consider, Pope Francis is among one of those ‘southern hemisphere’ Christians. Ditto the influence of the Church in north Africa and Asia.
C) The report should make the Church in North America and Europe take stock of itself. What has gone wrong? Why are so many young people tuning out of the church? I think a huge issue is Christianity in our society has been associated with a very narrow band of theological and political beliefs which are not attractive to young people. Christians today need to find their voice anew and relate that not everything labeled as “Christian” today represents actual Christian beliefs both ancient and modern. We also need to pay attention to our brothers and sisters oversees and stop thinking of Christians of our nationality as who we primarily mean when we talk of Christians.
D) Granted , there are passages in the Bible that assert that in the end times people will abandon belief. Even so, I do not believe that the Pew Charitable Trust’s report is our harbinger of the End Times. Jesus said he didn’t know when the end will be. If Jesus didn’t know, I don’t think we should presume to know otherwise. I also find it highly problematic to associate trends in North America with Biblical Prophecies which were written in a time most people speaking and writing them were unaware that North America existed.
E) Do not get boxed into the paradigm that you either believe in science or are a person of faith. Non-believers often like to draw up this straw man argument that either you accept science or you believe in superstitious mumbo jumbo. There are also strands of Christianity which are opposed to science. But that is not what most Christians believe. Faith and science are not opposed to each other. God not only made us but gave us our minds and this incredible creation, which goes beyond anything we can measure. God wants us to learn and grow and trust.
F) Gone are the days that churches can depend upon people just showing up at church because it is the expected thing to do. It is the unexpected thing to do in our society to a large degree (unless it is some type of special occasion). Treat everyone who comes through the doors with great respect. They are there by faith and by calling. They win no popularity points in our larger society by coming to church. Love them. That’s what Jesus said to do.
God has placed us here in this time and in this place with a reason and a purpose. Let’s make good use of it. Let’s share our faith.
Until next time,