A new study from the Pew Research Center has found the population of Christians in the United States is on a downward spiral.
Polling 35,000 Americans aged 18 and older, the poll found that over the last seven years, those calling themselves “Christian” has diminished by 8 percent overall. That’s about 5 million people who have moved out of the Christian faith since 2007.
This new demographic is being called the "Nones" (as in "None of the above") or the "Dones" (as in "Done with religion").
Even more eye-opening is what researchers are identifying as the cause for the ongoing exodus away from the Christian faith:
“Traditionally, we thought religion was the mover and politics were the consequence,” said Mike Hout, a New York University sociologist and demographer. However, today more and more are leaving Christian denominations because “they saw them align with a conservative political agenda and they don’t want to be identified with that.”
Other researchers, like Religion Dispatches writer Sarah Posner also points out that, “politically speaking, evangelicals, and in particular white evangelicals, have been highly politically organized for decades,” and that trend’s not stopping anytime soon.
So, while some Evangelical Christians can point to this latest report as proof that they need to “redouble their efforts in the culture war”, the truth is that they are actually to blame for creating their own problem.
Yes, it is very troubling to note that many young people are turning away from the Christian faith. But, are these people truly rejecting legitimate Christianity, or are they actually rejecting a political ideology that is only masquerading as Christianity?
I would argue the latter is more the case.
Christians in America are in effect practicing a very self-destructive form of Reverse Evangelism and not only repelling those who are still outside their walls, but alienating many of those who once considered themselves part of the team.
Yet, even as more and more people identify themselves less and less as “Christians” they are – at the same time – identifying more and more as “spiritual but not religious”. This indicates a desire to connect with God, and perhaps even with Jesus, but they seek to do so outside the typical constraints of American Christianity. Why? Mostly because this brand of American Christianity largely defines itself politically as an offshoot of the Conservative Republican party, and camps out on pet issues like Gay Marriage and Abortion while ignoring issues that Jesus seemed to care most about like Poverty, Violence, Oppression, and Exploitation of the weakest in our society.
As my friend Ross Rohde notes:
“My biggest concern is the damage this does to the Kingdom. We say Jesus is Lord, but we entangle ourselves with the equivalent of the "foreign wives" of the Old Testament. If we can't untangle ourselves from these strange infatuations, strange loves, then we really aren't following Jesus at all. We are treating Him like he is here for our salvation, our convenience, and we don't have any responsibility in the relationship. That's not treating Jesus as our Lord, it is treating him like a slave we don't respect. Jesus is Lord, we are to follow Him, not some foreign bride."
I couldn’t agree more. But what can we do about this? How can we turn back this troubling tide?
In fact, I would argue that no one can and we shouldn’t even try.
What we’re seeing here is a very natural reaction to an empty, man-made religion which is more political than spiritual, and that is a very, very good thing. If nothing else it shows that people are smart enough to realize when something doesn’t smell right and they’re willing to walk away from it entirely in pursuit of something more authentic and pure.
Rather than reverse this process, we should find a way to meet with these spiritual nomads and provide opportunities to address their deepest concerns and respond to their spiritual hunger for more God and less politics.
How do we do this? One idea I’ve had recently is to start a Meet Up group online for those who are interested in “Jesus Without Religion”, and to start getting together once a week with anyone and everyone who wants to learn more about who Jesus is, and what Jesus taught, and how to follow Jesus without any religious, denominational, or political strings attached.
Maybe you have another idea? I'd love to hear it. But regardless of how we go about it, the urgency is clear. The game is changing and if we don't adapt to that change, we will miss a huge opportunity to advance the Kingdom and share the Gospel.
FACT: The sooner we give up the idea of ever returning to the “Good old days” when Christianity was the norm and everyone went to Church on Sunday, and kids went to Sunday School, and shops were closed on Sunday so everyone could spend time with their Church family, the sooner we can start adapting to the actual world we really do live in right here and right now – a world where almost no one knows the Bible stories, or can sing “Jesus Loves Me”, or understands what Flannel graph is.
We live in the midst of a vast mission field where more and more people do not know the Gospel, have no idea who Jesus really is, and do not own or read the Bible.
Welcome to Post Christian America.
This is our chance to get it right.
This is our time to shine.
We were born for such a time as this.
[This article is Part 13 in the "Jesus Untangled" Series]
Read the entire "Jesus Untangled" series:
Part 1: "Jesus Untangled"
Part 12: "Our True Source of Liberty" by Ross Rohde