Talk about a string of bad press! In addition to a write up in the Christian Science Monitor [The Coming Evangelical Collapse], a cover article of the Newsweek Magazine entitled “The End of Christian America,” a more readable and short article popped up last week on ABC News entitled, “Young America Losing Their Religion.”
While these articles aren’t great news, I must be a bad pastor because the news of this supposed major decline of Western Christianity aren’t really freaking me out. In fact, I’m as hopeful than ever before. Why? News like this has the potential to awaken a slumbering church and forces us to re-examine the question: “Who is the church and what is our mission?” In addition, it confirms to me that while folks might be turning away from institutional religion as we know, all of these articles point to my conviction that people are still very spiritual and looking and searching for a deeper understanding of life, truth, and meaning.
The institutional ‘C’hurch may be struggling but may not necessarily mean the body of Christ is struggling. Might even be the contrary. Think about this from a commenter:
You can’t count us…or contain us or define us or measure our ‘works’ because we just live it out with out banners or fan fair…it’s messy, it’s hard…and it is far more rewarding and real than anything I experienced prior.
Back to the article, one of the quotes that resonated with me:
this “stunning” trend of young people becoming less religious could lead to America’s next great burst of religious innovation.
What’s the next great burst of religious innovation? Please don’t say Twittering at church!
What will bring people back to church particularly young people? My guesses are that the next great burst of “innovation” won’t be all that new:
- The presence of God. The Holy Spirit. ”What compels us?” People are drawn to the divine.
- Community. We are created for community. People studying, learning, questioning, praying, eating, confessing, forgiving, and sharing life together. — Wow, that sounds so magnetic. Acts 2:42-47. People are drawn to people.
- Compassion and Justice. People will return when they see the church making a difference in the city and world – beyond our “awesome” worship services. Actually, I believe these two elements are the core of the emerging evangelism of our context and culture.
- Teaching and Preaching. While these things take shots nearly ever week from many individuals and groups of people, I still believe that teaching/preaching are as critical as other things on this list. Having said that, we’re lacking in compelling, faithful, and integrity-laden teaching & preaching.
- Creating Culture. People are drawn to the church and Christians creating beautiful and compelling culture. So easy for the church to critique, condemn, or create insular culture.
What do you think?
Here’s the article entitled Young America Losing their Religion:
This trend started in the 1990s and continues through today. It includes people in both Generation X and Y.
While these young “nones” may not belong to a church, they are not necessarily atheists.
“Many of them are people who would otherwise be in church,” Putnam said. “They have the same attitidues and values as people who are in church, but they grew up in a period in which being religious meant being politically conservative, especially on social issues.”
Putnam says that in the past two decades, many young people began to view organized religion as a source of “intolerance and rigidity and doctrinaire political views,” and therefore stopped going to church.
This movement away from organized religion, says Putnam, may have enormous consequences for American culture and politics for years to come.
“That is the future of America,” he says. “Their views and their habits religiously are going to persist and have a huge effect on the future.”
This data is likely to reinvigorate an already heated debate about whether America is, or will continue to be, a “Christian nation.” A recent Newsweek cover article, entitled “The End of Christian America” provoked responses from religious thinkers all over the spectrum.
Putnam, author of the book “Bowling Alone,” which tracked the decline in civic and community engagement in America (exemplified by the diminution of bowling leagues), fears the reduction in religiosity could have widespread negative impacts.
His research shows that people who go to church are much more likely to vote, volunteer and give to charity.
However, he says, it’s possible that the current spike in young people opting out of organized religion could also prove to be an opportunity for some.
“America historically has been a very inventive and even entrepreneurial place in terms of religion,” he says. “We’re all the time inventing new religions and reinventing religions that we have. It’s partly because we have a free market in religion. That is, we don’t have a state church.”
Given that today’s young “nones” probably would be in church if they didn’t associate religion with far-right political views, he says, new faith groups may evolve to serve them.
“Jesus said, ‘Be fishers of men,’” says Putnam, “and there’s this pool with a lot of fish in it and no fishermen right now.”
In the end, he says, this “stunning” trend of young people becoming less religious could lead to America’s next great burst of religious innovation.