American Christianity is in Sharp Decline

Many atheists, such as Sam Harris and Bill Maher, question religion and ask why it is the only area in society that still seems to hold immense prestige. Harris once reasoned that anything else believed strongly and without evidence would be considered a mark of madness or stupidity.[1] Many spiritualists, especially those attending charismatic institutions, defend their beliefs with expressions appealing to experience, esoteric or divine interpretations, emotional biases, or some other obscure subjective reasoning. Some even assume that since they cannot corroborate their belief intellectually, they must have faith, and those that can reasonably defend their faith must have less, or none. Others avoid the subject altogether, dismissing religion as harmless nonsense.

Today, Christians and Christianity serve as the platform for mockery and contempt among secularists and mainstream intellectuals. Now, this is hardly the persecution of the kind the apostles experienced. But much of this is unnecessary because we have evidence to our claim; most simply don’t know why what they believe is true. When objectively compared, one may say Christians give the appearance of relativism—their “faith” just as sound and valid as the “faith” of a westernized Muslim or devout Hindu. In fact, many practicing Christians don’t even know what are the tenants of Christianity and are steadily returning to worldly worldviews.

Research

Christianity is Increasing in the World, but Declining in America

According to research conducted by Pew Research Center from 2007 to 2014, those who affiliated themselves as Evangelical Protestants in 2007 declined 3.6% by 2014; Catholicism declined 13%, and mainline Protestantism declined 18.8%. On the one hand, the population of virtually every Christian faith* declined; on the other hand, population in non-Christian faiths in America (including Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, etc.) rose 20.3% and atheism, agnosticism and other unaffiliated worldviews skyrocketed 29.4%.[2] “While the drop in Christian affiliation is particularly pronounced among young adults, it is occurring among Americans of all ages.”[3] Adding insult to injury, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary revealed in 2015 that since 1900 Christianity worldwide has maintained between 32.4-34.5% of the world’s population.[4] So, how is it that the world’s Christian population is increasing while there is a sharp decline in American Christianity?

While Pew Research saw a decline among all ages, they specifically saw a sharper decline in younger ages. Barna Group (a leading research company focused on the intersection of faith and culture) concluded a five-year study on teenagers to young adults (18-29) in 2011 comprised of eight national studies. The study included interviews with teenagers, young adults, parents, youth pastors, and senior pastors regarding teens who were once regular churchgoers and disconnected from the church after age 15. They calculated that nearly three out of every five young Christians (59%) disconnect either permanently or for an extended period of time from church.[5] They found that of the six reasons why the number of those who disengaged was so high, the overarching theme was in the anti-intellectualism of the church and aggressive opposition to questions and doubt. In response, it is believed that dropping out of church is natural, and that faith needs to be tested after high school. Others more sensible say that the reason millennials leave the church after high school is because young Christians are becoming increasingly “biblically illiterate.”[6] But they aren’t the only ones. When students ask questions, they are met with unfriendly opposition from most who cannot give an objective reason for their faith.

Why is the American Church in Sharp Decline?

Most Christians in America tend to agree that the bible is the true authority for faith and life (69%), but an even greater percentage cannot explain why that is true outside of subjective reasons appealing to experience, confirmation biases, or question-begging conclusions surrounding the mysterious term, “faith.”[7] In fact, this has led to a staggering compromise of the truth.

Another study was conducted by Barna Group in partnership with Summit Ministries in May of 2017 among practicing Christians in America to gauge how other worldviews – including spirituality, secularism, postmodernism, and Marxism – have influenced Christian beliefs regarding the world and how they believe it should be. With a 2.4% variance, Barna Group concluded that 83% of those who identify as Christian are open to nonbiblical perspectives.[8] Some of these beliefs included the belief that all people pray to the same god or spirit, no matter what name they use for the spiritual being; or that moral right and wrong depend on what an individual believes. Pew Research discovered similar findings between 2008 and 2015.[9]

Reason is Juxtaposed with Faith

It seems, then, that the youth of the nation are “biblically illiterate” as a result of the church neglecting their responsibilities. In fact, our youth may even be more reasonable than the current elder generations, because they unwilling to blindly follow a compromised belief system which is by all appearances inconsistent and uncertain. And so, unable to obtain answers from the church, they seek answers from the world or stop asking questions altogether. “If we don’t raise our young – if we don’t encourage our students to think – if we don’t train them how to think – if we don’t give them the disciplines of how to answer questions, we are flirting with the extinction of the church in the next generation.”[10]

References

[1] Harris, Sam. Letter to a Christian Nation. p. 67

[2] Pew Research Center (2015). America’s Changing Religious Landscape. Web: Link
*By ‘Christian faith’, Pew Research lists, Protestantism, Catholicism, Orthodox, Mormonism, and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. (2015). Christianity 2015: Religious Diversity and Personal Contact. International Bulletin of Missionary Research, 39(1), 28-29. PDF: Link

[5] Barna Group. (2011, September). Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church. Web: Link

[6] Barna Group. (2011, November). Five Myths about Young Adult Church Dropouts. Web: Link

[7] Pew Research Center (2012). The Global Religious Landscape. Web: Link

[8] Barna Group. (2017, May). Competing Worldviews Influence Today’s Christians. Web: Link

[9] Pew Research Center (2012). The Global Religious Landscape. Web: Link

[10] Zacharias, R. (2015, April 12). Answering the Biggest Objections to Christianity. Lecture presented at Apologetic Weekend at Christ Community Chapel in Hudson, OH. Video: Link

By |December 31st, 2017|blog|0 Comments

About the Author:

Aaron Gilmore is a Christian Apologist and is the founder and president of Bereans Aflame founded in 2014. He is husband and father to four children and serves diversely in his local church. Currently, he heads the IT Department at a Dallas-Fort Worth vocation center instructing students in IT certifications. He is a student at Lamar University in Texas studying for his B.S. in Communications. He plans to continue his education and attend Southern Evangelical Seminary for his Masters of Divinity in Apologetics, and ultimately his Doctorates in Philosophy.