Thursday, April 15, 2010

Is Real Christianity Actually Declining in America?

Every few months someone publishes another poll that seems to indicate that Christianity in America is on the decline. While it is difficult to argue with the overwhelming statistics that fewer people in America consider themselves Christian than ever before, does that actually mean that real Christianity is on the decline?

Though I am not a professional pollster, I interact with a lot of people who do not go to church on a regular basis and I have my own theory about this matter. I think most would agree that a large number of people who may have called themselves Christians in the past did so only out of tradition or habit. Their family had some type of Christian heritage, so they assumed that made them Christian as well. But few of those people ever made a personal commitment to following Christ in their daily lives. This does not mean they were atheists, it just means that their Christianity was more of a vague concept or in some cases more akin to membership in a social club, than a deep personal faith in Jesus Christ. Though it is not my place to judge others, it seems that if a person has never made a personal commitment to the Christ of Christianity, then they are probably not real Christians. After all, how can people be committed to something to which they have made no actual commitment?

If my theory is true, then perhaps many of the recent polls about the decline of Christianity in America is more a reflection of people being honest about their faith than it is about real Christianity being in decline. If this is the case, then instead of being dismayed, we can actually be happy about these polls.

We can be happy about the honesty these polls reflect because it helps us overcome one of the greatest "arguments" against Christianity. One of the greatest "arguments" against Christianity is that there are too many hypocrites in the church. A hypocrite is a person who says one thing, but does another. If we have had all these people calling themselves Christians who really were not Christians, then indeed, Christianity had a large percentage of hypocrites in our midst. These large numbers of hypocrites give non-Christians plenty of excuses for not believing. But if people are now being honest and admitting that they were not Christians to begin with, then what should be left in the church are the real Christians. And if those real Christians are living out their faith like they should be, then Christianity should have far fewer hypocrites than in the past.

Though the "membership numbers" of the Christian religion may be smaller than in the past, if those who still call themselves Christians have a vibrant spirituality, then the church is actually stronger than it has been in a long time. As non-Christians see the vibrant faith lived out in the lives of the fewer, but more sincere, Christians who remain, those non-Christians may well be drawn to Christianity. The result of this could be a real resurgence in the church. Not resurgence based on family heritage, or cultural issues, but one based on actual spiritual commitment to Jesus Christ.

That sounds pretty good to me!


  1. Allen Burns, South AfricaApril 15, 2010 at 12:14 PM

    I think that you are “spot on.”

  2. I think your theory is accurate. However, I don't think that it is something to celebrate in fundamental/evangelical Christian churches. If people are being more honest about their lack of true faith/commitment to Christ, it is evident that these people do not see claiming to be a Christian as socially beneficial. Meaning, some people who were nominally Christians in the past are choosing to distance themselves from the Christian religion today... why?

  3. Interesting thoughts...I've been a Christian for 16 years now, and lived in four States since giving my life to Christ. It's safe to say that we in VT experience the lowest church attendance of not only my past residences, but based on those polls you mentioned, also of the whole nation. I'm reading a book by Ken Ham called "Already Gone", which ... See Morecites statistics from a poll, this time noting that over the past half century, church attendance in England has dropped from 40-50% during World War II to between 5 and 7 1/2 % today. It also notes that in that time, 1500 churches have shut their doors or been converted into restaurants, museums, and even mosques. On first blush, this sounds very alarming, but as you noted recently, we need to be joining God in His work, not asking Him to join us in ours. Unless He builds the house, they labor in vain who build it...

    These polls can give us a sense of urgency, though, in seeking to understand what we believe, why believe it, how to live it, and to be ready, in season and out, to share the reason for the hope that we have with those who don't have that hope. I think many of His people here in Central Vermont sense His presence and know that He is always working around us, and desires us to join Him in that work!

  4. Tim Keller (NY city Pastor) said something in his book "The Reason for God" that solidified what I have been thinking. He said the secularists are worried because the Evangelicals are growing and the Evangelicals are worried because the secularists are growing. Truth is BOTH are growing and it is the "mushy middle" (my term), or cultural Christian, which is declining. I definitely see that around here as we had more people in a church led by an Evangelical pastor in Barre area this past Easter than we have had in this area for over 100 years. I think we spend too much time wringing hands and worrying about "growth of opposition" and not enough time celebrating the advances, enjoying Jesus and simply joining God in His work! So I concur with you and believe it is more supported by the polls and reports than you realize.

  5. Neal,
    I think you are 100% correct that Cultural Christianity is declining. Both Evangelicals and Secularists are becoming more public and aggressive with their respective messages. Should make for a very interesting religious/moral future for America...

  6. A new book that talks about this just came out. Title: The Organic Reformation: A New Hope for the Church in the West (By Tom Johnston and Mike Perkinson).

    The "Church" in the Western hemisphere is in trouble – but the Church of Jesus Christ as depicted in the New Testament Scriptures is NOT! We notice all around us that the Church in the West is in rapid decline, with a shrinking percentage of the population identifying themselves as “Christians.” Yet around the world, the revolutionary movement of Jesus continues to expand at an amazing rate. So we know there is yet hope for the Western Church, but much must change to see that hope realized in the lives of people – and the local churches they participate in. A new reformation is needed, an Organic Reformation. This book details the shift in the Church that must take places – and is already underway! The authors boldly advocate for a new reformation – a returning back to the simple teaching of Jesus – that will release again the revolutionary fire of the Church unleashed!

  7. I certainly advocate for being "followers of Christ" as opposed to a "this" or a "that" kind of Christian...

    It seems we can get hung up on the appearance of insurmountable walls staring us in the face - thankfully, God is up above, seeing the beginning from the end. He survived the ignorance of the Old Testament waxing and waning of the various kings who either turned to or away from Him and will again today and throughout eternity. I'm thankful to call Him savior and desire to live my life for Him, including sharing my faith with a lost world, regardless of the apparent odds...

  8. Thanks for the great comments. I think Neal is right, it is the "mushy middle" that is dissappearing rapidly in America. And Joshua is right too, it will indeed make for an interesting future in America!

  9. We have known for years that people claim a "convenient" denominational or Christian ID when asked on surveys and on hospital admittance.

    I see polarization differently than some. I believe "genuine" belief (not necessarily belief in God or salvation) as good, for it moves us away from "cultural Christianity" which is a masquerade for lukewarmness in the church and false assurance (universalism) outside the church.

    Christian living is a testimony to the community when it is authentic. The "faux" version is detrimental to all and characterizes many of the thousands of "FBI" members of Baptist churches (FBI - meaning not even the FBI could find these people that are annually counted as members).

    There are no accidents with God and there are great opportunities to plant churches and reach people in today's environment.